Class Notes from Week 1 (Jan. 9)

Week 1: Introduction

Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about games going in, and feel free to ask me about terms or concepts that are new to you.

There are no stupid questions. School often encourages people to look down on one another for not knowing something, people are ranked according to the number of questions they get “right,” but this actually makes it a lot harder to learn.

 

That said, please be respectful. Some people have difficulty speaking up in public, especially in regards to certain topics. Be prepared to reexamine your own assumptions.

 

My goal here is to help you develop the critical skills that are necessary for building a better understanding of how the world works. It’s not about providing answers, it’s about asking interesting questions. This is a class about games and literature, but my challenge is to connect this to society as a whole, our material reality, explicit and implicit rules, and questions of power, ethics, and identity. Let’s see if we can use games and other cultural forms as tools or playgrounds to think through these bigger issues.

 Assuming you didn’t have to take this course for credit, what would you want to get out of it? I’m taking an interactive approach to course design. I want your help in determining the direction the course will take.

 

In terms of class structure, I’m going to try and keep lectures to a minimum, and encourage lots of discussion.

 

I’m also going to encourage creative projects as much as possible. My background is in visual arts, so I’m familiar with lots of different forms of media. I don’t believe writing is the be-all-and-end-all of academic knowledge or expression. If writing is your preferred way to express yourself that’s great. If you’d prefer to do something else that’s fine too. For e.g. make a video or mod, design a game, write and perform a play, draw a comic, build a sculpture, write a program. If you ever feel like the assignment you’re doing is uninspiring, boring, pointless, etc., come talk to me.

 

Other media are not necessarily easier to work in, and will probably take more time than writing. You can also write about games or objects that are not on the syllabus, just make sure you’re able to express how it connects to the themes or topics in the class. If you decide to do this, please talk to me before submitting your assignment.

 

Here’s an example for a final project: Take a system, institution, or space you’re familiar with and turn it into a game. You can create a paper prototype, or write a design document explaining how the game is played, the rules, and the materials. Think about all the different actors involved, and what rules apply to them. What are they allowed to do and what are they not? How are they affected by the physical layout of the space? Examples: Prison Architect, The McDonald’s Game, Neocolonialism.

 

Games can be thought of as systems of people, cultures, materials, and rules all interacting with one another dynamically. Examining the different components of a game reveals a lot about the society and culture that created it. Turning different things into games can also be a useful thought experiment.

 

I want to see examples of critical thinking. Think about the context in which the things you’re reading were written, what was going on at the time? What assumptions are the authors relying on? What are they reacting to? Same goes for games.

 

If you have trouble accessing the games on the syllabus, you can also play them in the TAG (Technoculture, Art, and Games) lab or the mLab. Email me to set up an appointment.

At the end of the first class we watched (parts of) this video, as an example of a Let’s Play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UdEFmxRmNE

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