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Technical Communication 498
Digital Games
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Winter 2005
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Course description

The overall question driving this course is how to create a satisfying gaming experience. This question can be approached from multiple dimensions and, in fact, must be approached from different perspectives in order to be addressed effectively. To that end, then, this course is envisioned as an interdisciplinary investigation into digital games. The students in this course are upper division undergraduates and graduate students from a range of disciplines including technical communication, computer science, political science, education, art, women’s studies, communication, informatics, bioinformatics, and more. As such, the quarter will be an opportunity to see how games are perceived in areas familiar and unfamiliar. We will spend time working out some definitions and a common vocabulary to meet the challenges of interdisciplinary conversations (and to keep the overall annoyance factor down). Key skills to bring to the class are going to include curiosity and patience. A sense of fun will be tolerated.

The course covers many topics, including social and cultural elements of games, games as a global commodity, games as instigators for technical innovation, and emerging gaming areas such as mobile games.

The course will include readings, hands-on activities, presentations, the opportunity for students to pursue topics of their own interest, and a group final project. Class meeting time will be split between a regular classroom and a computer classroom. Instruction will include presentations by guest speakers from local game companies. In addition to regular class time and class assignments, students will be expected to spend time outside of class familiarizing themselves with some of the games that will be covered in the course.

The schedule below includes most but not all course readings. You should expect one or two additional articles most weeks; the syllabus will be updated on the website with these new readings which will often be available online or via the library.

Course goals
  • This course provides an overview of digital games from an interdisciplinary perspective, including as a cultural artifact, a cornerstone of youth culture, an economic powerhouse, an educational tool, and a driver of technical innovation.
  • This course introduces you to a variety of game genres, and discusses the social, economic, and technical impact of these genres.
  • This course explores the design process for digital games.
  • This course explores social and structural issues within games and game-playing behavior.

Course objectives

At the conclusion of the class, students will be able to:

  • Describe the importance of games as an area of the software market.
  • Describe the importance of games as a cultural artifact, especially with respect to other entertainment genres.
  • Describe the importance of games as a driver of technological innovation.
  • Describe how societal norms are reflected in game design.
  • Evaluate different gaming populations and make design recommendations appropriate for those (potential) players.
  • Describe how game-playing patterns reflect social codes and mores.
  • Identify and explain core principles of online interaction and communication.
  • Describe issues of identity and representation within games and game-playing communities.
  • Describe the global scope of the games market and its implications for cross-cultural diffusion.

Course schedule

Week 1: January 5

Topics: Introduction to class; The Politics of Design


  • Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?"
  • Nissenbaum, "How Computer Systems Embody Values"
  • Getting Gamers etc. from User Experience (handout in class)
  • P. David Lebling, Marc S. Blank, and Timothy A. Anderson, "Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game," IEEE Computer 12 (April 1979): 51-59. At

Game: Zork

Week 2: January 12

Topics: Genres of Virtual Environments (Games, CSCW, Distance Education, etc.); Definitions (so we can have fewer frustrating conversations this quarter)


  • DFC Intelligence, Business of Games
  • Jones, “Let the games begin: Gaming technology and entertainment among college students.”
  • ISDA, Essential Facts on Video Game Players 2003 Sales Demographics and Use Data.
  • Genres, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_and_video_game_genres
  • Ellis, Gibbs, Rein, “Groupware: Some Issues and Experiences”
  • Herbsleb, Atkins, et.al., “Introducing Instant Messaging and Chat in the Workplace”
  • Kyng, “Designing for Cooperation: Cooperating in Design”

Assignments: Play Diary entry #1

Game: Zork con’t, LamdaMOO or LinguaMOO

Movie: Avatars Offline

Week 3: January 19

Topics: Identity in Virtual Environments; The User Experience of Gaming; Design Decisions


  • Turkle, from Life on the Screen
  • Taylor, "Intentional Bodies"
  • Filiciak, “Hyperidentities: Postmodern Identity Patterns in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games” in The Video Game Theory Reader
  • Norman, from The Design of Everyday Things - not required as of Jan. 11, 2005.
  • Bartle, "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs"
  • Robert Axelrod, From The Evolution of Cooperation
  • Unit 1 of Rules of Play *strongly recommended*

Assignments: Play Diary entry #2

Game: MUDs continued

Guest Speakers: Colin Maclay, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University; Chris Coward, Director of the Center for Internet Studies, UW

Show and Tell, Jan. 19: Ario (Katamari Damacy and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for Playstation)

