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Technical Communication 498
Digital Games
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Winter 2005
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Play Diary Assignment

Due date: Each class, beginning on January 12
Length: approx. 2-3 pages (weekly variations expected)
Mode of turn-in: Hard copy to instructor or TA at the beginning of class

Assignment #1, 1/12/05
Definitions and Genres
How does Zork relate to your definition of a digital game from the first class day? Are there any elements of Zork that seem to have persisted and appear in contemporary games?

Consider the initial experience of playing the game in class. Was it enjoyable, easy, frustrating, confusing? What contributed to your reaction? How did you figure out how to begin? How long did it take you to feel you understood the rules of the game (if ever)? Did you ask friends or classmates for help? If so, at what point?

You may also want to reflect on genres and games. What genres of games are there? Are there genres of games that have disappeared over time? What genre is Zork? What other games would be in the same category?

The diary this week should allow you to articulate some of your assumptions about digital games, and set the stage for further inquiry by providing definitions and a sense of shared understanding.

Assignment #2, 1/19/05
When you went to LambdaMOO, LinguaMOO, or another MUD, think about the identity you projected to the community. What was the process of creating an identity in the virtual world? Did you log in as a guest? Did you customize your character in any way? If so, how (name, gender, appearance)? Did you play as a preset character or alter (some or all) the things you could? Do you think people’s interactions with you had anything to do with your online identity? If so, how? Do you have any evidence for this? Try playing the game with different characters

Did you have any sense of “being there” while you played the game/interacted in the environment? Did you experience any sense of embodiement or connection with your character as it moved about the world? What was your physical reaction to playing the game? Did you get close to the screen? Lean back in your chair? Sit in one position for a long time?

Assignment #3, 1/26/05
Diverse Audiences

Consider the representation in gender in the games examined thus far. What do the avatars look like? How is masculinity and femininity represented within the game? If you visited a graphical MUD, address both the textual and visual elements for these questions. Do you notice gender affecting your experience of the game? Do other players seem to act or communicate in ways that assume one gender or another?

Are there possibilities for racial representation in the environment? If so, is it obvious how to engage such representations? Remember that white is a race, too.  If characters in the game/avatars are not explicitly marked with race, are there implicit cues? Does racial representation seem to affect the interaction patterns in the game/environment?

How would you describe the target audience for this game? What evidence leads you to that claim?

Assignment #4, 2/2/05
Ownership and Property in Virtual Environments
Game: Rise of Nations

In Rise of Nations, you were able to build and lead your own society. What guided your choice of nation? How were the characters in your society represented? Were they culturally realistic and appropriate? If you explored more than one nation, what kinds of differences existed between them? Did they seem like unique cultures, or did it feel like the differences between them were only "window dressing"?

Were you represented in Rise of Nations as an avatar? Describe how this affected your involvement and commitment to your society and its assets. How did you divide your time between building infrastructure, exploring, and fighting? Did they contribute equally to your enjoyment of the game? What kinds of property did you accumulate in the game? What aspects of your society do you feel held the most value, i.e., was it the characters, the technology, the natural resources, etc.? Which held the least value? What criteria did you use to arrive at this conclusion?

How autonomous were the citizens of your nation? Discuss the amount of control you exerted over the characters in the game. Did you feel responsibility for the welfare of your society and its citizens?

If you have played EverQuest or another game similar to the ones referenced in this week’s readings, feel free to use your diary to reflect on issues related to property and ownership within those games. As a player, do you think you have the right to do whatever you want with the objects you create within the game? Is your playing experience based on assumptions of ownership and player rights? What do you think is the ideal relationship between a game player and the company that runs the servers hosting a game? How does this compare to the relationship as you actually experience it while playing the game?

Assignment #5, 2/9/05
Games for Learning
Game: Zoo Tycoon, (optional: Flight Simulator)

A few years ago, a study out of the UK concluded that “simulation and adventure games - such as Sim City and RollerCoaster Tycoon, where players create societies or build theme parks, developed children's strategic thinking and planning skills” (BBC report, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1879019.stm). Based on your experience with Zoo Tycoon and/or Flight Simulator, to what extent do you think computer games can teach knowledge and skills associated with formal classroom learning? How about using games such as these for informal, or lifelong, learning outside of classroom environments? Are there games you have played as part of this course that you think are not good candidates for learning tools, and if so why? You might want to begin by outlining your conception of formal (classroom) and informal education. Also, be sure to discuss what kind of education or skills you have in mind when you talk about the utility or nonutility of certain games. In other words, when it comes to logical reasoning and understanding cause and effect, how would you think about the usefulness of games? Alternatively, what about eye-hand coordination or other motor skills issues?

As another approach for the play diary, you might want to use your experience with games to outline a specific argument for or against their use as learning tools.

Assignment #7, 2/23/05
Presence, Immersion, Interactivity
Game: Dungeon Siege (note: this game has not been installed in the TC Lab yet. However, you *can* install it yourself. Just log on to the computer and insert your CD. Please budget an extra 15-20 minutes for the game to install on the machine (good time to do course reading). The game will uninstall after you log out.)

Topics for this week include presence, immersion, and interactivity. We have a range of readings, including some that deal with the issue of narrative (and interactive storytelling). For the play diary this week, please consider the readings in light of the game Dungeon Siege, and focus in particular on issues of immersion and interactivity with respect to narrative.

Both Crawford and Murray focus on new ideas of story and storytelling. Consider your game playing with Dungeon Siege (or other games) as an engagement with a story. What is the idea of authorship given your experience? How would you identify the author or authors of the “story” in a game like Dungeon Siege (or GTA, or Counterstrike, or Zoo Tycoon)? Who are the characters? Do you think there are primary and secondary characters? Is the plot easily identifiable? If so, what is it? What do you think about the idea of games as interactive narratives? (What games fall into this category and which don’t?) Do you see games as part of a continuum of narratives, as fitting into a history of stories and storytelling? You may want to discuss the game-playing experience in relationship to watching television or movies, or even playing tabletop games (for those of you who have that experience).

Whatever focus you take with your play diary, please be sure to address the basic concept of stories and narratives and how games fit into your understanding of these. How you actually address the topic may take several forms.

Note: Although this is not part of the play diary, we have a guest speaker from Real Networks this week, so please take the time to look at Real Arcade (Ario will be sending out information on the details) before class on Wednesday.

Assignment #8, 3/2/05
Game: Rallisport (or another game played previously this quarter, esp Flight Simulator)

The topic for this week is about games as the driver for technological innovations. Depending on your perspective, this can mean anything from new interface metaphors; devices such as joysticks, the Eyetoy, or controllers with audio; or border-erasing forms of gameplay such as The Beast or Majestic. For your play diary this week, please consider the readings in light of either a game you have played this quarter or a game you research online. Choose one aspect of innovation that you think this game may have introduced to the world of computer technology and address the importance (or irrelevance) of that innovation. In other words, some new developments in the landscape of technology and consumer electronics have more impact than others. The play diary should give you the opportunity to address whether or not you perceive a particular innovation as having particular importance. Please justify your assessment with evidence related to experience, observation, or other research.

Alternatively, you can use the play diary this week to address the games industry in general and what relationship it has to overall innovation in the world of technology. For example, if you are a TC student, you may want to address how user assistance in games has provided a perspective useful to documentation in other industries. If you are a CSE student, you may want to address advances in graphics. Etc…

As a final possibility for the play diary, since this is the final week, you should also feel free to use this as an opportunity to write a synthesis piece that draws from your previous diary entries and reflects on previous work of the quarter.