Syllabus & Class Schedule

TRANSMEDIA GAMES: THEORY AND DESIGN (ENGL/CRWR/CMST/ARTV/TAPS)

Time: Thursday 3:00-5:50pm

Location: Logan Center 014

Instructors: Patrick Jagoda (patrick.jagoda@gmail.com) and Sha Xin Wei (shaxinwei@gmail.com)

Lab Assistant: Ainsley Sutherland (sutherlande@gmail.com)

Office Hours: Tuesday 1:30-3:30pm or by appointment (Walker 504)

Media Sessions: Wednesday 4:30-6:30pm (Logan Center 003)

This experimental course explores the emerging game genre of “transmedia,” “pervasive,” or “alternate reality” gaming. Transmedia games are not bound by any single medium or hardware system. Conventionally, they use the real world as their primary platform while incorporating text, video, audio, social media, live performance, phone calls, email, websites, and locative technologies. The stories that organize most of these games are nonlinear and broken into discrete pieces that audiences must discover and actively reassemble. Players of these games must generally collaborate to solve puzzles. Throughout the quarter, we will approach new media theory through the history, aesthetics, and design of transmedia games. For all of their novelty, these games build on the narrative strategies of novels, the performative role-playing of theater, the branching narratives of electronic literature, the procedural qualities of videogames, and the team dynamics of sports contests. Moreover, their genealogical roots stretch back to a diverse series of gaming practices such as nineteenth-century English “letterboxing,” the Polish tradition of “podchody,” scavenger hunts, assassination games, and pervasive Live Action Role-Playing games. An understanding of these related forms will be critical to our analytical and creative work.

Course requirements include weekly blog entry responses to theoretical readings; an analytical midterm paper; avid engagement in discussion and weekly design; and group work on a final narrative-based transmedia game module project. No preexisting technical expertise is required. Since transmedia games draw on numerous skill sets, students will be able to contribute with a background in any of the following areas: creative writing, literary or media theory, web design, visual art, computer programming, music, performance, and game design. The course is supported by a Mellon fellowship at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry that will bring in new media artist and director of the world-famous Topological Media Lab, Sha Xin Wei, to guide game production and offer design support. For the final project, students will work in small groups, under the guidance of the instructors, on modules that can unfold in a larger transmedia game that will take place later in the year.

+ REQUIRED MATERIALS
Pattern Recognition (William Gibson)
– All other readings and games are available online or on our class Chalk page.

+ COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)

Week 1 (October 4): Literary and Cinematic Precursors of Transmedia Games

Lecture

  • Course Introduction

Class Discussion


Week 2 (October 11): What is a Transmedia Game?

Lecture (Jagoda)

  • What is a Transmedia Game?

Class Discussion

Assignments

  • *** Group Presentation:  Pervasive Game Case Study

*** October 11: Speculation gameplay begins

*** October 12 (7-10 pm): Logan Center Opening Performance and Jagoda/Sha Presentation

Week 3 (October 18): Critical Play

Class Discussion

  • Play Speculation transmedia game as a class beginning on October 11 and contribute to forum
  • “Games: the Extensions of Man” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 254-66)
  • “Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play” (Guy Debord)
  • “Introduction to Critical Play” (Mary Flanagan, Critical Play, p. 1-16)
  • Reality is Broken (Jane McGonigal, p. 296-344)
  • Man, Play, and Games (Roger Caillois, “The Definition of Play” and “The Classification of Games,” p. 3-35)

Assignments

  • *** Group Presentation: “Serious” Transmedia Game Case Study


Workshop Lab Exercise

  • Introduction to Workshop Labs: Shared transmedia game overview

Week 4 (October 25): Fictive Spaces, Transmedia Trails, and Everyday Life

Class Discussion

  • The Practice of Everyday Life (Michel de Certeau, “General Introduction” on p. xi-xxiv and “Walking in the City” 91-110)
  • “Theory of the Dérive” (Guy Debord)
  • “Cultural Poesis: The Generativity of Emergent Things” (Kathleen Stewart, p. 1015-30)
  • Nonchalance Game Trailer and Site
  • Continue playing Speculation transmedia game as a class and contribute to forum

