Video Gaming (EL 250)

Getting Started

As of 4pm January 2, I'm pleased by the progress that Leslie, Stephan, Evan and Kayla have already begun. Good job!

Each day that a J-Term class meets is worth the equivalent of more than a week of classes during the regular term. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so here's a road map of sorts -- a checklist, to help you stay focused.

Click on the Jauary 2, 2006 course page and read through all the items in order.

  • Welcome to "Video Gaming" (no homework, just read it.)
  • Blog Activity (no homework; a list of what your peers are blogging; for future reference)
  • Course Overview (no homework, just read it.)
  • Definitions and Key Concepts (no homework, FYI)
  • Introduction to Weblogs (just FYI; full instructions will be available when required)
  • History of Video Games (several links for you to browse or consult when necessary)
  • J-Web: Orientation and Reflection (a bank of short-answer questions, due by 9:AM Tuesday.
  • Gamer Culture in Movies (post a comment on the course webe page for any two of the movies on this short list. Participate in the online discussion by interacting with your peers and with me.)
  • Red vs. Blue (watch this short online video, and post a brief response.)
  • My Trip to Liberty city (watch this short online video, and post a brief response.)
  • Strong Bad on Video Games (watch this short Flash animation, sample each of the four included games, and post brief comments as directed.)
  • Initial Reactions (just a place where I'll be sure to look for course-related questions and comments)

I won't always post a list in such detail, but additional work due for tomorrow is:

  • Ex 1a (rough draft of a game review; due on J-Web by 9am)
  • Read and post a brief response to "A Rape in Cyberspace"
  • Read and post a brief response to "New Games Journalism"
  • Read and/or listen to "Storytelling in Videogames" and post a brief response
  • Read the short articles on the "Interactive Fiction" page and sample the game "Adventure"
  • Watch the short film ">Interactive" and post a brief response
  • Complete the J-Web unit "Studying Video Games" (the due date I have in mind is 4pm on Jan 3, but in case you're backed up a little, the system won't actually lock you out until 9am on Jan 4)
  • Ex 1-b: Peer review of your game review. Due by 6pm Jan 3.
  • General Discussion. (I'll post discussion prompts based on issues that have come up so far. If you have participated in a good online discussion that you want to call to the attention of the class, mention it on this page.)
  • RRRR. (Just FYI... more details about how I plan to integrate your individual weblogs into the daily course activity.)
Permalink | 2 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

And They're Off... Discussion Effort and Virtual Freedom

We've had some good, meaty blog entries already. Before I get into them, and before I link to the discussion questions for today's update -- I've marked your first J-Web workbook and also returned feedback on the drafts of your game review. I won't get Ex 1b (your peer reviews) until later tonight, so I'm extending the deadline by a few hours.

I'd like to thank Stephen Puff for catching, and taking time to explain, problems he's encountered with the online work. I'll continue to do my best to help keep the technology under control.

Stephen and Evan both posted thoughtful responses to Tron, and Sunday, before class started, Leslie demonstrated that she got far more out of Spy Kids 3-D than I expected to find there! Good job, everyone.

Neither Kayla nor Leslie is too thrilled by text-adventure games, but thankfully Leslie is helping Kayla make sense of the genre.

In a comment, Gina examined morals and social norms confronted by Jim Munroe's "My Trip to Liberty City." (If you liked that, and you like the idea of seeing watermelons do interesting things in combat, try Yoga Deathmatch, also by Jim Munroe.)

I've posted two discussion prompts. If you're already involved in a discussion on this topic, then please help the rest of us extend the discussion.

Please respond to each topic briefly (two or three sentences is fine), and choose one or the other to respond to at greater length via an original entry on your own weblog (a paragraph or two is fine). In addition, please leave 2-4 comments on peer blogs. (If there are lurkers who would like help with blogging, please let me know ASAP.)

Here are today's topics: one on Effort in "Adventure", and the other on Rights and Freedoms in Virtual Worlds.

(Note: When your portfolio is due at the end of the week, I will ask you to quote from and link to your best contributions to each of the class discussion topics. I'd like you to respond with SOMETHING before 4pm tomorrow, when the next discussion questions will come out. Of course, you're welcome to work on this at your leisure.