Week 4: January 26

Topics: Gender, Race, and other Audience Considerations; Issues for Designers; Avatars and In-Game Representation


  • Taylor, “Multiple Pleasures”
  • Kerr, “Women Just Want to Have Fun”
  • Kolko, “Erasing @race”
  • Consalvo, “Hot Dats and Fairly-Tale Romance: Studying Sexuality in Video Games” in The Video Game Theory Reader
  • Optional: Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”

Assignments: Play Diary entry #3

Game: Counter-Strike

Movie, Jan. 25: War Games

Week 5: February 2

Topics: Commodification of Culture; Questions of Player Rights


  • Taylor, "Whose Game is this Anyway?"
  • Koster, "Declaring the Rights of Players"
  • Dibbell, "The Unreal Estate Boom"
  • Bartle, “Pitfalls of Virtual Property”
  • Castronova, “Virtual Worlds: A First-hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier”

Assignments: Play Diary entry #4

Game: Rise of Nations

Guest Speaker, 3 p.m.: Erik Johnson - Project Manager, Valve Software. Erik began his career as a shoe salesman and later moved up to selling used cars. Deciding that the car business wasn't for him either, he took a job with Sierra Online in the QA department. As one of Sierra's testers for Half-Life, Erik spent a lot of time over at the Valve offices and was eventually offered a job with Valve as shipping manager. Erik's responsibilities include localization, testing, managing the build process, creating demos, and shipping products.

Show and Tell, Feb. 1: Derek and John

Week 6: February 9

Topics: Games as Learning Tool, Informal Learning via Games


  • Postigo, “From Pong to Planet Quake: Post-Industrial Transitions from Leisure to Work”
  • Holland, Jenkins and Squire, “Theory by Design” in The Video Game Theory Reader
  • Kiesler and Sproull, “Pool Halls, Chips, and War Games: Women in the Culture of Computing”

Assignments: Play Diary entry #5

Game: Zoo Tycoon (optional: Flight Sim)

Movie, Feb. 9: The Last Starfighter

Week 7: February 16

Topics: Rule-making, Power and Control in Online Games


  • Talin, "Managing Deviant Behaviors in Online Worlds" - not required as of Jan. 6, 2005.
  • Morningstar & Farmer, "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat"
  • MacKinnon, “Punishing the Persona: Correctional Strategies for the Virtual Offender”

Assignments: Play Diary entry #6 (not required as of Feb. 12, 2005); Interim Final Project Report

Game: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna

Show and Tell, Feb. 16: Catherine (Stepmania) and Karla (Revolved)

Week 8: February 23

Topics: Presence, Immersion, Interactivity


  • Janet Murray, from Hamlet on the Holodeck
  • McMahon in The Video Game Theory Reader
  • Grodal in The Video Game Theory Reader
  • Crawford in The Video Game Theory Reader

Assignments: Play Diary entry #7

Game: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna

Guest Speaker, 3 p.m.: Doug Lombardi - Director of Marketing, Valve Software. After years in the music industry, Doug decided to get a real job. Then he came to his senses and made the decision to get into the gaming industry instead. During his time in gaming, he has worked on the launch of websites, magazines, and games. As Director of Marketing at Valve, he helps manage and coordinate third-party relations, marketing and press activities.

Guest Speaker: Tony Leamer, Marketing/Distribution, RealArcade.

Movie, Feb. 22: Tron (canceled as of Feb. 22, 2005)

Week 9: March 2

Topics: Games as Driver of Technological Innovation, Input Devices


Assignments: Play Diary entry #8

Game: RalliSport

Guest Speakers: Microsoft team from "The Beast"