Workshop Lab Exercise

  • Layer 1 (Site and Environment): Trail Exercise

*** October 29 by 5pm: Layer 1 Mockup Due on Group Blog

Week 5 (November 1): Augmented Reality Tools, Techniques, and Technologies

Class Discussion

  • Continue playing Speculation transmedia game as a class and contribute to forum
  • “The Slyness of Boredom” (Peter Brook)
  • The Process of Creating Life (Christopher Alexander)
  • Portal Teaser Trailer
  • Suggested for Context to Xin Wei’s Lecture: “Theater Without Organs” (Sha Xin Wei)
  • Recommended: Portal
  • RecommendedThe Fluxus Performance Workbook (mine for design ideas)

Lecture (Sha)

  • Augmented Reality and Responsive Environments

Workshop Lab Exercise

  • Layer 2 (Augmented Reality): Portal Exercise

Assignments

  • ***Midterm Paper Due***

*** November 5 by 5pm: Layer 2 Mockup Due on Group Blog

*** November 7: Journey Gameplay Group Session

Week 6 (November 8): Transmedia Narrative, Spatial Storytelling, and ARG Conspiracies

Class Discussion

  • “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (Jenkins)
  • The Practice of Everyday Life (Michel de Certeau, “Spatial Stories” on p. 115-30)
  • Play The Stanley Parable, The Cat and the CoupJourney, and Dear Esther (computer games)
  • Continue playing Speculation transmedia game as a class and contribute to forum
  • Recommended: La jetée (Chris Marker, 1962, film)
  • Recommended: “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” (Richard Hofstadter, p. 3-40)

Workshop Lab Exercise

  • Layer 3 (Narrative and Characters): Conspiracy Exercise

Assignments

  • ***Final Project Abstract Due***

*** November 12 by 5pm: Layer 3 Mockup Due on Group Blog

Week 7 (November 15): Affect, Atmospheres, and Intensities

Class Discussion

  • “Navigating Movements: A conversation with Brian Massumi” in Hope: new philosophies for change (Mary Zournazi, p. 210-242)
  • “Designing Games to Foster Empathy” (Jonathan Belman and Mary Flanagan, p. 5-15)
  • “Cultural Poesis: The Generativity of Emergent Things” (Kathleen Stewart, p. 1015-1030)
  • Continue playing Speculation transmedia game as a class and contribute to forum
  • Play Loneliness and Regret.

Workshop Lab Exercise

  • Layer 4 (Affect): Affective Puzzle Exercise

*** November 19 by 5pm: Layer 4 Mockup Due on Group Blog

Week 8 (November 22): Thanksgiving
NO CLASS

Week 9 (November 29): Performance, Gesture, and Project Play Testing

Class Discussion

  • “Manifesto in a Clear Language” (Antonin Artaud)
  • “Theater Without Organs” (Sha Xin Wei)
  • Continue playing Speculation transmedia game as a class and contribute to forum
  • RecommendedExperiments in Art and Technology (EAT)
  • Recommended: Architectural Body (Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, Introduction on p. xi-xxii, available online through the Regenstein ebrary Reader)

Lecture (Sha)

Workshop Lab Exercise

  • Extended play testing session and studio critique of games/puzzles

Week 10 (December 6): Final Presentations
*** Final Module Project In-class Presentation and Critique

Week 11 (December 13): Final Project
*** Final Project (Group) and Reflection (Individual) due

+ CLASS EXPECTATIONS
Timely Arrival: We only meet once a week and on a handful of occasions so we need to make the most of each seminar/workshop session. Arrive on time!

Preparation: Do the reading and take the activities seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and artworks. All readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

– Annotations and Notes: Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. Just because we’re occasionally discussing digital works doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your midterm paper and projects.

– Special Events: Special events, screenings, and play sessions are mandatory unless otherwise specified. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the events, you must pre-approve this absence and play the game prior to our class discussion.

– Questions and Office Hours: Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours. A seminar can’t succeed without open discussion and curiosity.

– Plagiarism: As the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students notes, “It is contrary to ethics, to academic integrity, and to the spirit of intellectual inquiry to submit the statements, ideas, or work of others as one’s own. Such conduct is punishable under the University’s disciplinary system.” If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, you should contact me in advance of turning in work with plagiarized content. The penalty for plagiarism might include failure of this course.

