Syllabus

ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES: THEORY AND PRODUCTION

BPRO/MAAD/ARTV/ENGL/CMST/TAPS (Winter 2019)

Time: Tuesday and Thursday 11am to 12:20pm

Location: Logan 501

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (patrick.jagoda@gmail.com), Office Hours: Tuesday 1:30-3:30pm or by appointment (Walker 504)

Instructor: Heidi Coleman (coleman@uchicago.edu), Office Hours: Tuesday 12:30-3 or by appointment (Logan Cafe)

Games are one of the most prominent and influential media of our time. This experimental course explores the emerging genre of “alternate reality” or “transmedia” gaming. Throughout the quarter, we will approach new media theory through the history, aesthetics, and design of transmedia games. These games build on the narrative strategies of novels, the performative role-playing of theater, the branching techniques of electronic literature, the procedural qualities of video games, and the team dynamics of sports. Beyond the subject matter, students will design modules of an Alternate Reality Game in small groups. Students need not have a background in media or technology, but a wide-ranging imagination, interest in new media culture, or arts practice will make for a more exciting quarter.

This course will rely on individual preparation as well as an energetically collaborative mindset. While we understand not everyone will share the same fascination with “rabbit holes,” the ability to generate ideas through group work is highly valued. An approach that begins “yes and” is far more generative than “that won’t work because.” We work to discover and experiment, learning as much from what doesn’t work as what does.

COMMUNICATION PLATFORMS

Slack: We will use Slack for ongoing conversations with both shared channels for informal conversations about ARGs and classroom business, as well as private channels for communication with the instructors. For all course related questions, you should contact instructors via Slack INSTEAD of email.

Course Website: We will use the course WordPress website to access the syllabus (with links) and to post blog entries. The blog will be publicly available.

Canvas: We will only use Canvas to access PDFs of shared course readings. You will have to log into Canvas, using your CNetID.

GRADING

  • Attendance, Participation, and In-Class Exercises: 25%
  • One short presentations on Alternate Reality Game topics (in groups): 5%
  • Gameplay Participation with Written Response: 10%
  • Blog Posts (Individual 4 and short weekly responses): 20%
  • Final Group Project: Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Class Presentation/Performance (with Rabbit Hole), Group Project, and Individual Reflection (2-3 pages): 40%

CLASS EXPECTATIONS

  • We only meet for a few weeks, so arrive on time for each seminar or workshop session.

  • Do the reading. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with these texts, films, games, and other media. Readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

  • Assignments and papers are due when they appear on the syllabus. Extensions are discouraged but, if necessary or in case of emergencies, should be requested well in advance of the deadline. Late assignments will immediately entail a grade reduction, unless we have arranged an alternative due date in advance.

  • Print out readings or bring your annotated pages to class.

  • Exercises are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the events, you must pre-approve this absence and play the game prior to our class discussion.
  • Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours (seriously).

  • We are committed to meeting the needs of all students. To arrange class-related accommodations, please see Student Disability Services prior to scheduling a meeting with us: http://disabilities.uchicago.edu/accommodations

  • We will be heavily reliant on Slack for course communication. Please join Slack at this link.

COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)

Note: All readings that do not include links appear as PDFs on our course Canvas site.

Pre-Quarter Reading

For your viewing pleasure, you could consider watching The Game (David Fincher) or eXistenZ (David Cronenberg)

If you would like a textual jump-start, please join us in reading the articles listed below, which will give you a sampling of topics:

Week 1: Introduction to Critical Transmedia Play

Tuesday, January 8

  • Course Introduction and Personal “pitch” Exercise
  • Discussion of pre-quarter viewing and reading

Thursday, January 10

Week 2: Alternate Reality Games: Overview and Case Studies

Tuesday, January 15

Thursday, January 17

  • Exercise: ARG Group Presentation (1 or 2)

1. ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study (in Small Group): Choose a Case Study from Pervasive Games, such as Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, I Love Bees, Year Zero, etc.

2. “Serious” ARG Case Study (in Small Group): Choose one of the following “serious” ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST,  ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of Babel, Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG), Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.

