games_poster

Poster designed by Ella Marcil

Well, the poster says it all, but I will also put it in text form for explanatory and accessibility purposes.

Introduction to Game Design

Taught by George “Loki” Williams

DMC 2167

Tuesday-Thursday 12:30 – 1:50 pm

Are you just starting on your game design journey? This is the course for you! It’s taught by George “Loki” Williams, a professional who worked with Pathfinder and other game development communities. Loki moved back to Cincinnati from New Orleans and we’re grafeful to have his local expertise. Making games can be learned by anyone, and the process includes both digital and non-digital tools.

Game Design for Inclusion

Taught by Katherine Castiello Jones

DMC 2168 and SOC 3072

Monday Wednesday Friday 1:25 – 2:20 pm

Games are for everyone… aren’t they? In this course, Katherine Castiello Jones takes a hard look at games through a sociological lens. Students will design games that address social inequities and welcome marginalized communities into gaming.

Decolonial Game Design

Taught by Eliane Bettochi and Evan Torner

DMC / FILM 3018

Tuesday Thursday 2 – 3:20 pm

Do you want to recognize and begin dismantling overt colonialist game design patterns? This UC Honors course taught by myself and arts professor Eliane Bettochi is intended to open dialogue between a former colony in the West (USA) and one in the Global South (Brazil), using the vehicles of games. Students will learn the fundamentals of decolonial critique, identify colonial tropes in games, and collaborate with Brazilian arts students to make new games with decolonial intent.

Game Studies and New Media

Taught by Evan Torner

Monday Wednesday Friday 10:10-11:05 am

Want to learn how to “read” a game? Every Spring, I introduce a new group of students to the tools to interpret everything from backgammon to Overwatch 2. A great tour of the Game Studies field for the curious and committed alike. Alumni of just this course alone have gone on to work in both the games industry and games journalism.

Students at UC can register for these and other courses here.

RSV is a Thing

November 7, 2022

Photo by Nancy Jennings.

On Thursday, I was given the opportunity to present my latest published article, which is “Anxious Trajectories: Game Studies and German Studies,” to my colleagues in Film & Media Studies at UC. In the exact middle of the 5-minute long lightning talk, I got a phone call from my son’s school and a quick request to pick him up because he was running a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not sure if it was his coughing sister or his equally coughing friend who gave it to him, but my always-dutifully-masked son got RSV as part of the massive wave that hit the USA this fall. My reasoning on this front is that children have been slammed with COVID-19, a vascular disease which weakens the immune system too, and now RSV, influenza, and pneuomonia are that much more dangerous now.

But what do I know!

In any case, this has been the first time since July (when a cold hit the household for 3 weeks) that I’ve been in constant care of a sick kid. That Thursday afternoon call? Yeah, I knew it would mean a giant red line crossed through all my availability for the next few days. I was at least able to get to the grocery store and vote before all the parental responsibilities started crashing down on me.

And when that happens?

I have to balance my own health with the late nights and all-nighters I spend on, well, caring for a hacking child or trying to keep pace with all the work I’m missing due to said home care. Adult life for me is usually an involuntary sleepless night and an ever-growing pile of digital work, staring at me blankly from my various screens.

And the dread. I cannot forget the dread.

Climate change. Fascism. Wars of aggression. Plagues. Famine.

It’s like all the problems of the 1980s and 1990s when I was growing up, but zero of the optimism or hopeful solutions. We talk and organize and do what we can, knowing that one rich, entitled MF can just throw Dear-Sweet-Lord-Knows how much money out there to effortlessly make the problem worse. And they will, too.

So the dread is what lingers.

“I have many activities that I call ‘my life,’ but none have much significance in the face of our overwhelming helplessness to preserve human life and dignity.”

I’ve written that somewhere, but also here, too. Maybe it’s been said more punchily and eloquently somewhere else, but this one is mine.

I guess the dread helps me re-focus.

But caring for a sick child, knowing that the society in which he lives will do exactly diddly squat to protect his health, gives me some pause.

For years, I more-or-less used this site as a posting board for various projects, from conferences to awards; from course assignments to petitions for saving school programs.

But that’s because I was posting a lot in other places the past 10 years: gradually more on Facebook, then intensively on Google+, then overwhelmingly on Twitter.

You’ve probably heard that Google+ shut down in 2019.

You’ve probably also heard that Twitter is headed off a self-immolating cliff.

And Facebook? Hahahahahaha

Which leaves me with… this website. After all these years, WordPress is still with me, somehow.

A major other reason I haven’t posted much of substance since 2015 is, well, I almost always owe someone somewhere some writing. And why would I be writing something here when I could be busting my butt to deliver my overdue text to them?

But over time I also discovered my inspiration was slipping, somehow. I felt less inclined to write because it was something I owed someone, rather than a daily activity that I just, well, did. And do.

So in honor of Twitter collapsing and me having an epiphany that I’ll never ever be “caught up” anyway, I am restarting this blog as a space for my words, etc.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’m a parent of 2 these days, see, and the space to dash out a Tweet is much easier to find than a Post. No wonder I was on Twitter!

For now, I will simply hit “Publish” and, with that, re-inaugurate this space for myself.

Nosferatu: 100 Years of Horror

Register for the event HERE.

Organizers: Ervin Malakaj & Evan Torner

Date: Friday, March 18, 2022

Co-Sponsored by the CES Cinema Studies Network and the Weimar Film Network

“Nosferatu: Does not this word sound like the call of the death bird at midnight?” For a century, audiences have passed into a haunting world of corruption, pandemic, and death through the silent film classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). This one-day symposium takes the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the film’s public release (March 15, 1922) to examine the contours of this still-unsettling text. 

Speakers will addresses a range of formal and thematic features of Nosferatu, ranging from detailed scene analyses to studies of the broader social issues that still speak to contemporary audiences (e.g., marginalization, unrest, queerness, Jewishness, and more). In the symposium’s distilled academic form, we embrace the continued public interest in this film and hope to pique the interest of the audience to watch it yet another time (or, better still, for the first time).

The symposium is divided into five blocks, each of which follows one of these formats: focus takes or long(er) takes. The focus takes permit speakers to offer a deep-dive into one scene: description and analysis of a pertinent part of the film. The long(er) takes provide speakers the chance to advance extensive arguments about the film on the whole. Both formats are devised to generate a discussion and incentivize more engagement with the film. 

All times below listed in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4)

9 – 10:30 am Block 1 Focus Take

Moderator: Evan Torner (University of Cincinnati)

• “Unfathomable Animals”

Michael Wedel (Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf)

• “Cross-Cutting and Vampiric Correspondences” 

Steve Choe (San Francisco State University)

• “No(w)sferatu: the Borrowed and Rejected Legacy of the Vampire in Modern Visual Media” 

Brandy E. Wilcox (University of Wisconsin–Madison)

11 am – 12:30 pm Block 2 Long(er) Take

Moderator: Evan Torner (University of Cincinnati)

• “‘Jewish’ Vampirism in Nosferatu

Molly Harrabin (University of Warwick)

• “The Viral Spread of Rumors”

Nicholas Baer (University of Groningen)

• “Embargoes, Socialist Jesus, and the Rights to Dracula: Exporting Nosferatu in the 1920s” 

Sara Friedman (University of California Berkeley)

2 – 3:30 pm Block 3 Focus Take

• Moderator: Ervin Malakaj (University of British Columbia)

“The Tentacular Polyp: Animality, Tentacularity, and Dead Time” 

William Brown (University of British Columbia)

“In the Dark?”

Wendy Timmons (Vanderbilt University)

Nosferatu’s Knock Chase Sequence”

Evan Torner (University of Cincinnati) 

• “Watching Knock Reading” 

Ilinca Iurascu (University of British Columbia)

4 – 5:30 pm Block 4 Long(er) Take

Moderator: Ervin Malakaj (University of British Columbia)

• “Hypnosis as Cultural Phenomenon and Metaphor”

Anjeana Hans (Wellesley College) 

• “Location Shooting, Nature, and Gender”

Adrian Daub (Stanford University)

7 – 8:30 pm Block 5 Long(er) Take

Moderator: Evan Torner (University of Cincinnati)

• “‘The Death Ship Has a New Captain’: Middle Passage Epistemologies, Colonial Fantasies, and the Monstrous Other” 

Adrienne Merritt (University of Colorado Boulder)

• “On Asociality and Queer Loneliness in Nosferatu

Ervin Malakaj (University of British Columbia)

• “Murnau’s Cinema of Contamination” 

Paul Dobryden (University of Virginia) 

Register for the event HERE.

On Thursday March 15th, the winner and honorable mentions of the 2018 SCMS Central/East/South European Media Essay Award were announced. The $500 award goes to an exemplary essay published in the field of Central/East/South European Cinema and Media Studies during the 2017 calendar year. 

We had 19 submissions this year, which shows the robustness of scholarship in our field.

The Awards Committee consisted of: Ana Grgic, Larson Powell, Natascha Drubek, Lars Kristensen, and Evan Torner.

WINNER

“Soviet Estonian animated science fiction: Avo Paistik’s mischievous universes.”

Eva Näripea (Film Archives of the National Archives of Estonia, Tallinn, Estonia)

This theoretically ambitious essay focuses on the paradoxes of “developed socialism” through the example of the technophobic animated sci-fi works by Avo Paistik. Näripea demonstrates how to integrate film history, ideology, and genre studies with precision and intellectual heft.

Full citation: Eva Näripea (2017) “Soviet Estonian animated science fiction: Avo
Paistik’s mischievous universes.” Studies in Eastern European Cinema 8:2, 160-173.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

“Remembering Socialist Entertainment: Romanian Television, Gestures and Intimacy.”