+ SHA XIN WEI
Professor Sha will be traveling from Montreal to Chicago for select class meetings, including October 11, November 1, November 29, and December 6. He will join us at other points via Skype. To set up meetings please contact him at shaxinwei@gmail.com.

+ SPECIAL MEDIA SESSIONS
Our course lab assistant Ainsley Sutherland will lead a series of practical tutorials that will offer introductions to various media you might be using for your weekly labs and final projects. Except for the first meeting, these labs are not mandatory but they are strongly recommended. These sessions are not meant to be comprehensive or even in-depth explorations of the media in question. Instead they are meant to introduce tools and resources that you might use for your group work. These special sessions will take place on Wednesdays from 4:30-6:30pm. The topics covered will include:

October 10: Logan Center Performance Rehearsal (4-6pm)
October 17: Website, group blogs, and media basics
October 24: Introduction to Photo/Video/Audio composition
October 31: Introduction to Digital Editing Concepts
November 7: HTML/Mobile Workshop
November 14: Experimental Media
November 21: No Special Media Session (Thanksgiving)
November 28: Final Project Assistance
December 5: Final Project Assistance

Topics covered in these workshops will be summarized online & resources will be posted. But there’s simply no substitute for a human shortcut! These interactive sessions will be especially helpful if you are hoping to create portfolio-quality media.

+ GRADING
– Preparation, Discussion, Screenings, and Play: 15%
Speculation Gameplay (Group Grade): 5%
– Transmedia Game Group Presentations: 10%
– Midterm Paper: 25%
– Workshop Lab Exercises (4 Layers): 15%
– Final Collaborative Project (Including Abstract, Presentation, and Collaboration Reflection): 30%

+ ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTIONS

+ Speculation Gameplay
One major component of your collective work this quarter will be playing the Alternate Reality Game Speculation, a process in which we will participate as a group for a few weeks beginning on October 11. This game will require you to organize quickly and efficiently with your classmates, engage in collective problem-solving, and take part in participatory storytelling. While progressing through the game will be important, for gamers and non-gamers alike, the primary player forum will also be a space that invites creative contributions and (meta-)analysis. This game will serve as a model and a shared text at the heart of the course so participation both out of class and during our discussions is critical.

+ Transmedia Game Group Presentations
On two occasions, you will select a transmedia game from an approved list and give a 5-minute presentation of it in groups of four. These presentations include:

October 11: Pervasive Game Case Study
(Choose from case studies in the text Pervasive Games, which include Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, etc.)

October 18: “Serious” Transmedia Game Case Study (Choose one of the following “serious” or politically oriented ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, Superstruct, ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, or other approved game).

As you think about your selected work, be attentive to the media-specific techniques through which the game tells a story or establishes a playful situation. While a brief summary of the game will be necessary for your classmates, you should focus on the analysis. Your presentation style may be as poetic or innovative as you’d like, provided that it tells us something meaningful about the production, aesthetics, gameplay, and form of your selected games.

+ Midterm Paper
For your midterm paper, you’ll perform analysis of a transmedia game that we discuss or play during the first month of class. I will not provide you with essay prompts, so part of the challenge will be finding a compelling topic that yields interesting implications — the question “So what?” should be perpetually in your thoughts when you engage in any analysis. While no external research is required for this paper, some of you might find it useful to engage with critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxist literary criticism, affect theory, game studies, new media theory, etc. in developing your implications.

This paper will also be an opportunity for you to think about the “theory and design” that serves as the subtitle of the course. As you search for a topic, ask yourselves: What is the relationship between philosophy and art, theory and design, analysis and practice? How does playing or creating a game represent a mode of theory? How does writing an analytical paper participate in art or design work?

Midterm papers are due on November 1. Undergraduate papers should be 5-7 pages in length. Graduate student papers should be 7-10 pages in length.

+ Workshop Lab Exercises
In addition to (and in conjunction with) seminar-style discussions, you will participate in a number of workshop lab exercises that are completed in groups of approximately four students each. The four primary “layers” of these labs will build on each other and help you prepare for your final collaborative project. You will begin these labs in class and complete them after class with your final project group. These layers should relate to our central game theme of “hauntings” and “conspiracy” and should be situated within the broad parameters of the shared transmedia game overview. Each layer will build on an ARG “trail” that you expand through the term. The work from each Thursday lab will be due by 5pm on the following Monday and should be posted on your group blog. In each case, you will turn in an annotated sketch or mockup of your expanding “trail” (completed in any modality).