Permalink | 3 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Preview of Jan 4's Class

In addition to the peer review of Ex 1, which I've extended to 10pm tonight, tomorrow you have the following work due:

  • Koster, A Theory of Fun (Foreward to Chapter 4) (Read, React, Respond... but you don't need a 200-word reflection for every separate assigned text.)
  • J-Web: A Theory of Fun 1 (Obviously the multiple choice questions are designed to get you to look closely at the readings, but you should think of the essay prompts as discussion questions, not right-or-wrong quiz questions.)
    Update: If your Koster book hasn't arrived yet, then read the short articles by Aarseth, Hayward and Wong. I don't yet have a J-Web unit for those works, but I'll try to get something up. I do think that Koster is a better introduction to the subject, but we'll work with what we've got.

  • Game Review (Final) Upload your revised game review. Since I delayed the due date for the reviews, I realize you might not get your reviews back from a peer until late Tuesday night, so I've extended this deadline slightly. It's due at 12:30pm Wednesday.
  • Replayability in Movies. If you picked one or two of the movies on the "Replayability" list, then leave a comment on the course website. You're also welcome to post on your own blog. (If you didn't choose any movies from this list, that's okay -- you're welcome to join in the discussion after others start it up.)
  • Koster and New Games Journalism -- this is a holding spot for where I'll post discussion questions based on what I learned after marking your J-Web assignments.

Permalink | 3 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Update

Workbook 3c, which was initially part of the Koster 1 set, has been moved to Unit 2, a general unit on studying games.

Now you don't need to have read Koster yet in order to complete W3c. It refers to an assigned game -- here is where you choose your game. (Post your claim here on this page so you don't repeat someone else's work. More details on W3c to follow.)

Discussion Questions
I'm pleased to draw everyone's attention to Leslie's excellent blog entry recording her intial reactions to Koster. Writing something like that is above and beyond the call of duty, but it shows that she's investing significant time and energy in the book, and she's laying a firm foundation for success later in the course, when the ability to engage with assigned texts, and to integrate your own individual observations and intellectual responses, will lead to an excellent final paper.

I'd rather wait on discussing Koster until more people have had the chance to do the readings. If the copy you ordered hasn't arrived yet, you might try browsing a copy in your local bookstore, or checking nearby libraries to see whether you can borrow a copy until your purchased text arrives. Starting Monday, I'm going to start assuming everyone has their books and is caught up with the reading, but I can be flexible until then.

This means that I will delay posting the Koster and New Games Journalism discussion questions until Friday or the weekend.

The daily agenda for tomrrow is fairly straightforward.

I've posted instructions for Ex 2, which comes in parts A B and C. Part B and C are just like parts B and C of Exercise 1 -- peer review and then revise the draft you wrote for part A.

There's nothing you need to do for the item labeled "Koster" -- I was going to post discussion questions there, but I'm hold off for now. If you do have your book, there will be J-Web questions for the next set of chapters.

Details on Workbook W3c

The classic games you can choose from, taken from a flowchart on Koster's page 79, are as follows:

Space Invaders: Leslie
Centipede: Jerz
Choplifter: Gina
Asteroids: Kayla
Galaxian: Evan
Defender: Stephen "Manly Man" Puff

The full instructions are in J-Web, Unit 2, Workbook W3c. Deadline is Jan 5, 5pm.

Permalink | 4 Jan 2006 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

Today's Update

Kayla, Leslie, (whose explanations about how, specifically, her contribution mattered) are particularly worth noting) and Evan have a draft of their blogging portfolio up already. Good work!

I'll shortly post the J-Web study questions for Koster 3 and the 3 short readings. Meanwhile, the topic I'd like to introduce today is this short passage in which Roger Ebert explains why he thinks games cannot be art.

In other EL250 blogging, Kayla reflected on how boys have affected her involvement with video games. Her brothers got her interested in games, but other boys later attracted her attention away from them! Did you tween knowledge of Mortal Kombat come in handy in that regard, Kayla? ;)

Puff writes, "Gaming is more than entertainment, it is memories and life lessons." Some of you may have noticed in your discussion question work that when you frame games as "entertainment" or "escapism," I'm not content to let it settle there. We entertain ourselves in so many different ways, and reading, eating, running, sleeping, praying and suicide can all be classified as "escapism". Good job, Puff, looking behind the veneer of a very convenient word.