Alice Bardan (University of Southern California)

An admirable overview of Romanian television with respect to post-1989 nostalgia and the afterlife of communist broadcast culture.

Published in: The European Journal of Cultural Studies. January 20, 2017. 1-18.

________________________

“Youth, Nomadism, and Claustrophobia in the Argentinian and Romanian New Waves: Stuff and Dough and Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes”

Raluca Iacob (Astra Film Festival)

An innovative comparative analysis that seeks a broader generational dialogue regarding contemporary global cinema.

Published in: New Romanian Cinema 41.2. October 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/fc.13761232.0041.207

________________________

“War rape in the face of heroic narrative. The case of Polish cinema”

Magdalena Podsiadło-Kwiecień (Jagiellonian University)

Published in: TransMissions: The Journal of Film and Media Studies 2.1. 2017. 132-149.

A clear and moving description of the relationship between sexual violence, oral history, trauma, and the possibilities of cinema narrative.

________________________

Please join us in congratulating the authors of these articles, and consider submitting your work next year.

We will be holding elections for the new SIG co-chairs for SCMS 2019-2021 in June. Stay tuned for the announcement.

Best wishes,

-Evan Torner and Ana Grgic

Co-Chairs, SCMS Central/East/South European Cinemas Special Interest Group

mass_effect_2_pc_24

Well, they’re finally here. Here are some more to choose from.

Attendance Poll Analysis

Quest: To clean up, analyze, and visualize the dataset of attendance poll data across 2 semesters.
[DIGITAL SCHOLARS]
Procedure: Procure a copy of the Excel file containing the Poll Responses from both semesters and read them with an eye on how the data might best be analyzed and represented. Then schedule an appointment with our Digital Humanities specialist James Lee (lee6jj@ucmail.uc.edu) who will show you how this data can be cleaned up and made ready for analysis, and then visually presented. Analyze the data and see if you can find 1-2 major points of interest. Present these 1-2 points using compelling graphics.
Points: Cleaned Up Datafile in Excel format (10), Research Question (10), Articulation of Findings (10), Data Visualization Quality = 40 points.

Board Game Adaptations

Quest: To play a board-game adaptation of a certain property and concept, and then think about what it means.
[ANALOG GAME ENTHUSIASTS]
Procedure: Pick a board game –– any board game. I have quite a few in the UC Game Lab that might be of interest. Play it as close to the rules written as possible with a group of friends and/or fellow students. Make sure you take notes about your experience, especially given what play options you have at any given moment in time. Then research the topic the game is presumably about (Example: Monopoly is about real estate, Ticket to Ride is about the expansion and development of train travel across the USA), picking at least 1 or 2 high-quality scholarly sources in doing so (and consult a librarian if you have questions about that). Afterwards, write a 3-5 page response essay to your play experience with respect to the actual material on which it is based.
Points: Writing Style (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Quality of Secondary Literature Sources (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

The Cocktail Machine and Its Depths

Quest: To find several unsung “gems” among the various games available on the UC Game Lab cocktail cabinet.
[ARCADE GAME ENTHUSIAST]
Procedure: Arrange at least 2 meeting times with Dr. Torner to set up the cocktail machine and play several of the titles available. You will learn how to use the machine, as well as experiment with numerous games. Write notes about which games you choose to play and what your play experience on each is like. Then write a 3-5 page essay closely analyzing your experience, paying particular attention to how long you tended to play each game, and why a more obscure title you found is nevertheless worthy of our attention. You will likely have to do some background research to make your argument.
Points: Writing Style (10), Evidence of Reflective Play Sessions (10), Persuasiveness of Argument about Obscure Title (10), Precision of Description (10) = 40 points

Deck Building FTW

Quest: To teach me about deckbuilding games
[DECKBUILDING AFFICIONADOS]
Procedure: I’ll be honest –– I hate deckbuilding games, but I’ve got a whole collection of them in the UC Game Lab, and I’d like to be able to articulate their value to others. Describe at least 2 deckbuilding games in detail, using terminology from the course, and defend their aesthetic value. Bonus points if you actually convince me.
Points: Writing Style (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Uses Course Terminology (10) = 40 points

Everyone’s a Gamer

Quest: To give us a sense of everyday individuals’ interactions with games
[VIDEO JOURNALISTS]
Procedure: Interview on camera at least 3 different individuals about the games they play, how they play them, and those games that seem to be most “artistic” to them. Edit the footage into a 5-8 minute videoclip that also features video-captured recordings of the games discussed. Make sure that what you are producing is somehow in dialog with Adrienne Shaw’s work; that you do not assume certain individuals from certain demographics will appreciate certain games. Try to get at stories that run against the grain of established narratives. Upload the resultant video file on UC Box.
Points: Interviews of at least 3 people (10), Editing (10), Overall Polish (10), Subtle Underlying Argument (10) = 40 points

FATE and Afrofuture!

Quest: To play an RPG with respect to its socio-political content.
[D&D DUNGEON MASTERS]
Procedure: Get a copy of Afrofuture! the RPG from Dr. Torner, and run it for several friends or fellow students. Write up some notes about your experience afterward. Then do some research on afrofuturism as an aesthetic and socio-political movement, finding at least 1-2 high-quality scholarly sources. Write a 3-5 page essay relating your actual experience of playing Afrofuture! to the socio-political movement, paying particular attention to how the game mechanics themselves emphasize and/or undermine specific dynamics in that movement.
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Persuasiveness of Argument, Drawing on a High-Quality Source (10), Grammar and Citations (10)

Game Lab Research

Quest: To look at the wide world of university game labs and talk about the future of our own.
[BUDDING ACADEMICS AND ADMINISTRATORS]
Procedure: Do some serious Internet searching, after consultation with Dr. Torner, on various game labs at universities around the world. Start with MIT, Tampere, UC Santa Cruz, Concordia University, but then branch out to find places and archives that maybe are under-represented. Call them or e-mail them and talk about their mission, how they fit into their university, and their main activities. Write up an annotated, comparative tour of at least 3 of these labs, assessing (in your language, not theirs) what they ostensibly do and how it fits into the larger picture of both their own institution and game studies in general.
Points: Writing Style & Organization (10), Evidence of Thorough Research (10), Informed Opinion about The Labs in Question (10), Presentation (10) = 40 points

 

Kill Screen

Quest: To evaluate quality games journalism.
[JOURNALIST AND GAME SCHOLAR]
Procedure: Purchase an issue of Kill Screen and read it from cover to cover. Then pick out 2 articles and evaluate everything about them: how they’re written, how they describe the games in question, and who their target audience appears to be. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of their presentation, and how you might cover this game yourself. Consider also how these essays might apply to course concepts. Write 4-5 pages with your evaluation and findings
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Evaluation of Journalism (10), Incorporation of Course Concepts (10) = 40 points

Larping The Dream

 

Quest: To play the larp The Dream by Jason Morningstar & produce a final product on it
[LARPERS AND FILMMAKERS]
Procedure: Procure a copy of The Dream from me. Read it through and then gather 5-9 players to play it, as well as the materials. Run through the game, and write down your thoughts about it after the debrief. The game will have produced a recording, which you will edit and then compare to the game’s source material. Send me a 1-2 page essay reacting to your run of the game, paying particular attention to how your labor role in the game affected your play, and upload your video you produced to UC Box (or YouTube).
Points: Evidence of Actual Play (10), Writing Style for Reflection (10), Insights into the Game (10), Final Video Product – Whatever It May Look Like (10) = 40 points

Open Sorcery

Quest: To play Sorcery and have informed opinions about it
[INTERACTIVE FICTION FANS]
Procedure: Play the Inkle game Sorcery! and take notes while you do so. Examine in particular the impact of the player-character choices you make in the game. Then write a 3-5 page essay comparing the choice impact in this game with any other game you have played, especially BioWare, Bethesda, or other Inkle Games. In your comparison, advance an argument about what the game’s accomplishments are with respect to player impact. But don’t forget our course materials as well!
Points: Writing Style (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Relationship to Course Concepts (10)

Pokémon Go Panel Wrap-up

Quest: To edit and enhance some Pokémon Go panel footage
[MEDIA EDITORS]
Procedure: Procure the raw video of last fall’s Pokémon Go panel held by the UC Game Lab from Dr. Torner. Cut out the bits that, in your discerning opinion, are not as interesting as others. In fact, see if you can cut it into a 5-minute “highlights” reel of the most important points for you. Introduce actual gameplay footage captured wherever you think it fits. Upload the resultant video file on UC Box.
Points: Editing (10), Curation of Highlights (10), Overall Polish (10), Subtle Underlying Argument (10)

 

Text Analysis of RPGs

Quest: To take a digital-humanist look at RPG texts
[DIGITAL SCHOLARS]
Procedure: I have a large collection of role-playing game texts, and I’d like to see if there are any patterns across them you can discern. Procure the PDF collection from me, and see which parts you would like to analyze: the Character Creation sections, the Combat Sections, the Index of words, etc. Then make an appointment with our Digital Humanities specialist James Lee (lee6jj@ucmail.uc.edu) about using programs such as R to sort the text into data chunks that can be interpreted: most common words, most common words found next to each other, and so forth. Analyze the data and see if you can find 1-2 major points of interest. Present these 1-2 points using compelling graphics.
Points: Cleaned Up Database of PDF data (10), Research Question (10), Articulation of Findings (10), Data Visualization Quality = 40 points

 

X-citing Art Projects
Quest:
To contribute artwork to a forthcoming game project being developed on campus, and write a reflection on the process.
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Find a game designer (or talk to Dr. Torner about finding one) who needs art desperately. There are many! Speak with him/her/them about their needs and come up with a few design sketches that address them. Write 1-2 pages about the game, the art that you designed for the game, and why you made the choices you did. Make extra sure you tell us how the player is intended to interact with the art, and if that influenced your creation at all.
Points: Precision of Description in Written Essay (10), Writing Style (10), Discussion of Player Interaction (10), Scans of Completed Artwork Sketches (10) = 40 points

You’re On TV

Quest: To depict gaming in a positive-yet-analytical light on film
[JOURNALISTS AND VIDEO EDITORS]
Procedure: Attend a gaming event, be it a convention, bridge night, game day, or evening at the arcade, and shoot video there. Edit it into a coherent report of no more than 10 minutes in length. Note in your introductory sequence of the final product the circumstances of you attending this event, etc. Talk to people at the event, but also observe at least 1-2 instances of play closely, and then analyze those instances in retrospect in the final segment of the final product. The final product is, of course, an edited video. Upload it to Box.
Points: Editing (10), Curation of Highlights (10), Overall Polish (10), Subtle Underlying Argument (10)

 

dragonfantasy_book2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the updated quests for my Film 2008 course at the University of Cincinnati this Spring 2017. Each student must complete 3 quests and a Final Boss Challenge.