  • Dan Carver is a 20 year veteran of the gaming industry.  He got his start with board, roleplaying, and play-by-mail games and then moved into video and PC gaming.  He has served stints as a tester, programmer and project manager, but his real love is level and game design.  By happy coincidence he was in the right place and time to get sucked into the maelstrom that became the AI web-based mystery game, codenamed "the Beast". Like everyone on the project he wore a lot of hats, chief among them, voice direction, audio post production, phone coordination, puzzle design and implementation, and occasional occupant of the "hot seat".  Besides the Beast, his credits include Nuclear Escalation (card game), Mobius I (play-by-mail game), Kings Quest V, Space Quest IV, Microsoft Golf, Cel Damage, Mechwarrior IV and Crimson Skies (XBOX).
  • Todd Lubsen
  • Vic Bonilla
  • Elan Lee started his career as a character designer at Industrial Light and Magic, where he worked on several motion pictures. He then moved to Microsoft Game Studios where he was a lead game designer for the PC and Xbox.  While at Microsoft, Elan served as lead designer, director, and producer for The Beast campaign for Steven Spielberg's film AI. The Beast won Elan dozens of awards including Best Idea of 2001 (New York Times Magazine), Best Website of the Year (Entertainment Weekly, 2001), and Best Promotion of 2001 (Times magazine). Last year, Elan started 42 Entertainment to create, design, and direct viral entertainment projects like the I Love Bees campaign which was an alternative reality game promoting Halo 2 and winning the Game Developers Conference Innovation award in 2005. Elan is a pioneer in his field and is routinely asked to speak at forums, including the Game Developer's Conference, The Alternative Gaming Forum, and Intel Research Laboratories.
  • Paolo Malabuyo is a Lead Design Program Manager at Xbox where he currently leads information architecture, interaction/interface design, and interface prototyping efforts for the next generation Xbox platform. He was the multiplayer design lead for Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, a designer for The Beast campaign for Steven Spielberg’s film A.I., and interface design lead for Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance. Before joining the game industry, he was a UI Program Manager at SQL Server for Microsoft, a lead UI Designer for Oracle, and a Graphic Designer for IBM. He studied art & design at Carnegie Mellon University.

Movie, Mar. 2: ExistenZ

Week 10: March 9

Topic: Final Project workshop

Finals Week: March 14, 6:30-9:30

Final Projects due at 6:30. Class presentations and guest speaker.

Guest Speaker: Mark Selander has worked in the entertainment industry for the last 7 years. He graduated in 1998 from Western Washington University with a degree in Industrial Design. While in school he interned at Will Vinton Studios, an animation production company based out of Portland Oregon. He started out as a model builder for a stop action animated Christmas special airing on the ABC network; The Online Adventures of Ozzie the Elf. After graduation he continued to work in the model shop on various nationally aired commercials, producing backgrounds and set pieces. In 1999 Mark went to work as a set designer and artist for the animated UPN television series Gary and Mike. For the last five years Mark has been employed at Microsoft Games Studios in Seattle. As both a production artist and a conceptual designer, he has worked on a variety of projects including Crimson Skies I and II. Mech Warrior IV and a web game to support the DreamWorks film A.I.  Mark is currently involved in developing concept art for an upcoming title. Mark has also worked as a freelance illustrator,  storyboard artist, and as a chipmunk puppet named Rudy for a Japanese/English language television series.

Miscellaneous logistics

Games: Zork, Tertris and Rise of Nations are loaded onto the computers in the OUGL classroom reserved for class (Collab 1). If you want access to the room outside of class, we can schedule some lab times to make the room open. Zork and Tertis can be downloaded for free. Rise of Nations is also available in the TC Computer Lab, in the basement of Loew Hall. To get a code and login to use that Lab, please go to Loew 14 to fill out the appropriate form. The other games listed on the syllabus will be available in the TC Lab only. Rallisport Challenge will be available starting the second week of the quarter. The other games will be installed as they arrive.

Show and Tell: The Show and Tell sessions will be scheduled according to the class’ collective schedules. They are opportunities to demonstrate other games to class members; these sessions may be particularly helpful for the final design projects. I’ll reserve a room with necessary equipment; games will be provided by the host(s).

The movie sessions that appear on the syllabus will also be scheduled according to general availability. The movies are required texts as part of class; the scheduled viewings are an opportunity for you to see them on my dime; you’re welcome to rent them on your own as well.

Graded work
Grades will be based on:
Play diary (one week skipped): 30%
Book/article review: 10%
Interim final project report: 10%
Final design project: 40%
Participation: 10%

Required texts
  • Course packet available from Ave Copy Center  4141 University Way NE, Suite 103 (on west side of the street, south of 43rd street, below street level)
  • The Video Game Theory Reader, Wolf and Perron eds.
  • Recommended: Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman

Other information

Please read Department of Technical Communication (TC) policies for students registered in TC courses regarding student rights, plagiarism, and the TC human subjects pool.
Student rights:


TC Human Subjects Pool:
Students registered in TC courses are part of the TC Human Subjects Pool, which means that they may be asked to participate in research studies. Because participation in research studies is voluntary, students who do not wish to participate will be offered an alternative assignment.

Other policies
Because this class is heavily oriented towards student participation, attendance is mandatory. Late assignments will not be accepted.