1.1) What is “Video Game Culture and Theory” about?
Major Writers and Genres
Our course is a special topic within the English program, offered under the “Major Writers and Genres” umbrella, which faculty use when we want to teach a in a particular area that isn’t already covered by an existing course:
Emphasis varies from term to term, e.g.: Short Fiction; Autobiography; Science Fiction. Alternate years. Repeatable for credit. 3 credits.
Video Game Culture and Theory
In the last decade, scholars have noticed the growing importance of video games among some areas of the population, as a form of storytelling, as a form of teaching, as a form of social commentary, and as a unique cultural practice. Their observations lead to the development of “Game Studies,” which critically examines the history and significance of video games.
This course explores the nature of “fun,” how “fun” is created and experienced by game designers and players, and how games reflect and shape the values of the culture in which they exist.
1.2) Where and when does it meet?
- Online (blogs.setonhill.edu/games)
- Jan 2 — 18
- Asynchronous, but with regular deadlines to help you stay on track.
- There is no specific time you have to be at your computer each day, so long as you meet those deadlines
(see the section on deadlines and late submissions for more details)
1.3) How do I contact Dr. Jerz?
2.1) What are the learning objectives?
- understand explain important fundamental concepts such as game, fun, and flow
- recognize and interpreting basic game elements (goal, risk, fiction, emotional engagement, rules, narrative, outcome, values, consequences, close playing, etc.)
- trace the historical development of video games
- analyze and a broad range of games
- develop an awareness of the complex cultural context within which games exist (children’s culture, geek culture, sports culture, women’s issues, political debate, economic and hardware constraints, aesthetic concerns, etc.),
- and ultimately, to articulate, in a well-supported argument, how the content and mechanics of any good game work together to generate a particular set of core cultural values.
To that end, you will:
- play several games on the syllabus (including blockbuster, indie, obscure, and historical titles)
- study several texts (including fan-made videos, games journalism, academic writing, and of course the games themselves)
- complete online reading quizzes and other exercises to ensure that you are keeping up with the readings and to evaluate your progress,
- participate regularly in class web-based discussions, and
- research an academic subject related to games, and present your findings in a creative online presentation (could be a video, website, or just about anything) and an academic paper (minimum 6 pages, not counting references).
The Seton Hill University Learning Objectives (found on page 4 of the 2010-2012 course catalog) lists several skills that this course is especially designed to help you develop:
- Use technological skills to access information, organize knowledge, and communicate.
- Express arguments or main points clearly, in written and oral communication.
- Find, evaluate, and apply information.
- Locate and analyze expressive media to gain information or comprehend the significance of an issue or event.
Depending on the topic you choose for your research project, this course may also help you
- Assess privilege and oppression from the perspective of culture, race, class, and gender.
- Exercise responsible freedom and civic engagement based on an informed value system.
2.2) How does this course contribute to a liberal arts education?
Since classical times, a liberal arts education has been the set of skills that each individual needs to master in order to fully participate in a free, democratic society.
In ancient times, three of these skills were always taught first: grammar, logic and rhetoric (the ability to persuade), so that students would then be ready for more advanced study in specific subject areas (arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry).
In a similar way, a liberal arts education at Seton Hill University includes general courses that all students take, so that they will learn the basic skills that professors in every discipline agree students will need to develop in order to be ready for more advanced courses.
Whether you hope to use your reading, writing, and discussion skills every day after you graduate, or your future plans include as little communication as possible, I hope you’ll consider the effort you put into every SHU course as investment that will not only prepare you for future courses, but also “fit you for that world in which you are destined to live” (as Elizabeth Ann Seton said).
While this course is not designed to make you an expert in every skill that a liberal arts education offers, as you can see, this course plays an important role in laying a foundation, not just for upcoming courses, but a lifetime of intellectually engaged thinking and learning.
2.3) What kinds of assignments are involved?
I will maintain a gradebook at moodle.setonhill.edu.
- 20%: Participation (assessed via student-assembled portfolios)
- 20%: Comprehension Quizzes (objective and essay responses to assigned texts)
- 20%: Exercises (various reflective, interpretive, and creative assignments)
- 30%: Papers (1 analytical and 1 research)
- 10%: Presentation
2.4) What are the assigned texts and required materials?
I chose the following texts because they are readily available as eBooks for the Kindle.