A is for Affordances

Quest: To describe and theorize affordances in games, and their various functions
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the short text by Norman on affordances under Quest-Related.
Also, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCSXEKHL6fc
Then pick a game you’d like to analyze, preferably one that has what you consider interesting affordances: Dance Dance Revolution, Jenga, and Doom would all be equally interesting on this point. Write 4-5 pages on your experience of the affordances of the game, beginning with your subjective experience thereof and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Affordances (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

B is for Bungie and Blizzard

Quest: To detail how studios preserve a certain style or type of narrative over time, even between game universes.
[PROSPECTIVE GAME HISTORIANS]
Procedure: Play at least three games by a single game studio, attending to the span of time between the studio’s origins and the present. Good examples would be Bungie (Marathon → Halo → Destiny) or Blizzard (Warcraft → World of Warcraft → Diablo 3). One game must be from the origin era of the studio, the second game from somewhere in the middle of its history, and one must be recent. In a 3-5 page paper that includes a comparison chart, describe to the reader the salient aspects of the studio’s style that distinguish it from other studios, and what continuities seem to persist across distinct titles. Cite studio-related secondary literature if pertinent, using proper MLA formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Comparison Chart (10), Grammar and Usage (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

C is for Conventional Wisdom

Quest: To describe and theorize how conventional wisdom and reflex often define game patterns and decision-making, and what can be done to break its grasp.
[BUSINESSPEOPLE AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Watch this video of Greg Costikyan talking about “natural” game design.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGKPirk5wdQ
Then look up the word “isomorphism” with respect to sociology. Make sure to incorporate that word’s connotations into the project. Play a game Costikyan has not discussed, but in terms of his overarching points about game design patterns.Write 4-5 pages on what counts as “original” game design and what could be seen as “copying” or “re-skinning” other games, beginning with your subjective experience and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Isomorphism (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

D is for Diplomacy

Quest: To describe how analog board and card games function with respect to ideology.
[GAMERS]
Procedure: Read Bruno Faidutti’s essay “Postcolonial Catan.” Then play either Settlers of Catan or one of the other eurogames discussed in the article. Write a 4-5 page response to both your own play experience, as well as to the issues that Faidutti raises in the article. Try to see the issue of representation from as many angles as possible; there is no right answer, but the critiques raised cannot be easily dismissed.
Points: Writing Style (10), Self-Reflection (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Incorporation of Course Concepts (10) = 40 points

E is for Exploration

Quest: To take a closer look at a video-game character and its form and functions.
[GAME DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the Isbister text in “Quest-Related Materials” on game characters. Now pick a character from a video game, preferably one with enough ambiguity to offer us something to discuss. Write a 4-5 page paper relating that video-game character to principles in Isbister’s text.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Isbister’s texts (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

F is for Failure

Quest: To describe how a game uses failure to drive play.
[PHILOSOPHERS]
Procedure: Read (or re-read) Jesper Juul’s Art of Failure and keep in mind his points about the rewards of negative affect. Pick a game that has a particularly interesting relationship to failure: Flappy Bird, Track & Field II, and Space Invaders would all be good examples. Write a 4-5 page paper relating Juul’s ideas to this particular game.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Juul’s text (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

G is for Good Filmmaking

Quest: To evaluate how filmmaking effects are used in contemporary game design.
[FILM AND MEDIA STUDIES]
Procedure: This quest involves some very specific media products. Watch Blade Runner (1982) and Ghost in the Shell (1996), and then play Deus Ex (2000) or Oni (2001) and Remember Me (2013). Using the first two cyberpunk films as a baseline, write 4-5 pages on how the video games appropriate and/or deviate from specific cinematographic techniques and film practices from the 2 films. Note also how Remember Me builds on or deviates from the films vs. Deus Ex and Oni.
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

H is for History of Game Studies

Quest: To understand certain fundamentals of the game design field through the narratology vs. ludology debate
[FUTURE GAME STUDIES SCHOLAR]
Procedure: You will have to read a lot for this assignment, namely Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext, Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, Gonzalo Frasca (http://web.cfa.arizona.edu/art435a/readings/frasca_ludology.pdf), and Edward Wesp (http://gamestudies.org/1402/articles/wesp). Using evidence from these texts and any others you find, take a position in the debate and supply a way we might use the resulting methodology in games analysis. 4-5 pages will be sufficient, but you may want to write more. Please cite as many sources as you need (probably 5+), using MLA 7 standards.
Points: Writing Style (10), Summary of Positions (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

I is for Interview

Quest: To conduct an interview with a game designer, professional or amateur, who has a playable game in public circulation.
[JOURNALISTS]
Procedure: Make contact with a game designer (ask me if you need some help there) and, if s/he is willing, interview them about their craft. The interview should be at least 5-7 questions long, and submitted in written form or decent-quality video or audio recording. Make sure the focus in the interview is on not only the design of the game, but its production and circulation in the real world.
Points: Thoughtful Questions (10), Interview Structure (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Interest (10)

J is for Just Choose Already

Quest: To explore what interactive literature has to offer and write about it persuasively
[LITERARY SCHOLARS]
Procedure: Sit down and actually play through Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web (http://eblong.com/zarf/zweb/tangle/) and Crowther and Woods’ Colossal Cave Adventure (http://www.amc.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/exclusives/colossal-cave-adventure). If you’d like, play through a contemporary piece of Interactive Fiction such as 80 Days (2015) or something from Choice of Games LLC. Use FAQs or walkthroughs if you get stuck. Consulting sources such as Anastasia Salter’s What is Your Quest? or Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages, analyze your experience in playing these games in literary terms. What make these games “literature” to you, and how do their actual game elements intensify or complicate this relationship? Use MLA 7 for your citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Evidence of Play (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Argument (10)

K is for Kriegsspiel

Quest: To understand the basis for modern military board games through Reiswitz’s Kriegsspiel
[GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: Read the overview article from Philipp von Hilgers (https://www-alt.gsi.de/documents/DOC-2009-Jun-114-1.pdf), Vego’s overview (https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/900b6d3c-bcc8-4ff0-8c17-9ad22c448799/German-War-Gaming.aspx) as well as relevant passages from Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World and Kriegsspiel News (http://www.kriegsspiel.org.uk/index.php/articles/origins-history-of-kriegsspiel/3-origins-of-the-kriegsspiel). Now play through a modern descendent of the Kriegsspiel: either an Avalon Hill game (of which I have a few), an HPS Simulation, etc. Now write 3-5 pages in English or 2 pages in German about your play experience with respect to what you have read. Be certain to include how specific game mechanics constrained your options or permitted you to engage in specific play behavior. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Description (10), Relationship to History and Course Materials (10)

L is for Libraries

Quest: To go through recent game studies scholarship of interest.
[LIBRARIANS AND READERS]
Procedure: Find 5 game studies publications published within the past three years: articles, books or otherwise. Choose publications that work on one topic: role-playing games, platform studies, first-person shooters, etc. Write a 4-5 page paper with an argument detailing what is preoccupying these publications. What are the main issues at stake in these articles? Who are they in conversation with? What games seem to be cited frequently? Use MLA 7 citations, and have at least 5 of them!
Points: Writing Style (10), Insightful Reading (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Argument (10)

M is for Making Games

Quest: To create freeform games based on literature to use in the classroom.
[LITERATURE STUDENT / GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: You will first need to do some background research on what freeform games are. Look to Lizzie Stark’s Pocket Guide to American Freeform, the Golden Cobra Challenge (http://www.goldencobra.org/), or Gizmet Game Poems (http://gamepoems.gizmet.com/about/) for clues. Then pick a canonical German text below (if a German student) OR one from the English-language canon. Come up with a short freeform game (20 min. – 1 hour) that could be played in a classroom to convey specific material related to the work in question. Be creative! Resultant works may be adapted or used later in the classroom.
• EXCERPTS: Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit (Mechthild von Magdeburg)
• POEM: “Es ist alles eitel” (Gryphius)
• NOVELLA: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Goethe)
• DRAMA: Maria Stuart (Schiller)
• POEMS: Various poems (Eichendorff)
• DRAMA: Einen Jux will er sich machen (Nestroy)
• POEM: “Des Biedermanns Abendgemütlichkeit” (Scheffel)
• NOVELLA: Krambambuli (Ebner-Eschenbach)
• EXCERPTS: In Stahlgewittern (Jünger), Im Westen nichts Neues (Remarque)
• DRAMA: Die Dreigroschenoper (Brecht)
• NOVELLA: Schachnovelle (Zweig)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch (Borchert)
• NOVELLA: Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (Plenzdorf)
• DRAMA: Der Tod und das Mädchen (Jelinek)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Mutterzunge (Özdamar)
Points: Clarity of Instructions (10), Understanding of the Original Text (10), Presentation (10), Overall Game Design (10)

