In my teaching, I have striven to present critical perspectives on games, digital media, participatory culture, and learning. Below are links to current syllabi (from University of Virginia), sample syllabi and one informational website for select courses I designed and taught at Indiana University (from 2012 to 2017), as well as courses taught at Miami University (from 2010 to 2012).
Here’s a small sampling of the courses I’ve taught at UVA since 2017 —
MDST3510: Games Research (Spring 2021): course promotional site
This course deals with game research methods, focusing on five different approaches ranging from qualitative study of games to mixed methods research to experimental game design. Students will do small exercises related to each of these methods and work toward the completion of a research proposal focused on a games research question of interest to the student. Offered online asynchronously; counts toward departmental Media Research requirement.
MDST3704: Games and Play (Fall, 2017-Spring, 2019; course promotional site)
This course is an introduction to game studies, surveying theories of play and research on contemporary videogames to “folk games” to sports/e-sports. Historic tensions and debates in game studies will form the foundation for the course, then students will engage with game studies as inherently interdisciplinary, developing interpretive arguments regarding games. Offered online.
MDST 3712: Interactive Storytelling (Summer 2020): older course promotional site
In this course, we will investigate the tensions between storytelling and play, looking at a number of interactive approaches to narrative as embodied in playful media. Students will survey multiple games and game-like narrative media, engage with and evaluate the scholarly literature on storytelling, narrative, and play, and also design multiple small game prototypes that allow them to put what they’re learning into practice. Offered online.
PAST AND CURRENT COURSES AT UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA:
MDST4559/7559: Critical Game Studies (Fall 2020): course promotional site
This course deals with advanced topics in game studies, focusing on interdisciplinary research into digital and analog games. The topic of each semester will be tied to contemporary debates in the field, surveying recent research in the study of games along several thematic axes. Potential themes for the course involve: embodiment, “metagaming,” online streaming, and the role of the “culture wars” in our understanding of popular discord around these media.
MDST3559: Designing Play (Spring 2020); course promotional site
This course deals with the design of play, providing media studies students with a practice of media course revolving around game design. Each section will focus on a different genre or goal in the design of play (e.g., interactive fiction/narratives, “serious games,” role-playing games/larp, etc.) and each section will teach students to both design games as well as critically evaluate these media based on their design experiences.
MDST3710: Comics & Sequential Art (Spring, 2020); course promotional site)
This course addresses the media of comics and sequential art, tracking the industrial, aesthetic, and cultural impact of comic books, comic strips, mini comics, webcomics, manga, fumetti, and la bande dessinée. Particular emphasis will be placed on comics and sequential art as a unique visual storytelling medium, with additional emphasis on the impact comics have had in other media, including film, television, and games
MDST4251: Histories of Games (Spring, 2010); course promotional site)
This course delves into game history through a focus on one significant game series, genre, or designer. For the inaugural section in Spring, 2020, the course will focus on The Legend of Zelda series, developed by Nintendo, with the aim of helping students to ground their understandings of the history of games through multiple lenses. Individual and collective play of multiple games will be a key part of the course, and students will apply their insights on the history of games to a research topic of their own interest.
MDST4559: Online Culture and Games (formerly Game Cultures) (Fall, 2018; course promotional site)
In this course, students will encounter research on games and cultures of play, with a focus on digital games (video games, mobile games, e-sports) and online discourses around games (forums, Reddit, YouTube, Twitch). Students will develop focused research papers on relevant topics, including “metagaming,” “theorycrafting,” gaming literacy, spectatorship, modding, harassment, representation, diversity, and identity in game cultures.
MDST 4559: Critical Game Design (Spring, 2018)
In this course, we will be using the process of game design to help us better investigate and critically evaluate the medium of games. As Mary Flanagan states in her text Critical Play, her use of “critical” is one that encompasses multiple approaches: “Critical play is characterized by a careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces.” Through this course, students will engage with “criticality” through design — by developing game design skills as well as leveraging them toward the creation of a large, group “critical game.”