Required Texts and Materials
- Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun. (AISN: B004D4YI52 or ISBN: 1932111972)
- McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (AISN: B004G8Q1Q4 or ISBN: 0143120611)
- Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things With Games (AISN: B005IQ682U or ISBN: 081667647X)
- Your iPad and your MacBook (if you don’t have one or the other, please contact me so we can make alternate arrangements)
- iPad apps (requiring your an iTunes account)
- “Pac-Man Lite” (free)
- “Meanwhile” ($4.99 in the App Store; also available as a printed book: ISBN 0810984237)
- Another game app selected from a short list chosen by the class (part of an assignment near the middle of the course)
- The SF Writer (handbook from SHU’s freshman writing courses)
- or any other recent college writing handbook
2.5) Where is the detailed course outline?
The course will ask you to use several different tools to complete and submit work, including moodle.setonhill.edu, email, and Turnitin.com.
While you’ll be working in all those learning tools, the only place to go for the most complete list of all assignments is this web site.
To find a current list of recent and upcoming assignments, point your web browser to:
For a full list of outlines and deadlines, see
A syllabus is a contract. By enrolling in this course, you agree to read this syllabus so that you will know what I expect of you, and what you can expect of me.
3.1) What Are Students Expected to Do?
- complete all assignments on time
- devote sufficient time to the course
- a J-Term class moves quickly; each day, we need to cover about as much material as we would cover during a whole week of a semester-long course
- we can save a little time because we’ll spend more time “in the zone” — we won’t have four other classes competing for our attention, so it will be easier to build on what we learned, and sustain some intellectual energy.
- successful students plan to spend a minimum of two hours outside the classroom for every one hour inside the classroom
- every day J-Term is in session, expect to complete about as much work as you’d do in a full week of a regular course. (There are about 14 weeks in a term, but owing to a crammed schedule, classes are scheduled to meet for only 12 days in J-Term)
- dedicated students put in as much time as is necessary in order to complete the assignments
- remember to think in terms of meeting the learning goals, rather than punching a clock, and pace yourself accordingly. (You may find it takes you longer than the average student to read a chapter, or you may already be proficient at a skill I’m trying to teach; you’ll get regular assessment to help you adjust your pace, if necessary.)
- inform yourselves of due dates, assignment instructions, and feedback from me, by
- checking your SHU email at least once a day M-F
- checking the course website at least once a day M-F
- show good manners and common courtesy in interactions with peers and with me.
- contribute actively to a positive learning environment, by
- preparing adequately for and participating respectfully in class activities
- seeking out help when necessary (this means consulting any of the many resources available to help you succeed, such as this syllabus, the textbooks, Google, SHU’s librarians, and tutoring & counseling services)
- building confidence by working carefully through each stage of a sequence of assignments, from multiple-choice reading comprehension questions to a researched term paper.
- read and comply with this syllabus
3.2) What does Dr. Jerz Promise in Return?
I promise my students that, as their instructor, I, too, will stick to the policies described in this syllabus. See below for details.
3.2.1) My Promises to Students about Assignments
- On the first day of classes, all major assignments will be posted, with due dates, on the course website; details will be added as the due dates approach. (If you are working ahead, and you see blank assignments, let me know and I’ll put them higher on my to-do list.)
- I will be thorough, helpful, and fair when I evaluate your work.
- Balancing thoroughness with timeliness, I aim to evaluate all submissions within two class sessions.
- You are always welcome to make a telephone or other real-time appointment if you’d like more detailed feedback, or faster feedback.
- Longer assignments may require a bit longer. (In rare cases, I might post scores quickly, and follow up with detailed comments as time permits. See above.)
- Late submissions are evaluated last. If your assignment is just an hour or so late, I will probably be able to evaluate and return it with everyone else’s; however, if I finish evaluating the stack before your submission arrives, I may not get to it until the next work day.
- While respecting the official course outline for all published due dates, I reserve the right to make small changes. For instance, if Seton Hill suddenly finds itself in the national news, or something important happens in the gaming world, I might adjust the syllabus to make use of the opportunity. In the event I make such an adjustment,
- I will clearly describe my expectations for the new learning opportunity
- I will clearly explain how the assignment is intended to help you meet a specific learning goal
3.2.2) My Promises to Students about Common Courtesy
- When you have the floor (in the form of the email or forum post on my screen, the phone call at my hand, or a face-to-face appointment in my office)
- I will honor you with my full attention
- I will expect your peers to honor you with their full attention
- I will not multitask when I should be focusing my full attention on a learning activity.
- I will not email or call you when I am angry; nor will I permit any other kind of inappropriate behavior(in the virtual classroom, elsewhere on the internet, or in real life) interfere with our academic relationship.
- If I have to cancel a class or appointment, I will notify you as soon as possible, and I will take the initiative in proposing an alternate arrangement.