N is for New Games for YOUR Major

Quest: To create (or at least start) a game related to your major
[GAME DESIGNER]
Procedure: If you’re looking to get into game design, then one of the best places to start is to create a game. Find a topic or complex related to one of your majors and come up with an idea for a game related to it. Run the idea by the instructor before you get too far into it. Then plot out the game rules and, if possible, make a playable prototype or proof of concept in Sploder, Twine, InDesign, Gamemaker or some other relevant game software.
Points: Presentation of Final Product (10), Overall Game Design (10), Clarity (10), Relationship to Source Material (10)

O is for Other Language

Quest: To play a board / card / role-playing game in German and reflect on the experience.
[GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: Come talk to your instructor about getting a copy of a German-language board / card / role-playing game, and then play it for at least 1 session auf Deutsch. Then you will write a 3-page reflection paper on the experience, and playing games in a foreign language.
Points: Successful Playthrough (20), Quality of Self-Reflection (10), Grammar (10)

P is for Platform

Quest: To assess the field of “platform studies” from a scholarly and play perspective
[GAME DEVELOPER AND SCHOLAR]
Procedure: Platform studies involves the examination of a specific piece of hardware and its impact on the games it produces. Read at least 2 of the books in the Platform Studies series at MIT (http://platformstudies.com/). If you can, track down a working version of the platform in question and play a few games on it. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper answering the question: how is platform studies useful in assessing games? How might we understand a particular game thanks to its platform?  Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

Q is for Quarters

Quest: To visit an actual arcade environment and reflect on it anthropologically
[COLLEGE STUDENT]
Procedure: Gather together a group of 2+ students from this course and go to a local arcade or board game café: Tabletop Game Cafe in Columbus, The Rook, 16-Bit, The Place, Gameworks, etc. Spend at least $5 on games, paying close attention to each game you play: how the game is presented, what it promises you, how much it costs, what you actually get when you play it, and how long it takes for you to go before you have to feed the machine more quarters. Also observe your classmates as they play, if possible. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper on the experience, specifically attending to both the social context (i.e., being in an arcade) and the games themselves. Bring in concepts from the course useful for your description, such as affordances, constraints, representation, and others.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Relationship to Course Materials (10), Description Details (10), Writing Style (10)

R is for Role-Playing Theory

Quest: To look at contemporary role-playing game theory and take a position within it
[ROLE-PLAYING SCHOLAR]
Procedure: Read through Sarah Lynne Bowman’s The Functions of Role-Playing Games, Markus Montola’s “On the Edge of the Magic Circle” (https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/66937/978-951-44-8864-1.pdf?sequence=1), The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp (http://nordiclarp.org/w/images/8/80/2014_The_Foundation_Stone_of_Nordic_Larp.pdf), and the most recent issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing (http://ijrp.subcultures.nl/). Find a topic that interests you. Then write a 4-5 page paper with MLA 7 citations that responds directly to recent arguments in RPG studies. Draw on your own experiences with RPGs if you can.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Material (10), Writing Style (10)

S is for Sexuality and Gender

Quest: To examine broader implications of gender and sexuality to be found in games
[CRITICAL THEORIST]
Procedure: Drawing on Adrienne Shaw’s Gaming at the Edge, find at least 2 other articles – academic or otherwise – that deal critically with the issue of gender and/or sexuality and gaming. Be specific as possible, and try to play the games that are mentioned. Now write a 4-5 page paper responding to the issues raised, being attentive to critical theories of representation and game mechanics. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to the Secondary Literature (10), Writing Style (10)

T is for Travia GmbH & Co.

Quest: To look at the German video games industry from a critical perspective
[GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: Read this document positively appraising the German games industry (http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Content/EN/Invest/_SharedDocs/Downloads/GTAI/Fact-sheets/Business-services-ict/fact-sheet-gaming-industry-en.pdf) and consult the Wikipedia page on the German video games industry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_gaming_in_Germany). Track down and play one of the games on the list. Now write a 4-5 page paper in English (or a 2-page paper in German) explaining the game as a product of German industry forces. What company made it? What are their sales like? What could be considered “German” about this particular game? Pay attention to transnational and European-level markets, and come see your instructor if you need more details. Any citations shoudl be in MLA 7.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

U is for Uncertainty

Quest: To apply Costikyan’s theories of uncertainty in games to a specific game object
[GAME DESIGNER]
Procedure: Now that you’ve read Uncertainty in Games, it’s helpful to apply it to a game object. Pick a game that you think has a particularly interesting balance of uncertainty factors. Imagine telling some game designer how the game uses uncertainty to work. Write a 4-5 page paper articulating precisely what aspects of the game’s design contribute to this uncertainty, particularly looking at affordances, incentives, and constraints. Use Costikyan’s terminology and cite (MLA 7) as you write.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Text (10), Writing Style (10)

 

V is for Valor

Quest: To enlighten the rest of the class with respect to some specific game topic
[FUTURE POLITICIAN OR PROFESSOR]
Procedure: Are you a public speaker extraordinaire? Would you like to work on those skills? First, sign up for a 10-minute spot to present on a topic of your choice related to games and the course material. Then come up with an engaging 10-minute presentation on your particular topic to give in front of the gathered students. Please make it engaging!
Points: Clarity (10), Structure (10), Delivery (10), Persuasiveness (10)

 

W is for What is a Role-Playing Game?

Quest: To play through a game that serves as a theoretical intervention, and assess it
[GERMAN STUDENTS AND OTHERS]
Procedure: Find 2-3 fellow players and play Epidiah Ravachol’s What Is a Role-playing Game? in English (https://dig1000holes.wordpress.com/what-is-a-roleplaying-game/) OR in German (http://pihalbe.org/sites/default/files/Was-ist-ein-Rollenspiel–Raumraeuber.pdf) if you are a German student. Then discuss the play experience afterward. Take notes on both the play and the discussion. Then write a 4-5 page paper describing the experience, what happened in the game, and how the game made an impact on what you thought a role-playing game was. Speculate about what you would do if you had to make a similar intervention.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

X is for Xenophobia

Quest: To look at racial and/or race-related dynamics in a game with a critical lens
[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Procedure: Minorities are vastly underrepresented in video games. This structural racism is largely attributed to lean market demographics, when in fact people of color play games just as much as white people. To do this assignment, read the Mou & Peng article (https://www.msu.edu/~pengwei/Mou%20Peng.pdf), A.A. George’s Tor.com article (http://www.tor.com/2014/08/13/gamings-race-problem-gen-con-and-beyond/) and related materials to be found in the library or online databases. Pick and play a game which offers us clear insights into this particular dynamic. In a 4-5 page argumentative paper with at least 3 sources (MLA 7 citations), tell your reader about the constructions of whiteness and racialized figures in the game.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

Y is for Your Ideas Are Not Your Own

Quest: To understand how ideology works through game mechanics
[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Procedure: Game mechanics are persuasive and rhetorical instruments that one can use to further specific political and economic arguments. Almost every game implies how humans ought to behave and how systems ought to work: Monopoly justifies the bootstrapping entrepreneurial mentality as well as (paradoxically) demonstrates how having wealth and property just gives one more wealth and property, Pong implies that a game of pure physical skill is possible, Undertale rejects normative gender and sexuality perspectives while also reassuring us that kindness will save the world. In this assignment, you will play a game of your choice and discern the general ideological implications of its aesthetic and mechanics. After playing the game for a significant period of time, write a 4-5 page paper answering the following questions: What are the players incentivized to do in the game? How could these incentives be read in terms of political and economic profit motive? What mentalities are considered “optimal” in the story universe of the game. Citing (using MLA 7) Ian Bogost or cultural theorists from the Frankfurt or Birmingham School couldn’t hurt.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

Z is for Zelda

Quest: To do an in-depth analysis of a specific level of a specific game
[GAME DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Pick a level of a video game, and play through it at least 3 times. It could be a controversial level like “No Russian” in Modern Warfare 2, or the opening dungeon of The Legend of Zelda. Pay close attention to the following aspects, among others: how the level begins/continues/ends, what emotional high points and low points it offers to you as a player, what characters you meet and how you are expected to deal with them, the potential outcomes of the players’ actions within the level, the layout of the landscape, its soundscape and artistic inspirations. Now write 4-5 pages advancing a specific argument about the level. Be as precise in your description as possible, and relate its various points to concepts you learned in the course.
Points: Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10), Relationship to Course Concepts (10)

 

FINAL BOSS FIGHT

During the final two weeks of the semester, students get to try out their game analysis skills against a worthy opponent. They will select a game and play it, taking notes. Then they will locate no less than 3 reviews of or academic articles on the game. Citing these reviews and/or articles, they will then write their own review that somehow affirms, refutes and/or responds to the 3 reviews, while also arguing their own position on the game. Assignment length is somewhere between 2000-4000 words (the length of a decent game review) and should be written with popular game criticism standards (i.e., those of Fernández-Vara) in mind.

All of the public schools in the United States of America, from kindergarten through doctoral programs in higher education, should be free of charge and open to anyone with sufficient intellectual curiosity and merit.

 

Instead, the Republican establishment has doubled down on school privatization efforts, and our president-elect looks as if he will continue this form of despotism.