Evan makes an excellent observation about popular culture: "The fallacy is that we assume that things we consider frivilous are not important."

I liked reading Gina's response to the Scott Adams interview,

As you assemble your portfolio and reflect on your contributions so far, here are some thoughts on useful ways of contributing to a class discussion. Note that you don't have to know all the answers in order to contribute usefully!

  • asking a good question
  • noting that something somebody else said has changed your mind or confirmed a suspicion or answered your question
  • offering constructive criticism
  • supplying additional support (including links and/or page numbers) for a point someone else said
  • politely introducing information (including links and/or page numbers) that works against a point someone else has made
  • offering a definition of a term
  • offering a link to a related discussion elsewhere on the course blog or somewhere off-site.

Permalink | 5 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What is Fun?

I've put together this 4 1/2 minute audio lecturette on Koster and fun. I hope it will help focus the discussion.

Permalink | 6 Jan 2006 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Today's Update

I've posted the prompt for today's discussion on Laurel and close-playing.

I have also posted the first set of J-Web questions for Juul's Half Real.

By this time next week, your thesis statement and a works cited list for your final research paper are due. Exercise 4 (due tomorrow) asks you to find 5 good sources and a preliminary thesis topic.

The discussion prompt for tomorrow will ask you each to reflect on your experiences researching games studies.

I'd also like to draw your attention ahead to Exercise 5a, which asks you two write a "close playing" of one of the games on the list provided. (I'm open to suggestions for additional games to include on that list.)

If you haven't contributed a comment to each of the discussion topics I've mentioned in the past few days, this would be a good time to catch up.

Permalink | 9 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Study Linking Video Games and Aggression

I think this class is a good forum to raise this issue. I enjoy kicking ass in video games, too, but it's important not to dismiss a scientific report simply because its conclusion is troubling.

BBC NEWS | Health | Violent games 'affect behaviour'

When shown images of real-life violence, people who played violent video games were found to have a diminished response.

However, when the same group were shown other disturbing images such as dead animals or ill children they had a much more natural response.

When the game players were given the opportunity to punish a pretend opponent those with the greatest reduction in P300 meted out the severest punishments.

Psychologist Bruce Bartholow, the lead researcher of the study which will be published in full in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology later this year, said: "As far as I'm aware, this is the first study to show that exposure to violent games has effects on the brain that predict aggressive behaviour.

Permalink | 9 Jan 2006 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Parental Concern about Gaming

A blog entry on online role-playing games, posted by a former student who has since graduated, has attracted two long comments from concerned parents who rue the day they let their teenagers play computer games.

Anna Rendon writes, "He won't take walks, play with his sister, or even eat with the family anymore because he has to run back to the game. In other words, he has no life other than whatever he has created in this game and I know that regardless how good he is as a son, this simply cannot be healthy, yet, I don't know what to do about it. He just began highschool on a scholarship and doesn't have any bad habits that I could point to as a problem, but what possible good could there be in his spending every free second on the computer, playing this game?" She ends her comment with a plea for help -- "what is so intriguing about a game that can consume someone like this?" I must not have noticed this comment when it was first posted in September, 2004.

Diana, who just posted her comment a few hours ago, writes with a similar story: "It started in middle school. My son used to have fun with his friends playing outside, fishing and traveling. Then one dim day my son and his friends wanted to play computer games. I thought computer games were no different than his X-Box,Playstation. God was I ever wrong! Talk about time comsuming. If I only knew I would have never let him get started on computer games!"

The Revenge of the Son of insert name here: Social problems in MMORPGs and first steps taken to correct them.

I don't think it's fair to tell these commenters that they are off their rockers, or that they are meddling (remember, they are talking about teenagers -- parents are legally required to meddle with the lives of their teenagers).

I'm not posting this as a required homework essay, but I'd welcome your thoughts. (I'm closing comments to this entry -- post your comments on The Revenge of the Son of insert name here.)

Permalink | 10 Jan 2006 | TrackBack (0)

Daily Update

I look forward to seeing what you have to blog about the first selection from Jesper Juul's Half Real.

Those of you who are interested in cultural responses to video games should take a look at the comment posted by Diana, the concerned mother of a teenaged gamer.

I have extended the deadline for Exercise 4 until tomorrow morning, but I'll offer feedback before then if you like.