- If you tell me you would prefer to handle a matter in person, rather than by email or phone, I will continue our discussion during an office visit; likewise, if an office visit ceases to be productive, I will recommend a party to whom you can turn for further insight.
- I expect all members of a learning community to practice ethical behavior, and to work out their differences respectfully (following policies stated in this syllabus, as well as behavior determined by good manners and common sense).
3.2.3) My Promises to Students about Communication
- Email is the best way to reach me.
- I will check my email regularly during J-Term; I intend to catch up on my emails at about 9am and 5pm each day, and I’ll check my email quickly at 11pm. (In general, I will aim to respond by the end of the next working day; please bear that in mind if you email me at 1am with a question about an assignment due at 10am!)
- Depending on the nature of the contact — let’s say you have a quick yes/no question, or you’re sharing a viral URL – I might fire off a quick response right away.
- However, you should feel free to post a comment on the course blog, or leave a voicemail message, or mention me on Twitter, or post to my Facebook wall; as it happens, all those actions will trigger an email, so they’re all equally convenient for me.
- Like most people, I will respond most quickly to short, specific emails that don’t depend on attachments.
- Thus, instead of attaching a full draft and asking me what I think, I’d prefer that you paste a brief writing sample directly into the body of your email, asking a specific question such as, “Dr. Jerz, I’ve pasted below two versions of my research question. I think the second version does a better job narrowing the topic. Am I on the right track?”
- That’s the sort of message I can answer without really interrupting the flow of my other work; in fact — and I hope this isn’t revealing too much about myself — I get a little jolt of professional joy when I get such a message from a student. It’s something like how I feel when I get a “Like” from a Facebook friend, so please don’t be shy about reaching out in this manner.
- If you email me an attachment or a link, I am more likely to wait and read it during the next block of time I’ve set aside for “doing work.” (You’ll get a faster response if you type your question or example right in the body of your email.
- When I send an email, I will be clear and thorough.
- Messages that I initiate will have a meaningful subject line that helps you to determine the importance of the message.
- I will use your SHU-registered address, which can be set to forward wherever you prefer.
- If reading and writing email is not your thing, I would be happy to have a FaceTime video conference, or email you a voice memo from my iPad, or use Twitter, or whatever.
3.3) What Are the Assignment Submission Policies?
Required Formats: The course syllabus clearly tags each assignment with a label that indicates whether the assignment is simply an optional reference for you to consult if you wish to; background material that will help you understand some other text; a reading that comes with comprehension questions, a reading that prompts you to respond and engage with your peers, or a writing assignment that asks you to accomplish specific interpretive or informational tasks. Some assignments will require you get above a certain score on a computer-graded multiple-choice test in order to unlock a discussion question for you to answer in a forum.
An assignment is not complete until it is submitted in the requested format.
Alternate Formats: If you have problems submitting it in the requested format, you may “stop the late clock” by submitting it to me in an alternate form (that is, you may hand me a printout of something I asked to be uploaded, or you may email something I asked to be printed), but your work remains incomplete until it arrives in the requested format.
Late Submissions: Once the deadline for an individual assignment has passed (9am the morning after the due date), there is no opportunity to earn credit for the late assignment, but you may still have to complete that assignment anyway — for no credit — in order to unlock the next assignment; if you find yourself in this situation, please contact me so that we can keep you on track.)
3.4) What Is the Attendance/Absence Policy?
Instead of attendance, our course has a series of rolling unit deadlines.
If you know in advance that you will be unable to complete an assignment during a particular time span, let me know in advance, and I will either open up the assignment early, or come up with an alternate assignment.
- Students are expected to attend every class. (See SHU Catalog. For our purposes, “attending” means the same thing as completing each assignment in a unit.)
- Students are responsible for all material collected, covered, and/or assigned during the period covered by a medical or other emergency, whether excused or unexcused.
- Because the assigned books are all ebooks that are immediately available for download, my expectation is that everyone will be able to get the books immediately. (If you don’t have an iPad, you can still use Amazon’s smartphone app, or the free Cloud Reader program, which lets you read Kindle books on any computer.)
- When a student submits nothing for two consecutive units, I will presume the student has withdrawn from the course, and report a final grade based on work completed. (You may submit a written request for reinstatement, along with a plan for catching up and staying on track.)
- Frequent late arrivals, early departures, inattentiveness, or lack of preparedness may add up to count as absences. (I will warn you when your partial attendance is about to accrue to an absence.)
3.4.1) What should I do if I have to miss a deadline, or if I fall behind?
