Meeting Time: TTh 12:00-1:20pm
TA Section 1: Friday 12:30-1:20pm (Hannah Brooks-Motl)
TA Section 2: Friday 1:30-2:20pm (Steven Maye)
Office Hours: Tuesday 2:00-4:00pm
Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (firstname.lastname@example.org)
New media have changed the way that we tell and process stories. Over the last few decades, writers and designers have experimented with text, video, audio, design, animation, and interactivity in unprecedented ways, producing new types of narratives about a world transformed by computers and communications networks. These artists have explored the cultural dimensions of information culture, the creative possibilities of digital media technologies, and the parameters of human identity in the network era.
This course investigates the ways that new media have changed contemporary society and the cultural narratives that shape it. Along the way, we will analyze hypertext fiction, twine games, interactive dramas, videogames, Alternate Reality Games, and more. Our critical study will concern issues such as nonlinear narrative, network aesthetics, and videogame mechanics. Throughout the semester, our analysis of computational fictions will be haunted unceasingly by gender, class, race, and other ghosts in the machine.
Course requirements include regular blog posts, a mid-term paper, and a short in-class presentation. For a final project, students will collaborate in groups and use a new media technology of their choice to tell a story. There will be no exams.
COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)
Week 1: Introduction to Digital Storytelling
Jan 5: Introduction to Digital Storytelling and Passage (Jason Rohrer)
Week 2: Hypertext Fiction and Twine Narratives
Jan 12: Twelve Blue (Michael Joyce), “Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star” (Nick Montfort), “Cyber|literature and Multicourses” (Katherine Hayles), and “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” (Katherine Hayles, p. 1-42)
Presentation Topic: Storyspace software
Jan 14: Guest Mini-Lecture on Twine (Ashlyn Sparrow), Howling Dogs (Porpentine), Player 2 (Lydia Neon), Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn), and “Interview with Porpentine, author of howling dogs” (Emily Short)
Week 3: Beyond Text: Interactive Cinema and Database Narrative
Jan 19: Her Story (Sam Barlow) and “Designing a Database Cinema” (Marsha Kinder)
Presentation Topic: Interactive cinema
Jan. 19: Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, and Until Dawn Session (6pm, Game Changer Chicago Design Lab)
Jan. 21: Guest Mini-Lecture on Ludonarrative Dissonance (Philip Ehrenberg), Heavy Rain (David Cage and Quantic Dream), The Walking Dead (Telltale Games), Until Dawn (Supermassive Games), and “The Myths of Interactive Cinema” (Peter Lunenfeld, p.377-390).
Presentation Topic: Machinima
Week 4: Videogames and Narrative Architecture
Jan 26: Braid (Jonathan Blow) and Einstein’s Dreams (Prologue, May 14, and June 2 excerpts)
Presentation Topic: CAVE environments
Presentation Topic: Remediation
Week 5: Alternate Reality Games and Netprov
Feb 2: “Storytelling in New Media: The case of alternate reality gaming, 2001-2009” (Jeffrey Kim, et. al.), “This is Not a Game” (Jane McGonigal, p. 1-10), “Pasts and Futures of Netprov” (Rob Wittig) and Exoriare sample
Presentation Topic: Online games and virtual worlds
Feb 4: Explore the Speculation Archive and “Speculation: Financial Games and Derivative Worlding in a Transmedia Era” (N. Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux, p. 220-236)
Presentation Topic: Web comics
Feb 5: MIDTERM PAPER DUE
Week 6: Nonlinear Storytelling and Digital Poetry
Feb 9: The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden)
Presentation Topic: Animated and generative poetry
Feb 12: FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE
Week 7: Interactive Drama and Forms of Engagement
Presentation Topic 1: Fan fiction and DIY culture
Presentation Topic 2: Twitter theater
Feb 18: Papers, Please (Lucas Pope) and “What Games Can Learn from the Engagement Layers of Papers, Please” (Cory Johnson)
Presentation Topic: Cell phone novels
Week 8: Queer Games and Networked Relations
Presentation Topic 1: Cyberfeminism
Presentation Topic 2: Nonfiction digital narrative
Week 9: Role-Playing and Play Beyond Characters
March 1: To the Moon (Kan Gao)
Presentation Topic: Role Playing Games
March 3: Dwarf Fortress (Tarn and Zach Adams) and “Dwarven Epitaphs: Procedural Histories in Dwarf Fortress” (Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux)
Week 10: Final Project Presentations
March 8: FINAL PROJECT IN-CLASS PRESENTATION AND CRITIQUE
March 10: FINAL PROJECT IN-CLASS PRESENTATION AND CRITIQUE
March 12: FINAL PROJECT (GROUP) AND REFLECTION (INDIVIDUAL) DUE
- Timely Arrival: We only meet a handful of times throughout the quarter so make the most of each session. Arrive on time!
- Attendance: Attendance is required for this course. Students absent for more than one class risk lowering their participation grade; students with more than three unexcused absences will be given a final grade of incomplete or fail.
- Preparation: Do the reading and take the activities seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and artworks. All readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.
- Annotations and Notes: Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. You should get into the habit of writing down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. Just because we’re discussing digital works, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your papers and project.
- Questions and Office Hours: Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours. A seminar can’t succeed without open discussion and curiosity!