COURSES TAUGHT AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY:
P674: Games, Play, and Learning (Spring, 2017; syllabus PDF)
A doctoral-level seminar/workshop on games, play, and incorporating approaches from game studies/media studies toward furthering the field of “games and learning.” An experimental course, this deviates from previous games and learning courses I’ve taught by putting a stronger emphasis on design than previous seminars, as well as pushing students to conceptualize “play” more broadly than it has been typically entertained by educational research. With attention toward “play” across multiple media, my goal was to help students create educational games that were better attuned to recent discussions in game studies than many application-based educational research discourses.
P631: Participatory Culture and Learning (Fall, 2015; syllabus PDF)
A doctoral-level seminar on participatory culture and learning. Building from Henry Jenkins’ and colleagues’ initial forays into participatory culture, we connected the study of online, interest-driven learning to research on interest, participation, and digital media. Students engaged in semester-long field research, building arguments for investigations of learning in online “passion communities” around their own interests (e.g., Star Wars fandom, critical videogame communities, online homebrewing communities).
P674: Designing For Playful Learning (Fall, 2013; course promotional site)
A doctoral-level seminar/workshop on “playful learning,” or recent initiatives toward making learning “playful” through the design of games. This course took more of a survey approach than later courses, attempting to characterize the history of games and learning research, while also broadening our discussions of games to include designer/developer discourses.
COURSES TAUGHT AT MIAMI UNIVERSITY:
IMS211: The Analysis of Play (Spring, 2012; syllabus PDF)
A foundational undergraduate course in interactive media studies, on the topics of game studies and game analysis. Taking an interdisciplinary media studies approach to games, we wrestled with disciplinary tensions in the study of games, while providing undergraduates their first experiences in analyzing game representation, game design, and ongoing participation in gaming communities.
EDL662: Digital Media & Learning (Spring, 2012; syllabus PDF)
A doctoral-level education seminar on the evolving field of “digital media and learning.” Based on early work funded by the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning grants, we assessed the evolution of the field and developed insights on how the DML field might push our understandings of learning as embedded in media participation.
IMS/ENG238: Narrative and Digital Technology (Fall, 2011; syllabus PDF)
An undergraduate course in interactive media studies on narrative and digital technology (cross-listed with English). I radically redesigned this course to be one focused on interactive fiction — the creation and critique of digital, interactive media. Utilizing the interactive fiction platform Inform 7, students created experimental interactive, narrative media while developing sophisticated understandings of algorithmic and procedural approaches to narrative.
Please note, all Indiana University and Miami University course syllabi were originally online, dynamic documents. Some formatting weirdness may have occurred in translation to PDF form!
POTENTIAL FUTURE COURSES:
I am interested in continuing to innovate my teaching, especially in terms of game studies and game history. The following courses are courses I’d like to be able to teach someday, in some fashion!
MDST 3559: Analog Game Studies
In this course, we will investigate the materiality of games and new trends in games, which have moved games research increasingly toward considerations of “analog.” We will learn about innovations in “analog games” including card games and board games to role-playing games and mixed digital/analog games. We will engage with these media through regular play, critical evaluation of new research on these media, and through pedagogical use of critical game design.
A Link to the Past: Zelda as Media History (Promotional site)
Level: Fourth-Year Undergraduate
In this course, students will engage with multiple approaches to digital games via personal engagement and play. Students will engage in critical literatures of game production and analysis, examining the history of the past thirty years of digital games through a platform studies approach to game analysis that addresses the technical development of hardware with the evolution of game genre. We will investigate the evolution of game tropes as reflective of evolving cultural tensions, and work through interdisciplinary approaches to experiencing the history of a play-based medium. To facilitate a common frame of reference, students will collectively go on a “deep dive” into a single gaming series — the significant and popular The Legend of Zelda series by Nintendo, comprising nearly 20 games since 1985. Through the critical play of multiple games in the series and through engagement with the evolving critical field of game history, students will develop understandings of how a focus on a single game series or genre can serve as a critical nexus for investigating the history of a medium.
Critical Game Industries
Level: Third-Year Undergraduate
Providing students with the opportunity to both understand game industry history, industry dynamics, the relationship(s) of the digital game industry to other tech industries and other media production, this course would be a critical look at how games get developed. This course would likely be a January-term course with a travel component, or some other configuration that would allow for travel to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Presence at the Game Developers Conference is a key goal for this course and provides interested students with a window into the industry of games. (I taught a similar course at Miami University).