- Consult the online syllabus to find out what is scheduled on the date(s) affected by your issue.
- After you have informed yourself about what is at stake, let me know how I can help. (Do you need more guidance to help you acquire a particular skill? Are you asking me to look at a draft of your next assignment before the deadline, so that I can offer you pointers? The more thought you put into what help you need, the more you’ll be able to pull yourself out of your trouble spot.)
- I will be happy to offer further suggestions and answer any specific questions.
Note: It may not be possible to arrange make-up assignments for some time-sensitive activities, and it may be necessary for you to complete a late assignment for zero credit in order to move on to the next step.
3.4.2) How should students prepare for a planned absence?
Those who miss class due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all make-up assignments before the missed class. The planning process begins when you submit (by email) a completed “Absence Form” (available at http://jerz.setonhill.edu/teaching/Absence.doc“), two work days before the missed class.
If there is insufficient time for us to agree upon an acceptable suggestion for making up missed work, or if an approved make-up assignment is late or unsatisfactory, then the usual late penalties will apply.
3.4.3) How should students recover from an emergency absence?
In the event of extended absences due to prolonged illness, I am willing to be flexible. Submit a written explanation, with any documentation that you feel will help me decide in your favor. But see below.
3.5) What is the policy for late / missed work?
No work will be accepted after the last day of classes, unless you have filed the “incomplete” paperwork with the registrar.
If you miss a due date, I may apply a late penalty of up to 1% per hour, until 9am the next morning, after which time I will report a zero. (If you submit SOMETHING, I can assess it and help you; if you submit nothing, I can’t help you. You’ll be much better off if you submit SOMETHING, rather than NOTHING.)
[A passage that mentioned printouts and penalties for missing work, which was written for a semester long in-person class, has been deleted.]
Online assignments are due in the requested format, 20 minutes before class starts, on the given due date. Printouts, when requested, are to be brought to class, and held until the end of class, at which time you are to submit them by placing them on the table in the front of the room as you leave. I may instead ask for them at some point during class. Late work submitted before midnight on the due date receives a 1/3 letter grade penalty. (Thus, a B paper submitted at 10pm would drop to a B-). Late work submitted after that loses a letter grade per day. (Thus, a B paper submitted at 1am the next day would drop to a C.) No late work will be accepted one week after the due date. (Note that an F can be as high as a 59, and earning a 59 on an assignment is much better than not turning it in at all and earning a zero.)
3.6) What is the policy for make-up work / extra credit?
Make-up Work: For some time-sensitive assignments, such as responding to readings before a class discussion, participating in peer-review workshops, or participating in online discussions, there are no possible replacement assignments. Otherwise, make-up assignments should be part of our discussion of your Absence Form (see above).
Extra Credit: I do not create or accept extra-credit assignments.
Boosting Your Grade: The best way to boost your grade is to complete a draft of a major assignment well before the deadline, and schedule an appointment with me (phone or chat or even just email) so that I can give you penalty-free feedback, early enough that you’ll be able to apply it before the deadline.
4.1) What is Seton Hill University’s Academic Integrity Policy?
Seton Hill University expects that all its students will practice academic honesty and ethical conduct. The University regards plagiarism, cheating on examinations, falsification of papers, non-sanctioned collaboration, and misuse of library material, computer material, or any other material, published or unpublished, as violations of academic honesty. Violators of the code may expect disciplinary sanctions, which are discussed in the Seton Hill University Catalog.
Any unreferenced use of the written or spoken material of another, or of previously submitted work of the student’s own, constitutes plagiarism. Paraphrasing the thoughts or written work of another without reference is also plagiarism. For additional information see “Academic Integrity Materials” in Griffin Gate and your textbook’s section on plagiarism. Any plagiarism on a draft will result in a zero as the final grade on that assignment. Any plagiarism on an informal essay will also result in a zero.
4.2) What is Seton Hill University’s Disability Services Policy?
If you have a disability that requires instructor consideration, please contact the Director of Disability Services at 724-838-4295. It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class. If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disability Services Office, you should offer information in writing that includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments. It is not necessary to disclose the nature of your disability.
4.3) What is Seton Hill University’s Information Literacy Policy?
Seton Hill University defines information literate students as those who make intelligent choices when gathering information in support of a chosen topic. Students who develop information literacy skills will successfully:
- Select an appropriate topic
- Determine the parameters of the topic
- Locate and access relevant information
- Critically evaluate information
- Synthesize diverse types of information into a comprehensive and coherent work
- Understand economic, legal, and social issues related to the information
- Interact with faculty and staff in a manner conducive to developing acceptable research skills