 

I admit it: as faculty at a public research university, I have a vested financial interest in preserving public education. Last year’s salary was $58,790, about the same as a fully certified high school teacher in the state of Ohio. Nevertheless, my conflict of interest cannot remotely compare with those of the “reformers” who want to bring profitability into a sphere that cannot function well under for-profit conditions. For-profit operations drive up costs for the consumer, while driving down quality and breaking yet another source of income for our dwindling middle class.

As Diane Ravitch argues:

“There is no evidence for the superiority of privatization in education. Privatization divides communities and diminishes commitment to that which we call the common good. When there is a public school system, citizens are obligated to pay taxes to support the education of all children in the community, even if they have no children in the schools themselves. We invest in public education, because it is an investment in the future of our society.”

We are hardly “cartels,” as Paul Ryan has described us. Google “cartel” and you see the violence of Mexican drug lords. There can be a comparable analogy drawn from when our schools are weak –– students drop out, join questionable organizations, crime increases, and the teachers burn out one way or another. It is, indeed, a crime against American-style democracy to underfund and thereby slowly snuff out the public schools that make democratic thinking and voting possible.

The 21st Century offers too many complex challenges to then have schools and universities abandon their fundamental mandates in favor of religious-tinged “science” or  sub-standard services while corporations make profits.

 

We as a country have foolishly put too many wolves in charge of our hen houses. It is time for us to intervene. Indeed, the future of critical thought and action, of class mobility and non-violent pursuits, in this country depends on it.

“Jeglicher Zauber geht verloren, wenn du versuchst, ihn einzufangen.”
–Helga Schäferling

What role does “magic” play in our lives? Is magic already suffused with the powers of the mundane? How does magic duplicate and comment upon the logics of neoliberalism already governing us? To what extent can “rebellion” be realized within a left-leaning institution, and how do such institutions cull and herd their ranks? Is being a wizard the new “it” thing?

These questions have all popped into my head over the course of the past week, thanks to the latest live-action role-playing game (larp) with which I took part. In this post, I will outline the game itself, talk a little bit about its design, go over some of my character’s arc, and conclude with a discussion of the content of this post’s title: introducing major figures of social thought into the curriculum of a magic school. And, of course, royally rocking out while doing so.

Overview

The past weekend (July 21-24, 2016), I had the pleasure of attending the third run (NWM3) of New World Magischola (NWM) at the University of Richmond. If you’ve been keeping track of my exploits (or outright stalking me), you’ll note that this was my third multi-day larp experience ever – following the first run of Inside Hamlet and the fourth run of Just a Little Lovin’which I documented extensively here. Those were Nordic larps over in Denmark, and were a departure for me after I started down the road of Nordic freeform in 2010.

NWM is the American adaptation of the hit European game College of Wizardry, a highly successful blockbuster larp which is to date scheduling its 11th run, not including sequels. Contrary to popular belief, NWM is not the first weekend-long Nordic larp in the United States; that honor belongs to Lizzie Stark’s 2012 run of Mad About the Boy.

Each run of the Harry Potter-esque magic university runs from Thursday afternoon until Saturday at midnight, immersing players in a magical version of the United States known as the Magimundi invented by co-organizers Maury Brown and Ben Morrow and co-created by the player-characters themselves. Thursday evening mark the parties of the 5 student houses and the initial gatherings of the school’s many clubs and secret societies. Friday is the first day of classes coupled with the first-year initiation ceremony into their respective houses. Saturday is the second day of classes, and ends with a spectacular ball and the announcement of the winners of the house cup.

The design of this game focuses on player imagination, co-creation, 360-degree immersion, and emergent plotlines. Overall themes (as far as I could tell) were inclusivity vs. exclusivity, vulnerability vs. coldness, the consciousness and rights of non-human/non-wizard creatures, freedom vs. security, and rebellion vs. control.

Design

Brown and Morrow have deliberately created a larp environment around building empathy and empowering others. When we think about the last 25 years of entertainment larp history, we know that’s often not the case. Vampire: The Masquerade-based larps, the centerpiece of the medium and hobby for many years, famously revolve around player vs. player (PvP) conflict. Baalman and Barchmann (2014) write:

Conflict is the basis of the game – the reasons for conflict are a multitude – and the conflicts are never fully resolved or forgiven, any step towards resolution is simply a further step towards new conflicts. (22)

To be sure, conflict is what drives most narratives, and in theory driving for hardcore antagonism in a larp space is a good thing. In practice, however, a larp culture of PvP can produce many nasty side effects as well. Participants trust each other less and, as Sarah Lynne Bowman (2014) has argued, PvP can lead to long-term community schisms that only hurt the larp ecosystem overall. In fact, PvP games too often instinctively draw upon cultures of scheming and conflict that, in fact, are only endemic to the western world.

In contrast, Brown and Morrow advocate for a larp design that includes rather than excludes, that empowers rather than constrains, and that encourages ignorance of social hierarchies rather than deference to them. In their words: “The rhetoric the characters [use] is invitational and not the agonistic or command-and-conquer rhetoric that is programmed into so many games.” Empowerment therefore stems from players being able to have information at their disposal, decide to opt in or out of play situations, easily create alibis to cover certain plot points, and let them negotiate the outcome of emergent fiction. As any expert of improv theater can tell you, the First Rule is to say “Yes, and…” to any fiction or action thrown your way. Information circulates thanks to a state of transparency unheard of in most larps (Brown has said my own essay on transparency helped her formulate design on this front), and then player-characters choose to engage or disengage using a variety of techniques.

Thus the “magic” of a magic school comes from the collective imaginations of the participants, rather than carefully balanced sets of rules and gamemaster-centered meta-plots. Actually, the latter part – the relative deficit of meta-plot – proves an integral part of this design. In cooperative board games such as Pandemic or Ghost Stories, for example, the reason to cooperate can be found in the relentless external threats pounding down on the player-characters from all sides. In NWM, cooperation stems from player-created drama that is often not directly PvP. A student has an unresolved relationship with their monstrous father, and needs fellow students to help summon him. A professor gets into an unprofessional fight with another professor over methodology. A disruption in the ley lines has brought in more vampires, shadows, and werewolves to campus, meaning that the non-human-sapience advocates suddenly have a whole bunch of wandering actual creatures on whose behalf they must now advocate. Each plot thread stems from situations that offer personal or social drama, rather than drama on an epic or worldwide scale. Countering the usual genre fiction trope of the world always being threatened and the PCs always being entrusted with saving it, NWM instead explores the day-to-day weirdness of being at a magic school and the HBO-style drama of powerful-yet-inexperienced wizards figuring out their lives, finding romance, reconciling with their pasts, and taking action against the social injustices around them.

Speaking of social injustices, I should mention the progressive ambitions of the larp. Gender pronouns defaulted to “them/they” rather than “him/he” or “her/she.” Romance plots were presumed to be agnostic of sexuality. Most of the student organizations available had some sort of activist component to them. All of the Magical Theory & Ethics faculty, myself included, were encouraged to instruct students to question authority and rebel against it. Real social issues around the marginalization of certain populations and the investment of large institutions in criminal corporate enterprises emerged in metaphorical form throughout the game. In other words, NWM created a space in which we might enact our own pedagogy of the oppressed and imagine alternate realities in which our own education system encouraged students to speak out, rather than conform.

NWM’s design had us build a temporary edifice of trust – a heterotopia, if you will – so that we could explore both personal themes and themes much greater than ourselves. By turning conflict toward the extant social system, the game’s design had us form real empathy relations with our fellow players as we then began to address social problems all around us. Those characters who exacerbated these problems also demanded our empathy: we needed to figure out why they were prejudiced against chupacabras, or why they chose to defend the evil Foresight Corporation, or why they dabbled in the dark arts, and then make difficult decisions as to what to do about it. The game gave us the necessary information, and then let us figure out what to do with it all. It felt like a breath of fresh air with a whiff of emotional maturity. It created an environment that, like any good classroom, afforded the players to take appropriate risks.

And that’s where I come in.

Professor Kai Hassinger

The character I was given was “K. Hassinger, Professor of Magical Theory & Ethics, 3rd Year.” He’s a Mundane-born (“muggle”) weirdo from Mishipeshu (the Magimundi Midwest) who happens to be a former New World Magischola student. This character opens with the line “You’re a rebel and proud of it” and later continues:

“As a professor, you’re valued for your brilliant, outsider’s grasp of arcane ethics. You’ve tempered a bit, but you still have a hot streak and you delight in challenging expectations and forcing students to re-examine what they’ve learned.”

This was basically a gift to me as a player, because I’m often playing the quirky, outsider character with left-leaning ideologies. Fit me like a glove. And then I thought: “What if Robert Smith from The Cure was my fashion template?”

Thus Kai Hassinger was born.

K Hassinger

Kat did my make-up and showed me how to rat my hair, and it took some planning to find goth-y clothing that would also breathe well in the extreme Richmond-in-July heat. I was very proud with the result: an arrogant agitator and rock star with a heart of gold.

My personality came from both former UMass professors (“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will!”), as well as my general impression of impassioned iconoclasts throughout history. Also as an iconoclast: he was thrown out of 2 of the 5 houses in his 3 years as a student, and never really graduated as a practitioner of a specific “major.”

For this run, my character had been given leadership positions in the Fellowship of the Hydra, a do-gooder vigilante group, and the monitorship of the Maison Du Bois, the most upstanding house and one of the ones that threw him out as a student. I attributed Hassinger’s membership in the former to his impulse toward action over mere philosophizing, and his possession of the latter as a mysterious form of punishment handed to him by the Chancellor thanks to political maneuvering by his institutional arch-enemy, Jurisprudence Professor Taggart. So I was grappling with a fairly complex character that, at the same time, needed to provide play for others as faculty. But I otherwise had zero character connections listed on my character sheet.