October 18: Introduction to Workshop Labs:
During this session, the instructors will introduce you to a game design overview that includes narrative and ludic elements. The outline is general enough to keep open the possibilities for your own creative contributions while being specific enough to keep all groups within shared design parameters.

October 25: Layer 1 (Site and Environment):
In groups, create a fictive space or a “trail” out of an everyday environment. Your goal should be to defamiliarize and transform the site (a Hyde Park location) in a substantive fashion. Imagine a user moving through the trail and experiencing your selected space. Do not yet focus on puzzle design or narrative but only an experience of space. Use cultural forms such as parkour, dérive, podchody, and Frisbee golf as inspirations.

November 1: Layer 2 (Augmented Reality and Movement):
Take your Layer 1 trail and use augmented reality tools and techniques (introduced by Xin Wei) to transform the user experience. Build on your annotated sketch and use available tools to mock up one part of the trail. Specifically, use the Portal videogame trailer as an inspiration for creating “portals” in everyday environments. How would you use any tools, techniques, and technologies at your disposal to enable a movement through portals (e.g., doorways, windows, warps, cavities, openings, etc.) in your space?

November 8: Layer 3 (Narrative and Characters):
Continue to build on the trails you began in Layer 1 and 2. Stage a short narrative that fits into our broader themes of “hauntings” and “conspiracy.” Use La jetée (which uses primarily still images and audio to tell a complex story) and the videogames that we play to engage in spatial storytelling and narrative architecture. Use the Hofstadter essay and The Stanley Parable (and also Pattern Recognition) to think about conspiracy and paranoia. As you began thinking about space, now introduce temporality and (potential) sequences into your design.

November 15: Layer 4 (Affect and Game Design): Continue working on your trail by introducing a gameplay/puzzle component that has an affective charge. Create a mini-game or puzzle within determined emotional and affective parameters. Design a game that causes the player(s) to experience anger, fear, regret, joy, melancholy, or laughter. Incorporate this affective puzzle into your trail. Have other groups play-test these designs.

+ Final Collaborative Project (Including Abstract, Presentation, and Collaboration Reflection)

Final Group Project
Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill in a cultural landscape dominated by digital technologies. While novels and poems are often written by individual authors, many contemporary artistic forms, such as transmedia games and ARGs, depend on partnerships among writers, artists, programmers, and designers.

For the final project, you will work in a small group to create a “trail” that might serve as a “layer” or “level” of a single transmedia game. A shared document, introduced early in the term, will provide creative constraints for this process. For your final assignment, you will turn in a creative Game Design Document (GDD) that includes an introduction to your trail and a media-rich mock up of it. This GDD could, for instance, take the form of an annotated video or website walkthrough. You may also consider creating part of your trail.

As you approach this assignment, be careful not to treat it as a total departure from our class discussions or your midterm analytic paper. Instead, I’d like you to engage in a process of what Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire have called “theory by design.” In other words, instead of working through ideas in an expository fashion, you will do so through creative development.

Final Paper/Project Abstract (Approximately 1 page)
As a group, write a brief abstract for your final project that is due approximately a month (November 8) before the project deadline. In this abstract, introduce your projected “trail” and comment upon the type of research, design, and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline.

Final Project In-class Presentation and Art Critique
About a week before the final project is due, we’ll engage in a presentation and critique session. Each group will present its project to a panel of evaluators. This assignment will force you to present the features of your project in a clear and persuasive manner. Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos to assets from the completed project) will certainly strengthen your presentation. Your project does not need to be completed, at this stage, but a mockup or selections from the final piece may help. This exercise will also be an opportunity for you to receive feedback before the project is due.

Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)
Along with your actual group project, I’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 page) individual reflection about your project that does two things. First, offer an artist’s statement on the formal significance of your project. This is your chance to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your transmedia game trail. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? What did you contribute to the group?

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One comment

  1. […] digital stories of their own. Another experimental course that fell into this category was “Transmedia Games: Theory and Design.” I co-taught this course with visiting professor Sha Xin Wei. The group read critical theory […]

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