Course description

Course schedule


Handouts  (e.g., creativity, journal, how to, forms)

Creativity Sites

Innovation Sites

Old Wr 1 site   popular culture

PURPOSE: to acquire the lnaguage skills you need to accomplish your life goals (quick test: make list of 10 steps and try to find one that does not involve persuasion/writing). Includes reading critically, writing clear explanations and persuasive well-supported arguments. Understand systems: Dig Wholes.  Our approach here is not to approach games from an industry point of view (how to make them more fun or "addictive" in order to increase sales), but to understand their social and psychological effects.   We will also consider them as an important emeging aspect of popular culture, so we want to analyze them to tell us what's going on in the culture, and where we may be headed in the near future.



Can games be used for "serious"/educational purposes? Make us smarter?

Are they addictive?

Anti-social/promote violence? Militaristic?


Parallels to "moral panics" about comic books, TV, Rock N Roll (hiphop?)

Can games become an art form? new narrative form?

: prewrite: mind-mapping, play inventory (tagmemic?)

In order to do an investigation, scientists gather data and look for patterns in the "heap" of messy data. Creativity is about asking questions: I wonder why this happens. What if i did this? The more data you have, and the more complete it is, the better. So we'll start by taking an inventory. You can do this any way you like, as informally or as systematically as you like (see Bolles, Tharp and Sher on course website), but please do the survey form in case we need some data later). You can use a pen name or give us a redacted version if you want. Add fields if you like. After you've put in all your data, let it sit a while then come back to it. Read it over and fill in gaps and make observations (gee, none of my friends were into this game till two years later, or this is the only game of this type i was ever into, i wonder what the attraction was, and why then?). Then look over it for larger patterns (the type of game changed, the way you interacted with other people did, the way you played?). At this point you can 1) (ideally) pose a question that might even turn into your final research project and take a first run at answering it 2) explore a more specific question, observation, pattern or anomaly 3) tell the story of your life through games/play, maybe going into a bit more detail on some games/activities/events (turning point?) 4)? Tell the story on an important event related to a game (use Pentad?).

Activity 1: Non-Video Game Design Project (optional)

Paper 2: Reading an Image:

read this update for tips and how to

A game is a pretty complex object, so we want to "sneak up" on a full analysis (or think of this as a first test of your hypothesis/research question) by taking a snapshot and concentrate on presumably one of the most important aspects, the visual. The obvious approach would be to analyze why a character looks they way he or she does. You could look at multiple characters, and even include the setting if you think it's important to give a sense of contrast or context, but try to have a focus on one complex and important image. Good tools for de-coding cultural meaning are Tagmemic analysis, rhetorical and semiotic analysis (the one that works best will depend on what kind of text you pick, what you're curious about; you may even use some questions from each toolkit). These sets of questions will allow you to look at the object/image in different ways and to ask interesting questions about it. See the How to Be Brilliant handout for these questions (here's an example of me trying tagmemic questions on a Pepsi can).

Semiotics is about thinking about things as if they are signs, that is words or symbols. If someone you didn't know walked into your room, what could they tell about you by the objects you've collected? How do you know if a greeting is friendly or clothes are fashionable? You can "read" a room or clothes, just as you can read a book, if you know the code. Semiotics is the investigation of these codes, that is the underlying system that gives an object meaning. It also has an interest in how a culture values signs/things, that is what they represent, which brings us to questions of power.

General semiotic questions: Why does this look the way it does? What does the thing say (Be careful about what its owner says it says, especially if the owner says it was chosen for function.)? What group has adopted this thing? Who or what does it NOT go with? What is the thing's relation to prestige/power? What social values, beliefs or it "mythologies" does it reflect? How has the object been advertised (e.g., associated with what images? How do these images relate to the target audience? Have the ads altered your/our view of it?) Here are semiotic questions for ads.  If you studying an advertisement, you might also want to use questions from rhetorical analysis on the How to be Brilliant handout.

Advanced how to:



This investigation builds on what you discovered in the last paper (you may refine your question, or even change to another if you decide your hypothesis was incorrect or uninteresting, but remember this is about finding out what's true, not proving yourself right), but puts more emphasis on the game as an interactive story/space/system. Still, trying to analyze a whole game that might take fifty hours to play (and even that might no exhaust all the possibilities, such as different strategies or Easter eggs), so here we will look at something more manageable: a single level. You'll want to keep careful notes.

You may find that some of the questions from earlier semiotic toolkits useful (for example, here's Tagmemic analysis of a game) , but i want everyone to try Tagmemic (which is used to understand things, especially their systemic relations) and Pentadic analysis (which focusses on human motivation for actions).

The basic Tagmemic questions :

What is the object in and of itself? Does it fit into a class? How does it resemble (or not) other similar objects? How much can it change without becoming something else?

How does it change over time? How does it change as a result of interaction with environment?

Does it have components? What kind of environment does it exist in?  All 9 questions are on the original grid,

Here's more specific information on how to do this paper.  Here's a sample of Tagmemic questions applied to a game.

PAPER 4: ARGUMENT (1st draft of final paper)

Here's more specific information on how to do this paper.

Earlier papers were about gathering data, looking for patterns, and trying to answer a question, in short they were exploratory. Now based on what you've learned, you have earned the right be an expert who has an opinion that someone else needs to hear. Our prewriting strategy here will be a dialogue with an opponent (to gather arguments, counter-arguments, and understand values at stake/play). Of course what we have learned in earlier papers will have credibility because it's based on first-hand experience, and thus can be seen as good empirical scientific data (especially if you used the toolkits above rigorusly and fairly). But such evidence is open to the charge by those who don't want to "count" it as "anecdotal" just one person's opinion. You can counter this to a certain degree by corroborating your findings by giving surveys to other players, or even doing careful notes of observations and/or interviews of other players, but if you can find other researchers who have done larger studies, perhaps with different tools, that support (or even question your findings) you will be much more likely to be persuasive. That means research, but it also means evaluating what sources you think are credible (you might want to use Rhetorical analysis to help with this; basic background here .  How to is on How to Be Brilliant handout).

After feedback in workshop (and possibly from instructor) you'll clarify, fill in gaps and address the concerns of your readers.

FINAL PROJECT  (see here for details)

This will be an outgrowth of questions, concepts and readings of the course, an application of what we've learned. It might even be a corrective (see "culture-jamming"): you might want to design a game that teaches, is more inclusive to young women or others who don't see their realities (or even fantasies) represented in commercial games, or that promotes some positive values. [you might want to go low tech, and stick to cards or other paper based games?] Video games are expensive and complex to actually make, so a more reasonable approach would be your team creates a "pitch" session for a game company or someone else who has the financial (technical?) resources to "greenlight" your project. You can use paper mock-ups of important aspects that allow you to communicate your concept (written discriptions or images of characters, a storyboard that represents story/action, a diagram of different paths, maps or representative illustrations [maybe alterations of existing ones using Photoshop?]. But most important will be the creativity of your idea, and how well you've understood course concepts.