I attempted to reach out to fellow players on Facebook before the game with some limited success. The Mundane players certainly wanted an ally on the faculty, and I desperately wanted – thanks to prior larp experiences – to be situated in some social situation other than “You’re an outsider and a weirdo.” I chose then to double down on my character’s responsibilities to his networks – Faculty, Hydra, DuBois, Mundane-borns – as well as scheduled a rock concert to happen for ~30 minutes on the Saturday of the game (more on that below). At the game itself, I reached out to several professors for more solid relationships. Prof. Alfred Contreras became Hassinger’s former advisor who also was the reason why someone as outlandish as him even had a job. Prof. Kane, the other ethics faculty, also had a very progressive, leftist approach to ethics, so Hassinger immediately formed a tight bond with him. Prof. Taggart became his arch-nemesis, “The Man” he wanted so desperately to take down (but with whom he secretly agreed on many topics). Prof. Barber, a cryptozoologist, became Hassinger’s equally unconventional frenemy… with whom he later found much affinity. Prof. Barlow in alchemy became a fellow disaffected person from Mishipeshu, and eventually his date to the ball. Prof. Ziegler became the other outsider, whose avocation of necromancy intrigued him. Slowly, the pieces began to fall together, but only with much proactive effort on my part.

But no proactive efforts would outrank the feat that was my course preparation.

Classroom Prep

How do you teach a “magical theory & ethics” course? Let me count the ways…

Seriously, the topic is so, so broad. And it’s so easy to get wrong.

I didn’t know where to begin, so I thought about what I myself as a German professor and graduate faculty member at the University of Cincinnati would be interested in teaching. What I came up with was a valorization and discussion of the works of several of my intellectual heroes: Hannah Arendt, Antonio Gramsci, and Giorgio Agamben. Basically, those strains of continental philosophy that deal with the politics of demarcating an “enemy” and what we actually do with human (and non-human) bodies subjected to systems larger than ourselves. I wanted to smuggle these thinkers into the larp, even through their own words, with the serial numbers filed off. In other words, I wanted to teach the players something that I myself was actually an expert in, so that they could then feel like they as characters had also learned something.

The faculty are basically gamemastering their own mini-larps, and I wanted mine to A) overwhelm the students with that “out of my league” feeling you get when you first get to college and B) let the students know that they could comprehend the basics and learn to act on what they’ve learned by the end. I also wanted to model how to disagree respectfully with someone with different – perhaps even repugnant – opinions from oneself.

So I invented a worthy straw man: Prof. Joffrey Leadwale (played to a T. by Chris Bergstresser), a well-established Unsoiled professor from the 19th and early 20th Century whose work Arcanium narum was considered a classic at NWM. My first lesson had an intended three-Act structure. Act I was introducing the students to the Arcanium and letting them swim around in its complexities. Hassinger asked them if they could find a passage that made them angry, and one that intrigued them. Hoo boy, did that get them riled up. And just after the students reached the point when they wanted to tear the argument to shreds, in walks the spirit of the guy who wrote it. (It’s kind of an academic’s dream come true, actually). Act II is an act of tense negotiation in which Hassinger tries to mediate Leadwale’s ideas about the semantics of magic to the students, while also questioning the classist and racist presumptions underlying the text. Students have to figure out how to voice their critiques to a worthy opponent. Act III involves Hassinger sending away Leadwale and then revealing his own school of thought and ethics, called the Alternium. The first page of the Alternium is Hassinger’s radical leftist intellectual statements regarding how magic is integrated into societal power politics. The second and third pages are then quotes from philosophers of interest to those looking at the ethics of power: “C. Schvitt” is Carl Schmitt, “The Q” is Malcolm X, “H. Ardenta” is Hannah Arendt, “M.M. Foqua” is Michel Foucault, and “A. Gambon” is Giorgio Agamben. The fourth page contains Hassinger’s rants against other content in the textbook, again reinforcing his “outsider” status. Discussion then launched into the very nature of power and our capacity to act within larger, exploitative social systems. The students finally had to form groups and tackle one of these 18 simple sociological projects, which involved observing class and power dynamics around NWM. So suddenly, magical school students had to take Antonio Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and interregnum seriously, or look for signs of discrimination and political economy in NWM. Hassinger helped drive play by suddenly having the player-characters critically analyze the environment around them. The second lesson was mostly about taking their lessons from the projects, and then applying them back to concepts in the Alternium.

The classes were exhilarating to teach, to say the least. Students came in not knowing what to expect, and wound up having to take real-life power dynamics articulated by real-life theorists seriously. He found instant affinity with a host of students who held similar opinions: Hebe Hathaway, Beowolf Gonzalez, Katerina Rosener, Tatiana Bradford, Jasper Creed, Rafael DuPont, and the list goes on. Philosophical questions that directly concern contemporary social politics were foregrounded, as well as a kind of polemics that one usually only sees in graduate-level coursework. Hassinger could behave as responsibly or as irresponsibly as he wanted, a liberating feeling for me as real-life faculty who is otherwise beholden to student evaluations. His class began to swell with auditors from other class years, who had heard a rumor or two about Hassinger’s teaching style.

It was in the Magic Theory & Ethics classes that I felt closest to the vision of this larp: social progressivism in wizard school and presenting students with no easy answers (or an “evil” threat to eliminate).

Scenes

The out-of-class scenes were not as enjoyable as teaching the classes, at least for me.

Many of the recaps and entries related to NWM often tell the tale in a long character arc spanning the whole weekend. Truth be told, Hassinger didn’t have much of an “arc” – more like a series of vignettes and small arcs. Here are a few to satisfy your interest in “what happened” during the game:

• Hassinger attends the Maison DuBois house reception as reluctant house monitor. He openly reveals his fraught history with the house (having been thrown out as a student) and casts public doubts about the viability of the group to compete for the House Cup. Later: He realizes at the moving House DuBois initiation ceremony conducted by Emily Dwyer and Meridia Hayers that he actually still believes in their causes of “truth and ethics,” and rallies to their support.

• Rafael DuPont, a 3rd-year Lakay Laveau, solicits Hassinger’s advice regarding Avernus prison. He’s got a relative imprisoned there, and knows of the atrocities. Hassinger brings him into the Faculty Lounge to discuss things further, where DuPont also gets to overhear all the drunken faculty gossip. Hassinger advises DuPont to gather the signatures of as many Marshalls as possible, to send a clear message that the next generation of law enforcers oppose this for-profit hellhole. Later: DuPont delivers the petition with 14 signatures. The motion to disinvest from Avernus prison is dismissed by the Chancellor out of hand, and the faculty move to table it for the next (contentious) budget meeting. Hassinger flies off the handle when Taggart’s name is mentioned as being pivotal for the petition to get off the ground, and he throws a temper tantrum at the faculty meeting.

• Hassinger spends much of the weekend debating with his mentor Contreras on the point of acting “principled” in contests such as the house cup. Hassinger takes the side of the pragmatists, advocating House DuBois to be “crafty,” should they want a house victory. Later: DuBois wound up coming in 2nd place.

• During the first meeting of the Fellowship of the Hydra, Hassinger and Faith Myczek look for a direction for this vigilante society, and find in one in sapience rights. One member says it is a pity for us to be holding our meeting at the exact same time as the sapience rights, so we just decide to merge our meeting with theirs. At the end of the major-league activist meeting led by Moxie Brack and Eva Sheridan among others, the gathered group is suddenly faced with a dilemma that Hydra members had to help deal with: a scared chupacabra being hunted down for having killed a wizard’s 12 year-old son. Thanks to the quick thinking of several students led by first-year Sloane Lanczek and the assistance of Profs. Hassinger and Barber, the students heal the chupacabra, conceal it in robes, and smuggle it to safety. Later: On the second meeting of the Fellowship of the Hydra, we discussed the outcomes of our previous struggles and then re-joined the Sapience Rights Advocates for their plans to speak in favor of vampires, chupacabras, and others.

• Because the Chancellor was otherwise indisposed, Hassinger had to take over taking the house cup points for about 3 hours.

• Hassinger witnessed several rituals on behalf of the students: one that brought a greycloak in from its quasi-existence between dimensions (don’t ask), one that permitted the poltergeist Johnny to possess the body of this other guy, and one that brought Alfie the ghost back from the dead.

• Hassinger notices first-year Jasper Creed has been attending his third-year classes and being of a similar anti-establishment mindset. He randomly asks him at dinner if he could be his TA. Later: At the ball, Creed and Hassinger find themselves awkwardly dancing together… and hatching future plans.

Rock On, Everyone

Of course, I also did mention that concert that I had scheduled. I used an impromptu, weird-ass flyer to advertise it…

Hassinger Flyer

Looks pretty hip, right?

In actuality, it looked something more like this:

K and the Cryptids

That thing on the left? It’s a gremlin. That thing on the right? It’s a faun.

They both rocked. Hard.

And it didn’t hurt that the Chancellor himself was really into punk music and down with me dominating the Faculty Lounge with a bunch of loud rock songs for half-an-hour. He hauled in more students to see the spectacle. Thanks, Fortinbras!

For those who know my recent larp creations, you know Kat and I’ve put together a wonderfully debauched game called Slayer Cake, which lets you live out your Brütal Legend dreams of being in a magical rock band vying for the title of Overlords of Rock. The relevance here is that I effectively introduced one of the karaoke, fake-guitar-playing sequences from Slayer Cake into NWM so as to introduce an “event” for other characters to participate in. Since I genuinely love playing fake guitar in front of everyone and screaming “Metal!!” then the deal worked out for people on all sides.

