Video Gaming (EL 250)

1. When and Where

Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri Daily Deadlines of 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM

You needn't actually be online at 9:00 AM every day, but from 4-5 I will devote time to answering questions, helping you to prioritize upcoming assignments, and generally keeping the online discussions going. Depending on how those online discussions go, I may schedule some mandatory online chats, but for the time being I'll just say that it would be a good idea if you stopped by the course website a little before 4pm each day, and hung around a while to see what was happening.

That won't be the ONLY time I'll be online, but it will be a very good time for everyone to touch base.

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2. Instructor

Dennis G. Jerz (

Contact Information:

  • 403 St. Joseph (Box 461)
  • 724-830-1909

Office Hours: By appointment.

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3. Course Description

From the Catalog description of EL 250: Major Writers and Genres:

Emphasis varies from term to term, e.g.: Short Fiction; Autobiography; Science Fiction. Alternate years. Repeatable for credit. 3 credits.

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4. Course Objectives

Your objectives for this course are to

  • explore definitions of important concepts such as game and fun
  • learn about the origins and historical development of video games,
  • expose yourself to a broad range of games,
  • gain experience recognizing and interpreting basic game elements (goal, risk, fiction, emotional engagement, rules, outcome, values, consequences, close playing, etc.),
  • develop an awareness of the complex cultural context within which games exist (children's culture, geek culture, women's issues, political issues, economic issues, aesthetic issues, etc.),
  • and ultimately, to discern the core cultural values represented in a particular game.
To that end, you will:
  • play several games on the syllabus, read three books and additional shorter articles as assigned,
  • complete quizzes and exercises to ensure that you are keeping up with the readings and to evaluate your progress,
  • participate regularly in classroom and web-based discussions, and
  • write a formal research paper (minimum 10 pages).
Neither ability to "win" a game nor programming/design talents are germane to the subject of this course.

At the end of this course, you should be able to

  1. Demonstrate competence in the critical reading of complex cultural texts (including games, cultural responses to games, and the academic study of games)

  2. Engage intellectually and respectfully with your peers (in person and online)
  3. Write a college-level paper that appropriately uses primary and secondary sources to defend a non-obvious claim (without minimizing or neglecting opposing or alternative views)

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5. Course Requirements

Online classes are not for everyone. This class will require self-motivation and a willingness to contribute meaningfully to an online environment. I will have some online Q & A banks that will disappear if you do not complete them by a certain time. Don't obsess over those activities -- they are really only designed to prime the pump, so to speak, and let you test your mastery of the subject in private, which should prepare you for a good online, public discussion. Your job is not to bookmark everything I post to my weblog and spit back the "right" answers during the quiz. Instead, you will be asked to develop the capacity to present and defend your own original thoughts about the assigned readings.

Each day at 4pm I will post discussion questions on the course weblog. You should have already completed all of that day's readings and J-Web assignments, so that you can contribute fully to the online discussion.

Keep up with the readings, reflect on them before the 4pm course blog update, and help sustain an active, positive learning environment.

I will often send out bulk e-mails to the address on file for you in the J-Web system. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

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5.1 Attendance

Students are expected to attend every class. (See Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, "Class Attendance" and "Excused Absences".)

There are exercises, J-Web question banks, and responses to assigned readings due every day. In the last week of classes, all that slows down considerably so that you can focus on your final paper.

Seton Hill University recognizes that extra-curricular activities of all sorts are important components of a liberal arts education. Nevertheless:

  • Students who miss deadlines for any reason are still responsible for the material covered that day.

  • An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected, assigned, or discussed that day.

Because the course moves so quickly, falling behind or procrastinating can lead to big trouble.

5.1.1. Emergency Absences

Those who miss deadlines due to an unplanned emergency should submit an "Absence Form," with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you miss, print out and complete an "Absence Form" (available at After you initiate this contact, we can discuss when or whether it will be possible for you to make up the work that you missed.

Before you contact me, please consult the online syllabus and/or a classmate's notes to determine what you missed. (If you ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed in class, I will refer you to this document.)

For some classroom activities, such as offering timely feedback on a peer draft, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences

Those who miss deadlines due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all assignments beforehand. This may involve extra work on my end, so please submit an acceptable "Absence Form" (see above) as soon as possible.

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5.2 Participation

Students are expected to contribute actively to a positive classroom environment, both in person and online. Students who dislike public speaking may wish to invest more effort in their online writing, and vice-versa.

Common sense and common courtesy dictate that missing deadlines, falling behind in your online contributions, or neglecting to contribute positively to the online learning environment will impact your participation grade. Disagreements are welcome and passion is admirable, but personal insults and angry rants are inappropriate in an academic envirionment.

Those who consistently participate above and beyond the call of duty will receive a bonus.

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5.3 Late Penalties

The course moves so quickly that falling behind can mean serious trouble.

