Designing Play

This course (currently a section of MDST3559) is a practice of media course that focuses on the design of games and playful media for media studies students. Students will gain experience developing multiple games for multiple platforms, while also critically evaluating game design discourses. Each section of this course will focus primarily on a different genre of game (interactive fiction, platformer, role-playing game, VR game, augmented reality game, etc.) with connections made to other genres.

For this inaugural section, we will focus on interactive fiction conceived quite loosely — using narratively-based games and playful media, we will engage with stories, text-based games, role-playing, and other “story games.” As we develop our skills in designing within this loose genre of games, we will also be engaging with game studies literatures regarding the tensions between narrative and game systems, designer discourses on theming/story in games, as well as popular critical discourses on storytelling in playful media.

In the first half of the term, students will design multiple games in small groups, utilizing a different development environment each time. In the second half of the term, students will individually or in pairs pick one of the prototypes/design environments they dabbled in during the first half of the term, and flesh it out into a complete prototype. Throughout, we will engage with story-based and text-based gameplay — from historically significant genres such as Infocom interactive fiction (Zork, Planetfall, A Mind Forever Voyaging), independent interactive fiction (Curses, Lost Pig, Anchorhead), Twine games (Depression Quest, howling dogs, Hana Feels, Bee), tabletop role-playing games (Fiasco, Dog Eat Dog, The Quiet Year), and more.

No previous experience with programming or game design is assumed for this course, though students with computational experience will be pushed to utilize those experiences in their designs. All students will be expected to delve into game design in multiple ways — this course fulfills a practice of media requirement for the Media Studies major — as well as critically evaluating gameplay throughout the term.

For further information, please contact Dr. Duncan at