Week 3: Improvisation

Tuesday, January 22

  • Improvisation for the Theater Excerpt (Viola Spolin, p.3-19, p. 34-45; p. 252-253)
  • Improvisation in Drama, Theatre and Performance: History, Practice, Theory (Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow p. 38-61)
  • “‘Yes, and’: Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy (Earl Vickers, p. 1-19)
  • “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity” (R. Keith Sawyer, p. 149-161)

Thursday, January  24

  • An Actor Prepares (Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski, p. 1-100)
  • Exercise: In-class improv

Week 4: Game design fundamentals and serious games

Tuesday, January 29

Thursday, January 31

  • Exercise: Take-home group game design with in-class presentation and crit

Week 5: Post-truth and Affective Politics

Tuesday, February 5

  • Watch Get Me Roger Stone (documentary) for class
  • “What Is Post-Truth?” (p. 1-16) and “Fighting Post-Truth (p. 151-172) in Post-Truth (Lee McIntyre)
  • “Navigating Movements: A conversation with Brian Massumi” in Hope: new philosophies for change (Mary Zournazi and Brian Massumi, p. 210-242)

Thursday, February 7

  • Exercise: Newscaster improvisation

FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE

Week 6: Social Experiments

Tuesday, February 12

Thursday, February 14

  • Exercise: Disruptive public action performance

Week 7: Performing the Self

Tuesday, February 19

Thursday, February 21

  • Exercise: Future self improvisation

Week 8: Social Media Performance

Tuesday, February 26

Thursday, February 28

  • Exercise: Social media platform rabbit hole creation on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitter, Discord, or Twitch

Week 9: Spatial Storytelling

Tuesday, March 5

Thursday, March 7

  • Exercise: Pitch preparation for final presentations

Week 10: Collaboration

Tuesday, March 12

  • Final Project Presentation

ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTION

Blog Posts and Responses

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (located on this WordPress site) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 4 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s digital narratives or theoretical reading, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 4 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.

Gameplay Participation with Written Response

We would like you to participate in at least one live-action roleplaying (LARP) game or tabletop game during the quarter.  The following two games are conveniently located and scheduled on-campus events.  

1. February 2, “Ask Again Later” (Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry) 

2. February 21, “Bad News” (Location TBD)

Alternately, you can propose a Chicago-area tabletop game or LARP of your choosing (with instructor approval)

Please submit a response within a week of gameplay that references (and applies!) at least two theorists from readings.  We are particularly interested in the integration of players as improvisors, and encourage you to use specific example from the game you experienced.

ARG Group Presentation

On Thursday, January 17, you will select a transmedia game from an approved list and give a 7-10-minute presentation of it in groups of five. These presentations include:

You can choose an ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study. Choose from case studies in the text Pervasive Games, which include Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, etc.

You can also select a “Serious” Transmedia Game Case Study. Choose one of the following “serious,” educational, or politically oriented ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST,  ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of Babel, Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG), Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.

As you think about your selected work, be attentive to the media-specific techniques through which the game tells a story or establishes a playful situation. While a brief summary of the game will be necessary for your classmates, you should focus on the analysis. Your presentation style may be as poetic or innovative as you’d like, provided that it tells us something meaningful about the production, aesthetics, gameplay, and form of your selected games.

Final Group Project: Alternate Reality Game Module

Final Group Project Abstract (Approximately 1 page or 300-400 words)

As a group, write a brief abstract for your final project that is due approximately a month before the project deadline on February 7. In this abstract, introduce your module and comment upon the type of research and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? Finally, what are the narrative, formal, social, and artistic innovations of the project? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline.

Final Project In-class Pitch and Critique (10 minutes)

During the final week of the class, on March 12, you will present your ARG module concept in front of a critique jury. After this hands-on session, you will turn in a Game Design Document for your proposed module. 

Final Game Design Document (variable length)

Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill. While novels and poems are often written by individual authors, most digital and transmedia games depend on partnerships among writers, artists, programmers, and designers. For your final project, you will not write a traditional research paper, even as there will be an analytical dimension to your work. Instead, you will create a rabbit hole (prior to class) and Game Design Document (as the final submission). While we are not specifying a page count, the effort and production should be substantial and appropriate to your group size.

Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)

Along with your actual group project, we’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 pages) individual reflection about your project that does three things. First, offer an artist’s statement on the formal significance of your project. This is your chance to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your ARG and to give a reader a frame for encountering your text. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? What did you contribute to the group? What was the balance of work like in your group? Third, and crucially, how would you revise and expand your project if you had more time?