The J-Web online assignments (sets of study questions and short essays that I call "workbooks") are intended to be completed before the scheduled class discussion - far enough in advance that I have time to evaluate them and adjust the day's teaching accordingly. This means that the J-Web homework will be "closed" after the due date. Obviously in the event of a SHU computer failure, I will be flexible.

If you miss the deadline, but want to complete the assignment anyway, let me know - I will unlock that unit after I have recorded all the grades. But once the deadline for a J-Web workshop has passed, the opportunity to earn credit for it is gone.

I also want you to submit, via J-Web, the assignments designed as Exercises. Like the workbooks, the Exercises will be locked after the deadline. Unlike the workbooks, I will have a special slot for late work, where you can upload whatever files you want me to see. This is very important for the multi-part exercises, since you'll often need to get feedback from me before you can proceed.

I put late work at the bottom of my "to do" list. I'll do my best to be helpful, but I might not comment on it in as much detail; or, if the assignment is a draft, you might not get it back before the revision is due.

Getting Credit for Late Work
If your assignment is not online with all the others, I will record a zero for that assignment - even if I you have sent me a note warning me that your paper might be late.

In order to remove that zero, and get partial credit for your late work, follow this two-step process.

  1. Give your work a name with the following pattern: "Smith EL250 Ex 2 Late," and upload it to the late paper drop box on J-Web.
  2. Send me an e-mail, with a subject following the pattern "EL250 Ex 2 Late," and let me know I should look for your late paper in the late paper drop box on J-Web.

If you miss a J-Web workbook, you forfeit the points.

Unless I agree to another arrangement in advance, all other assignments earn an automatic 10% penalty if they are late. If your work is 24 or more hours late, the maximum you can earn is half credit. (If you miss a Friday deadline, I'll accept it for half credit if you get it in before I come to office Monday morning. (I do plan to be in the office on the Martin Luther King Holiday, though I'm not assigning any work due that day.)

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5.4 Texts


Over the break, while you are waiting for your books to arrive, I'm also assigning some movies for you to watch.

Rent and watch two of the following:

Tron (1982)
WarGames (1983)
Big (1988)
Spy Kids 3-D (2003)

I'd welcome suggestions for additional movies that include depictions of video games and those who play them.

Rent and watch any two of the following:

The Truman Show
Capricorn One (probably hard to find, but very good)

Groundhog Day
Sliding Doors
It's a Wonderful Life

(The first group is about simulations, and the second group features alternate reality or replayability.)

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6. Assignments

If you've taken a class with me before, you may recall that I always graded on a four-point scale. This time around, I'm going to try a point system.

There are 1000 points in the class.

J-Web Workbooks (150 points)
Exercises (350 points)
Daily Participation (300 points)
Final Paper (200 points)

There is no final exam.

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J-Web Workbooks (150 points)

J-Web Workbooks (150)
1. Orientation
2. Studying Games
3. Koster 1
4. Koster 2
5. Koster 3
6. Misc Readings
7. Laurel
8. Juul 1
9. Juul 2
10. Research and MLA Style

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Exercises (350 points)

Routine, short assignments (2-3 pages) that prepare you for upcoming work. More formal than the short responses to assigned readings.
1. Game Review
2. Beyond the Review
3. Close Playing 1
4. Term Paper Proposal
5. Close Playing 2
6. Article Analysis
7. Bibliography (Term Paper)
8. Peer Review (Term Paper)

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Participation (300 points)

Each day that the class meets represents 2 hours of classroom instruction. If this were a face-to-face class, we would spend the vast majority of that time discussing the readings or workshopping each other's submissions. I'm a firm believer in the value of peer-to-peer interaction. Since this class doesn't meet face-to-face, the blogs will be our classroom. I won't have time to respond directly to every comment you make on the course blog or on a peer weblog, so I am setting up a system to encourage you to read and comment on your peers' online work.

The portfolio assignments asks you to compile your contributions to the most productive online conversations, as well as selected thoughtful expansions of contributions that you made earlier. The portfolios are your opportunity to demonstrate your developing understanding of key concepts and issues that we have been discussing.
The participation portfolios are your chance to call to my attention the online contributions that you feel are the most valuable. The most important component of the portfolio is your reflection on your online participation. I'll post more details about the portfolios after everyone has had some time to get comfortable in the online environment. If you keep up with your online postings, the portfolio assignment will be easy.
1. Portfolio 1 (100)
2. Portfolio 2 (100)
3. Online Presentation (40; advance work on the Term Paper)
4. Telephone Conference w/Instructor (40; detailed conversation about your progress on the Term Paper)
5. Portfolio 3 (20)
6. Burn or Bonus (150, at instructor's discretion)

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Term Paper (200 points)

A researched term paper on an approved topic, arising from class discussions and assigned texts.

The Online Presentation, a Telephone Conference, Exercise 7 and Exercise 8 are all designed to help you make progress on your term paper.

A Full Draft of your term paper is due on the last day of classes.

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