The important thing about blockbuster larps is the dispersal of various random events, some of which drive plotline, and others become empty vessels for plotline to fill. The concert was one of the latter: as Hassinger was rocking out to “Wishmaster” and “Paranoid Android,” there were people next door trying to conduct a ritual, others hiding in the concert from their opponents, and others still launching into new character arcs thanks to the music and lyrics. Player-characters projected what they wanted into Hassinger’s own small act of permitted rebellion, and were rewarded for it.

And there was even an encore permitted during the ball, for those who wanted to keep rocking!

A Few Summary Points

NWM3 afforded me an opportunity to be the rebel, rock-star professor I’d always wanted to be, as well as experience some minor pathos around Maison DuBois, my mentor Contreras, my antagonist Taggart, and student-led activism on behalf of issues that they cared about.

• The game’s design encouraged the players to use the wizard school as an allegory of modern liberal arts education and social justice dynamics.

• Professors being allowed to design their own curriculum gives player-characters in faculty roles the ability to steer the game through their lessons.

• Putting some real content that you are passionate about teaching into those lessons is a pretty good idea.

• My character didn’t really experience a life-changing arc during the game, and that’s OK.

• But I got to rock out and help make the experience an enjoyable one for my fellow players.

I send out much love and thanks to everyone who made NWM possible, and hope to be part of this continuing drama as it unfolds.

26 Game Studies Quests

January 27, 2016

 

bard's tale

For my Film 2008 course at the University of Cincinnati this Spring 2016, each student must complete 3 quests and a Final Boss Challenge. Here are 26 distinct quests for them to choose from. (Can you tell I’m a German and RPG scholar?)

A is for Affordances

Quest: To describe and theorize affordances in games, and their various functions
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the short text by Norman on affordances under Quest-Related
Materials: Then pick a game you’d like to analyze, preferably one that has what you consider interesting affordances: Dance Dance Revolution, Jenga, and Doom would all be equally interesting on this point. Write 4-5 pages on your experience of the affordances of the game, beginning with your subjective experience thereof and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Affordances (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

B is for Bungie and Blizzard

Quest: To detail how studios preserve a certain style or type of narrative over time, even between game universes.
[PROSPECTIVE GAME HISTORIANS]
Procedure: Play at least three games by a single game studio, attending to the span of time between the studio’s origins and the present. Good examples would be Bungie
(Marathon → Halo → Destiny) or Blizzard (Warcraft → World of Warcraft → Diablo 3). In a 3-5 page paper that includes a comparison chart, describe to the reader the salient aspects of the studio’s style that distinguish it from other studios, and what continuities seem to persist across distinct titles. Cite studio-related secondary literature if pertinent, using proper MLA formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Comparison Chart (10), Grammar and Usage (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

C is for Constraints

Quest: To describe and theorize how constraints work to narrow and control player options and movement – both in the positive and negative sense.
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Constraints limit user interaction with any given game to delineate their options and available maneuvers. Pick and play a game that you think has interesting constraints: Mysterium, Waco Resurrection, and Desert Bus all have interesting ones to consider. Write 4-5 pages on your experience of the affordances of the game, beginning with your subjective experience thereof and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Constraints (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

D is for Diplomacy

Quest: To describe how player unpredictability and the removal of randomness as an alibi affect a board game’s aesthetic.
[GAMERS]
Procedure: Borrow or buy a copy of Diplomacy (board game) and play it with 6 other people, including other players from the class doing this assignment. Be attentive to the rules, especially regarding secrecy and troop movement. After the game is over, debrief with your fellow players for about 15 minutes, talking about the various strategies that worked and – most importantly – how everyone felt during gameplay. Now write a 4-5 page paper describing your experience, focusing on your available decisions and moments of drama, and apply Greg Costikyan’s “player uncertainty” concept from his Uncertainty in Games book.
Points: Writing Style (10), Self-Reflection (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Incorporation of Costikyan’s Concepts (10) = 40 points

 

E is for Exploration

Quest: To take a closer look at a video-game character and its form and functions.
[GAME DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the Isbister text in “Quest-Related Materials” on game characters. Now pick a character from a video game, preferably one that offers us much to discuss. Write a 4-5 page paper relating that video-game character to principles in Isbister’s text.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Isbister’s texts (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

F is for Failure

Quest: To describe how a game uses failure to drive play.
[PHILOSOPHERS]
Procedure: Re-read Jesper Juul’s Art of Failure and keep in mind his points about the rewards of negative affect. Pick a game that has a particularly interesting relationship to failure: Flappy Bird, Track & Field II, and Space Invaders would all be good examples. Write a 4-5 page paper relating Juul’s ideas to this particular game.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Juul’s text (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

G is for Good Filmmaking

Quest: To evaluate how filmmaking effects are used in contemporary game design.
[FILM AND MEDIA STUDIES]
Procedure: This quest involves some very specific media products. Watch Blade Runner (1982) and Ghost in the Shell (1996), and then play Deus Ex (2000) or Oni (2001) and Remember Me (2013). Using the first two cyberpunk films as a baseline, write 4-5 pages on how the video games appropriate and/or deviate from specific cinematographic techniques and film practices from the 2 films. Note also how Remember Me builds on or deviates from the films vs. Deus Ex and Oni.
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

 

H is for History of Game Studies

Quest: To understand certain fundamentals of the game design field through the narratology vs. ludology debate
[FUTURE GAME STUDIES SCHOLAR]
Procedure: You will have to read a lot for this assignment, namely Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext, Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, Gonzalo Frasca (http://web.cfa.arizona.edu/art435a/readings/frasca_ludology.pdf), and re-read Edward Wesp (http://gamestudies.org/1402/articles/wesp). Using evidence from these texts and any others you find, take a position in the debate and supply a way we might use the resulting methodology in games analysis. 4-5 pages will be sufficient, but you may want to write more. Please cite as many sources as you need (probably 5+), using MLA 7 standards.
Points: Writing Style (10), Summary of Positions (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

 

I is for Interview

Quest: To conduct an interview with a game designer, professional or amateur, who has a playable game in public circulation.
[JOURNALISTS]
Procedure: Make contact with a game designer (ask me if you need some help there) and, if s/he is willing, interview them about their craft. The interview should be at least 5-7 questions long, and submitted in written form or decent-quality video or audio recording. Make sure the focus in the interview is on not only the design of the game, but its production and circulation in the real world.
Points: Thoughtful Questions (10), Interview Structure (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Interest (10)

 

J is for Just Choose Already

[LITERARY SCHOLARS]
Quest: To explore what interactive literature has to offer and write about it persuasively.
Procedure: Sit down and actually play through Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web (http://eblong.com/zarf/zweb/tangle/) and Crowther and Woods’ Colossal Cave Adventure (http://www.amc.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/exclusives/colossal-cave-adventure). If you’d like, play through a contemporary piece of Interactive Fiction such as 80 Days (2015) or something from Choice of Games LLC. Use FAQs or walkthroughs if you get stuck. Consulting sources such as Anastasia Salter’s What is Your Quest? or Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages, analyze your experience in playing these games in literary terms. What make these games “literature” to you, and how do their actual game elements intensify or complicate this relationship? Use MLA 7 for your citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Evidence of Play (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Argument (10)

 

K is for Kriegsspiel

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To understand the basis for modern military board games through Reiswitz’s Kriegsspiel
Procedure: Read the overview article from Philipp von Hilgers (https://www-alt.gsi.de/documents/DOC-2009-Jun-114-1.pdf), Vego’s overview (https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/900b6d3c-bcc8-4ff0-8c17-9ad22c448799/German-War-Gaming.aspx) as well as relevant passages from Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World and Kriegsspiel News (http://www.kriegsspiel.org.uk/index.php/articles/origins-history-of-kriegsspiel/3-origins-of-the-kriegsspiel). Now play through a modern descendent of the Kriegsspiel: either an Avalon Hill game (of which I have a few), an HPS Simulation, etc. Now write 3-5 pages in English or 2 pages in German about your play experience with respect to what you have read. Be certain to include how specific game mechanics constrained your options or permitted you to engage in specific play behavior. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Description (10), Relationship to History and Course Materials (10)

 

L is for Libraries

[LIBRARIANS AND READERS]
Quest: To go through recent game studies scholarship of interest.
Procedure: Find 5 game studies publications published within the past three years: articles, books or otherwise. Choose publications that work on one topic: role-playing games, platform studies, first-person shooters, etc. Write a 4-5 page paper with an argument detailing what is preoccupying these publications. What are the main issues at stake in these articles? Who are they in conversation with? What games seem to be cited frequently? Use MLA 7 citations, and have at least 5 of them!
Points: Writing Style (10), Insightful Reading (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Argument (10)

 

M is for Making Games

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To create freeform games based on German literature to use in the classroom.
Procedure: You will first need to do some background research on what freeform games are. Look to Lizzie Stark’s Pocket Guide to American Freeform, the Golden Cobra Challenge (http://www.goldencobra.org/), or Gizmet Game Poems (http://gamepoems.gizmet.com/about/) for clues. Then read one of the books in the list below. Come up with a short freeform game (20 min. – 1 hour) that could be played in a classroom to convey specific material auf Deutsch related to the work in question. Be creative! Resultant works may be adapted or used verbatim in Fall 2016.
• EXCERPTS: Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit (Mechthild von Magdeburg)
• POEM: “Es ist alles eitel” (Gryphius)
• NOVELLA: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Goethe)
• DRAMA: Maria Stuart (Schiller)
• POEMS: Various poems (Eichendorff)
• DRAMA: Einen Jux will er sich machen (Nestroy)
• POEM: “Des Biedermanns Abendgemütlichkeit” (Scheffel)
• NOVELLA: Krambambuli (Ebner-Eschenbach)
• EXCERPTS: In Stahlgewittern (Jünger), Im Westen nichts Neues (Remarque)
• DRAMA: Die Dreigroschenoper (Brecht)
• NOVELLA: Schachnovelle (Zweig)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch (Borchert)
• NOVELLA: Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (Plenzdorf)
• DRAMA: Der Tod und das Mädchen (Jelinek)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Mutterzunge (Özdamar)
Points: Clarity of Instructions (10), Understanding of the Original Text (10), Grammar (10), Overall Game Design (10)