Today's dicsussion question is Analyzing Game Studies: what achievements and challenges did you face as you started compiling sources for Exercise 4 (your term paper proposal)?


Chapter 3 of Half Real (Note that there is no separate set of J-Web questions for this selection.)

Ex 5a: Close Playing 2

A discussion topic related to Juul.

Permalink | 10 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Update

Just a reminder: J-Web lists as "Inc" any assignment that you've submitted but that I haven't yet evaluated. That's a terrible design flaw, since from my end I can't tell at a glance whether you haven't completed the work. What's even weirder, it seems that J-Web sometimes records a 0% for work that I haven't yet evaluated, so that you can submit a new assignment and see your grade go DOWN until I review it and punch in the numbers to give you credit for the various short answers.

Now that I'm letting you download the essay questions and upload your answers as a word processing file, it's actually much more tedious for me (a lot of clicking, closing blank windows, saving files in new diretories, that sort of thing), but since it's a small class (and my only class) I don't really mind.

I've sent in a 2-page memo with suggestions for improving the J-Web interface, but who knows whether the developers of that program will take it seriously.

On to more intellectually rewarding topics. I'm looking forward to hearing more of what you have to say about Jesper Juul's Half Real, and have updated today's discussion page accordingly.

On the syllabus for tomorrow: Chapter 4 of Half Real, the peer-review of your Close Playing 2, and an optional rough draft of Portfolio 2.

While I was writing this essay, I noticed Evan's assessment of Juul's methodology. Juul is very careful to engage other scholars and theories thoughtfully, and presenting his own ideas in the context of synthesis, rather than opposition (as often happens when, for instance, the narratology position is pitted against the ludological one, as if they are mutually exclusive). I'm glad you called our attention to this, Evan. Good work.

Leslie has posted a draft of her next blogging portfolio, which points to an impressive array of online contributions.

Permalink | 11 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Update

I hope you're enjoying Juul and also getting a lot out of the more ambitious writing projects we're focusing on now. Leslie and Kayla have both come up with very different annotated lists for Tomb Raider, and Evan puts the "orc" in "Zork." Nice work, folks.

Tomorrow, we're scheduled to finish Juul, and there's another J-Web question set on that text.

The first part of Ex 6 is due tomorrow (glad to see some of you have a head start on it), and so is the second blogging portfolio. If you're behind in your online contributions, now would be a good time to start catching up.

No classes are scheduled for Monday, due to the MLK holiday, so I'm not assigning any readings or due dates. I will be working online, however, as usual.

I don't have any major new topics to introduce online, mainly because I'm engaging with each of you via the individual work you're doing towards your research paper. You're welcome to post your ideas, research notes, and drafts online if you like, but I'm also happy to work with you individually.

Note that a revised thesis and bibliography is due early next week (Ex 7), and that we also need to arrange to speak one-on-one via telephone so that we can discuss your progress.

Permalink | 12 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Update

Nothing new or momentous to report today. I've enjoyed watching your ideas develop. Now it's time to start pulling it all together and making some good progress on the term paper.

I'll start looking at your J-Web work shortly, and I look forward to responding to the self-assessments you've put in your portfolios.

I hope you'll make some good progress on your term paper over the long weekend. On Tuesday we'll discuss your plans for the online presentation. If you'd like to hold it in a chat room, or you have some other ideas for what you'd like to do, let's start considering our options. Your revised close playing, and a revised thesis/bibliography are also due on Tuesday.

Permalink | 13 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

MLK Holiday

Permalink | 16 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Update

I'm continuing to work through the assignments you have recently deposited to J-Web. It has been a pleasure watching your ideas develop so quickly.

Homework for tomorrow: Read and respond to Leslie's presentation on Lara Croft, and Evan's presentation on interactive fiction.

Note that adding a simple "Good job!" comment after you've scanned through their hard work is not really going to be all that helpful.

Since there is no other assigned reading for tomorrow, I ask that you collect your thoughts and post a detailed response on your own blog, and leave a comment directing readers to your in-depth response.

Engaging intellectually with your peers certainly includes disagreement (when backed up with evidence, such as a quotation from an assigned reading), but nobody wants to be bashed in public. If you found a typo or you think your peer made a careless mistake, e-mail your peer privately. If somebody from outside the class posts an uncivil comment, don't overreact.

Permalink | 17 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)