Semester Plan

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Syllabus (Semester Plan)

ArcadeTheory (CCTP628) course plan  
    Revision 2.1 beta  
    24 January 2015



See Agenda, below, for readings and specific topics.

        22 January  
    Fit the First: Game  
        29 January  
        5 February  
    Fit the Second:  Play  
        12 Feb  
        19 Feb  
        26 Feb  
    Fit the Third:  Player  
        5 Mar  
        12 Mar  
        19 Mar  
    Fit the Fourth:  World  
        26 Mar  
        9 Apr  
        16 Apr  
        23 Apr


With few exceptions in the history of the world, games have been relegated to special places, sites separate and apart from the everyday. But the advent of digital games in a networked environment has eroded the once-sacred boundaries between games and the real. Students learn from historical simulations; the military recruits via first person shooters; politicians campaign in virtual worlds; newspapers publish games as online op-eds. Despite this ubiquity, or perhaps because of it, video games are casually portrayed as revolutionary technologies, as anti-social mechanisms, as ground-breaking art, and as vectors of addiction. Through weekly engagements with both games and print, Arcade Theory argues instead for a critical consideration of video games as a technology that works both to unpack and obscure our place in a culture of computation.

Reading Assignments

Please choose at least three of the texts, listed below, and be prepared to lead a brief discussion on that text on the day it is scheduled for discussion. The discussion should be at least ten minutes long, but not more than 20. You will want to help us to identify major themes and specific case studies; identify how your text fits in with other texts (ones we have read for class or ones with which you are familiar, for example); talk about the strength of the argument, and identify what it means for our work in this class (e.g., is the author’s sense of “play” the same as ours?; is her notion of technology and “gaming” contrary to our working model of “ludus”?; etc.) Do not hesitate to approach the text in your own inimical manner, if you think it would be of use to us (or even if you believe it will be merely entertaining).Do not hesitate to abandon your chosen text for something else you’ve read that has some academic merit and, to your mind, more of a bearing on our work than what I’ve listed here. Just make sure you distribute copies to the rest of us in a timely manner. I will always reward risk, whether or not you succeed.


    Your final grade comprises the following:  
        Attendance and active participation:  15%  
        Contribution to GameLab 2:  25%  
        Contribution to GameLab 3:  30%  
        Final project:  30%


Final Project Details

While three-fourths of the categories for assessment emphasize collaborative work, it is usually the case that each student has a pet project or interest that she would like to pursue further on her own. This is your opportunity to do so. It is your responsibility to propose, define, refine, and deliver the project, which may be anything from an academic paper to a series of Minecraft videos to a game design document. The only requirements for the project are that (1) it relates to the spirit and content of this course, and (2) it has an intended audience (whether academic, popular, professional, or otherwise).While this project is self-defined and self-motivated, we will still work collaboratively to help each other as we are able. We will establish the nature of our projects early in the semester, and students will be encouraged to update the rest of the class about their progress at the beginning of each session. I will be available throughout the semester to assist you.The final project will be due one week prior to the date your course grade is due to the registrar. (This date varies with your student status, your year, and so forth).


Fit the First: Game

What Is a Game, and How Does It Work?

Jerz, Dennis G. 2007. “Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original ‘Adventure’ in Code and in Kentucky.”

Juul, Jesper. 2003. “Game, Play, World. Looking for the Heart of Gameness.” In Level Up: Digital Games Research Conference Proceedings, edited by Marinka Copier and Joost Raessens, 30–45. Utrecht: Utrecht University.

Mateas, Michael and Andrew Stern. “Interaction and Narrative.” S/Z 642. (“S/Z” refers to the Salen/Zimmerman volume.)

Rouse III, Richard. “Game Analysis: Centipede.” S/Z 460.

Suits, Bernard. “Construction of a Definition.” S/Z 172.

Fit the Second: Play

Odysseus’ Tearful Tales and Plato’s Welthistorische Entscheidung: Mimesis-Play to Mimesis-Representation

Heraclitus, “Fragments”

Plato, The Republic (Book 10)

Play’s the Thing

Callois, Roger. 1962. “The Definition of Play: Classification of Games.” S/Z 122.

Steinkuehler, Constance. “The Mangle of Play.”

Sutton-Smith, Brian. 2001. “Play and Ambiguity.” S/Z 296.

Huizinga, Johan. 1955. “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon.” S/Z 96.

Play in a Terrible Time: Dada, the Situationists, Kynikism

Debord, Guy and Gil J. Wolman. 1956. “A User’s Guide to Détournement.” Les Lèvres Nues #8 (May). Transl. Ken Knabb.