 

N is for New Games for YOUR Major

[GAME DESIGNER]
Quest: To create (or at least start) a game related to your major
Procedure: If you’re looking to get into game design, then one of the best places to start is to create a game. Find a topic or complex related to one of your majors and come up with an idea for a game related to it. Run the idea by the instructor before you get too far into it. Then plot out the game rules and, if possible, make a playable prototype or proof of concept in Sploder, Twine, InDesign, Gamemaker or some other relevant game software.
Points: Presentation of Final Product (10), Overall Game Design (10), Clarity (10), Relationship to Source Material (10)

 

O is for Outer Space

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To play an intensive starship game in German
Procedure: If there are at least 4 German students interested, a German-language game of Artemis can be arranged. Artemis is a multi-player tactical ship simulation game that’s a lot like crewing a starship. Once we get through the logistical hurdles, you will meet for a 2-hour session of the game, and play it only in German. Then you will write a 1-page reflection paper on the experience, and playing games in a foreign language.
Points: Successful Playthrough (20), Quality of Self-Reflection (10), Grammar (10)

 

P is for Platform

[GAME DEVELOPER AND SCHOLAR]
Quest: To assess the field of “platform studies” from a scholarly and play perspective
Procedure: Platform studies involves the examination of a specific piece of hardware and its impact on the games it produces. Read at least 2 of the books in the Platform Studies series at MIT (http://platformstudies.com/). If you can, track down a working version of the platform in question and play a few games on it. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper answering the question: how is platform studies useful in assessing games? How might we understand a particular game thanks to its platform?  Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

Q is for Quarters

[COLLEGE STUDENT]
Quest: To visit an actual arcade environment and reflect on it anthropologically
Procedure: Gather together a group of 2+ students from this course and go to a local arcade: 16-Bit, The Place, Gameworks, etc. Spend at least $5 on games, paying close attention to each game you play: how the game is presented, what it promises you, how much it costs, what you actually get when you play it, and how long it takes for you to go before you have to feed the machine more quarters. Also observe your classmates as they play, if possible. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper on the experience, specifically attending to both the social context (i.e., being in an arcade) and the games themselves. Bring in concepts from the course useful for your description, such as affordances, constraints, representation, and others.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Relationship to Course Materials (10), Description Details (10), Writing Style (10)

 

R is for Role-Playing Theory

[ROLE-PLAYING SCHOLAR]
Quest: To look at contemporary role-playing game theory and take a position within it
Procedure: Read through Sarah Lynne Bowman’s The Functions of Role-Playing Games, Markus Montola’s “On the Edge of the Magic Circle” (https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/66937/978-951-44-8864-1.pdf?sequence=1), The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp (http://nordiclarp.org/w/images/8/80/2014_The_Foundation_Stone_of_Nordic_Larp.pdf), and the most recent issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing (http://ijrp.subcultures.nl/). Find a topic that interests you. Then write a 4-5 page paper with MLA 7 citations that responds directly to recent arguments in RPG studies. Draw on your own experiences with RPGs if you can.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Material (10), Writing Style (10)

 

S is for Sexuality and Gender

[CRITICAL THEORIST]
Quest: To examine broader implications of gender and sexuality to be found in games
Procedure: Drawing on Adrienne Shaw’s Gaming at the Edge, find at least 2 other articles – academic or otherwise – that deal critically with the issue of gender and/or sexuality and gaming. Be specific as possible, and try to play the games that are mentioned. Now write a 4-5 page paper responding to the issues raised, being attentive to critical theories of representation and game mechanics. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to the Secondary Literature (10), Writing Style (10)

 

T is for Travia GmbH & Co.

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To look at the German video games industry from a critical perspective
Procedure: Read this document positively appraising the German games industry (http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Content/EN/Invest/_SharedDocs/Downloads/GTAI/Fact-sheets/Business-services-ict/fact-sheet-gaming-industry-en.pdf) and consult the Wikipedia page on the German video games industry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_gaming_in_Germany). Track down and play one of the games on the list. Now write a 4-5 page paper in English (or a 2-page paper in German) explaining the game as a product of German industry forces. What company made it? What are their sales like? What could be considered “German” about this particular game? Pay attention to transnational and European-level markets, and come see your instructor if you need more details. Any citations shoudl be in MLA 7.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

U is for Uncertainty

[GAME DESIGNER]
Quest: To apply Costikyan’s theories of uncertainty in games to a specific game object
Procedure: Now that you’ve read Uncertainty in Games, it’s helpful to apply it to a game object. Pick a game that you think has a particularly interesting balance of uncertainty factors. Imagine telling some game designer how the game uses uncertainty to work. Write a 4-5 page paper articulating precisely what aspects of the game’s design contribute to this uncertainty, particularly looking at affordances, incentives, and constraints. Use Costikyan’s terminology and cite (MLA 7) as you write.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Text (10), Writing Style (10)

 

V is for Valor

[FUTURE POLITICIAN OR PROFESSOR]
Quest: To enlighten the rest of the class with respect to some specific game topic
Procedure: Are you a public speaker extraordinaire? Would you like to work on those skills? First, sign up for a 10-minute spot to present on a topic of your choice related to games and the course material. Then come up with an engaging 10-minute presentation on your particular topic to give in front of the gathered students. Please make it engaging!
Points: Clarity (10), Structure (10), Delivery (10), Persuasiveness (10)

 

W is for What is a Role-Playing Game?

[GERMAN STUDENTS AND OTHERS]
Quest: To play through a game that serves as a theoretical intervention, and assess it
Procedure: Find 2-3 fellow players and play Epidiah Ravachol’s What Is a Role-playing Game? in English (https://dig1000holes.wordpress.com/what-is-a-roleplaying-game/) OR in German (http://pihalbe.org/sites/default/files/Was-ist-ein-Rollenspiel–Raumraeuber.pdf) if you are a German student. Then discuss the play experience afterward. Take notes on both the play and the discussion. Then write a 4-5 page paper describing the experience, what happened in the game, and how the game made an impact on what you thought a role-playing game was. Speculate about what you would do if you had to make a similar intervention.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

X is for Xenophobia

[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Quest: To look at racial and/or race-related dynamics in a game with a critical lens
Procedure: Minorities are vastly underrepresented in video games. This structural racism is largely attributed to lean market demographics, when in fact people of color play games just as much as white people. To do this assignment, read the Mou & Peng article (https://www.msu.edu/~pengwei/Mou%20Peng.pdf), A.A. George’s Tor.com article (http://www.tor.com/2014/08/13/gamings-race-problem-gen-con-and-beyond/) and related materials to be found in the library or online databases. Pick and play a game which offers us clear insights into this particular dynamic. In a 4-5 page argumentative paper with at least 3 sources (MLA 7 citations), tell your reader about the constructions of whiteness and racialized figures in the game.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

 

Y is for Your Ideas Are Not Your Own

[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Quest: To understand how ideology works through game mechanics
Procedure: Game mechanics are persuasive and rhetorical instruments that one can use to further specific political and economic arguments. Almost every game implies how humans ought to behave and how systems ought to work: Monopoly justifies the bootstrapping entrepreneurial mentality as well as (paradoxically) demonstrates how having wealth and property just gives one more wealth and property, Pong implies that a game of pure physical skill is possible, Undertale rejects normative gender and sexuality perspectives while also reassuring us that kindness will save the world. In this assignment, you will play a game of your choice and discern the general ideological implications of its aesthetic and mechanics. After playing the game for a significant period of time, write a 4-5 page paper answering the following questions: What are the players incentivized to do in the game? How could these incentives be read in terms of political and economic profit motive? What mentalities are considered “optimal” in the story universe of the game. Citing (using MLA 7) Ian Bogost or cultural theorists from the Frankfurt or Birmingham School couldn’t hurt.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

 

Z is for Zelda

[GAME DESIGNERS]
Quest: To do an in-depth analysis of a specific level of a specific game
Procedure: Pick a level of a video game, and play through it at least 3 times. It could be a controversial level like “No Russian” in Modern Warfare 2, or the opening dungeon of The Legend of Zelda. Pay close attention to the following aspects, among others: how the level begins/continues/ends, what emotional high points and low points it offers to you as a player, what characters you meet and how you are expected to deal with them, the potential outcomes of the players’ actions within the level, the layout of the landscape, its soundscape and artistic inspirations. Now write 4-5 pages advancing a specific argument about the level. Be as precise in your description as possible, and relate its various points to concepts you learned in the course.
Points: Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10), Relationship to Course Concepts (10)

 

FINAL BOSS FIGHT

During the final two weeks of the semester, students get to try out their game analysis skills against a worthy opponent. They will select a game and play it, taking notes. Then they will locate no less than 3 reviews of or academic articles on the game. Citing these reviews and/or articles, they will then write their own review that somehow affirms, refutes and/or responds to the 3 reviews, while also arguing their own position on the game. Assignment length is somewhere between 2000-4000 words (the length of a decent game review) and should be written with popular game criticism standards (i.e., those of Fernández-Vara) in mind.