- Plagiarism: As the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students notes, “It is contrary to ethics, to academic integrity, and to the spirit of intellectual inquiry to submit the statements, ideas, or work of others as one’s own. Such conduct is punishable under the University’s disciplinary system.” If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, you should contact me in advance of turning in work with plagiarized content. Academic dishonesty is a very serious offense — even if it is unintentional. The penalty for plagiarism might include both failure on the paper and failure of this course. Please review the University of Chicago’s official policy online. Keep in mind that academic dishonesty includes buying papers online, outsourcing your academic work to someone else (paid or unpaid), and submitting the same paper to more than one course. This is not an exhaustive list of the practices that constitute academic dishonesty and plagiarism. For more details, please consult the discussion of plagiarism and academic honesty in Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success.
- Cell Phones and Laptops: Cell phones must absolutely be turned off in class. While laptops are permitted, I recommend that anyone tempted to check in with social media, email, and other sites unrelated to class should stick to pen and paper for note-taking. If you have a compulsion about emailing, messaging, or checking social media during class (and cannot control yourself), you should absolutely refrain from bringing your laptop to class.
- Late Papers and Extensions: If any assignment is late, surpassing the deadline, it will immediately drop half grade (e.g. from a B to B-). The grade will continue to drop at a comparable increment every 24 hours thereafter. I do grant extensions (especially in cases of major life events or emergencies) but you should talk to me about this possibility well in advance of the deadline.
ASSIGNMENTS: PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS
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 5 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 5 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.
Short Presentations on Digital Storytelling Topic (In Groups of 3)
Given the short duration of the quarter, we will not have time to consider a number of major cultural, technological, and formal issues that are relevant to the study of digital storytelling. In order to incorporate some overviews of these topics, you will give short presentations, in groups of 3, about a number of predetermined topic areas, such as Storyspace software, generative poetry, cyberfeminism, and web comics (see course schedule for more). You may take any path through these broad topic areas. But you have only 5-7 minutes, so you’ll have to be organized and disciplined about your presentation. These presentations will generally take place at the very start of class. Given the short duration, this overview should orient the class to your area with a handful of appropriate examples, dates, and concepts. Even as the presentation is short, you will be expected to do some minimal research that exceeds what one might find in the Wikipedia entry on the topic. In each presentation, each participating student must speak.
Midterm Paper (5+ pages)
For your midterm paper, you’ll perform an extended analysis of an electronic literary work, a videogame, or another digital narrative that we have covered in class up to that point. As you explore your topic, you may turn to formal approaches as well as a cultural theory or philosophical methodology of your choice. The best papers will combine 1.) medium-specific reading practices and 2.) critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxism, anthropological ethnography, and/or media theory.
Keep in mind that writing persuasively about different forms and media requires specific vocabularies and close reading practices proper to the work in question. For example, if you analyze a film, you must attend not only to plot or character development, but also to features such as shot distance, lighting, costume, mise-en-scène, cut type, sound effects, etc. When you think about a digital narrative, on the other hand, you might consider elements including (but not limited to) aesthetic style, interface design, navigability, (non-)interactivity, game mechanics, platform affordances, and so forth. So, for this paper, begin with a close reading, develop an argument, and foreground implications (the “So what?” of your argument).
FINAL GROUP PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS
Final Group Project
Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill in a cultural landscape dominated by digital technologies. While novels and poems are often written by individual authors, many contemporary artistic forms, such as interactive narratives, videogames, and Alternate Reality Games depend on partnerships among writers, artists, programmers, and designers.
For the final project, you will create a pre-approved digital media story (e.g., a work of electronic fiction, a Machinima film, an interactive website, a text adventure, a computer game, a Game Design Document for a larger-scale project such as an ARG, etc.). To produce your work, you might consider turning to software such as Twine, Photoshop, Comic Life, Flash, Final Cut Pro, Unity, Unreal Development Kit, etc. In order to create a compelling digital work, you need not have substantial technical knowledge. For those of you without preexisting tech skills, you can, for instance, create a browser-based story using blogging software or a free web design program. Since this is an English course, I am more interested in the creativity of the narrative form, the quality of the writing, and your engagement with theoretical concepts we have been exploring throughout the quarter.
As you approach this assignment, be careful not to treat it as a total departure from your analytic midterm paper. Instead, I’d like you to engage in a process of what Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire have called “theory by design.” In other words, instead of working through ideas in an expository fashion, you will do so through creative development.
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. In order to make things more interesting, we’ll treat this abstract as a role-playing exercise. When you compose this document, write it as if you are submitting the proposal to a foundation or a contest that might provide you with operational funds. I will play the part of an award committee member and either advance the proposal to the next round or remove it from the competition.
In this abstract, introduce your project 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. While I don’t require it, you may also find it useful to write a brief outline of your narrative or description of your interface.
Final Project In-class Presentation and Critique
During the final week of the class, we’ll engage in two presentation and critique sessions. Each group will present its digital storytelling project to a panel of evaluators (consisting of myself and 2 guests). This assignment will force you to present the features of your project in a clear and persuasive manner to digital storytelling experts from outside of our course. Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos to the completed project) will certainly strengthen your talk. Your project does not need to be completed, at this stage, but a mockup or selections from the final piece may help.
Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)
Along with your actual group project, I’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 pages) individual reflection about your project that does two 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 digital story 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?
- Attendance, Preparation, and Discussion: 15%
- Short Presentations on Digital Storytelling Topic (in groups): 10%
- Blog Posts (5 Entries and Weekly Responses): 15%
- Midterm Paper (5 pages): 20%
- Final Group Project: Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Class Presentation, Group Project, and Individual Reflection (2-3 pages): 40%