Debord, Guy. 1956. “Theory of the Dérive.” Les Lèvres Nues #9 (November). Transl. Ken Knabb.

GameLab One (See below)

Fit the Third: Player

Ready Player One

Bartle, Richard A. 1996. “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs.” S/Z 794.

Castronova, Edward. “Virtual Worlds: First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier.” S/Z 814.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1992. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” OCTOBER 59, Winter. pp. 3–7.

Ito, Mizuko, Matteo Bittanti, et al. “Gaming.” In Hanging Out Messing Around Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. 2010. pp. 195 – 242.

Koster, Raph. “Declaring the Rights of Players.” S/Z 788.

Thomas, Douglas and John Seely Brown. “Learning for a World of Constant Change: Homo Sapiens, Homo Farber & Homo Ludens Revisited.”Paper presented at the 7th Glion Colloquium, University of Southern California. June.

GameLab Two (see below)

Fit the Fourth: World

Empire and Multitude; Or, The Smooth and the Striated

Castronova, Ted. Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality. (excerpts).

Wolf, Mark JP. Myst & Riven: The World of the D’Ni (excerpts).

Farmer, Randy and Chip Morningstar. “The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat.” S/Z 728.

GameThot (Critique, Redux)

Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Literacy: Problem Solving with Programming, Systems & Play.” Telemedium, 2005. [PDF]

Starr, P., “Seductions of Sim: Policy as a Simulation Game.” [PDF]

Optional Reading

Wark, MacKenzie. Gamer Theory (excerpts).


Our GameLab sessions are meant to provide us with the opportunity to move beyond the norms of academic discourse in a grad seminar and embrace, instead, something less institutionalized.

GameLab One (Situationists! Assemble!)

Project: Have you ever been surprised or delighted by the interior of a building? In my experience, sadly, it seldom happens. Instead, driven by cultures of standards, capital, and mass-production, architecture creates virtual worlds of the most banal and tedious sort. To what degree is the rational logos of the bureaucratic institution reified (Marx: Verdinglichung) by our nearly pathological insistence on uniformity and standardization in even one-of-a-kind buildings, such as our humble Car Barn? For this GameLab, we’ll try to reconfigure the psychogeography of the Car Barn in order to disrupt the somnambulists among us. We’ll observe from afar as the day goes by, and try better to understand the perils and promise of Debord’s “coming reign of leisure.”

GameLab Two (Portrait of the Cohort as Gamers)

As a rule (as I see it, anyway), players are largely ignored in game studies. Its a bad habit game studies picked up from English Departments, Cinema Studies, and Computer Science, where they tend to talk in terms of abstraction (“the ideal reader”), collectivity (“the audience”), and contempt (“the user”).Where we do attend to them, they are typically not seen for the individual beings they are, but as statistical inevitabilities (i.e., let the experience of this gamer stand for the experiences of 1,000,000 gamers). With this relatively simple project, I’d like to look at individuals playing. We’ll set up a tiny photo studio in the Studio, and photograph CCT students (and their friends) from a uniform, fixed position — probably behind a monitor, or immediately behind their iPhone, etc. — in order to see how they play.Were I to characterize this project in terms of a research question (and I do so here for the sake of clarity, not because a research question is a requisite part of thought), I would suggest something like this: “It is common to portray gamers as alienated, hypnotized, unresponsive, antisocial, and addicted. Students within our program, however, are a demonstrably successful cohort, most of whom — whether by hard work, privilege, extraordinary luck, or some combination of those three — will soon earn an MA from a relatively progressive, selective, interdisciplinary program housed within a globally–renowned Jesuit institution of higher education. So what does it look like when these folk play games? Do they conform to popular expectation — appearing hypnotized, drained of human expression, adopting violent postures — or are their reactions consistent with the emotional reactions one may reasonably expect from a well-educated, cosmopolitan human beings? Moreover, is their play uniform in appearance, or idiosyncratic?We will photograph, process, and curate an online exhibition of your peers at play, in order to suggest that the “player experience” is thicker and more nuanced than many of us believe.

GameLab Three

This will be roughly the same (in scale and effort required) as GameLab Two. We’ll discuss possibilities for this GameLab early in the semester. Two ideas for consideration:

  • Goldfarming project? (Twitch simulcast, charity fundraising)
  • Twitch: Two proof-of-concept Let’s Play Pro episodes (as podcasts, too, via gnovis)?

One thought on “Semester Plan

  1. Pingback: Semester plan and reading list online | arcade theory

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