|This is a prior semester’s syllabus to give you a sense of how the course works. The dates will obviously be changed, and so will guest speakers.
One very important note: We will attend the Games Developer’s Conference as part of the class. GDC is both a fun event and great insight into the inner workings of the industry, plus a valuable networking opportunity for those who take advantage.
This will mean travel to the San Francisco area for 1-2 days (more if your schedule permits) during the week of February 28-March 4. The trip will be subsidized or covered entirely, so don’t worry about the money. Making sure you are available for the time is more important. I understand that many students in the class work full time, so this is a long-term heads up that you will need to get a day or two off of work that week.
The industry, science and culture of video games
USC Annenberg School for Communication
Professor Dmitri Williams
Office hours: 5:30-6:30 Tuesdays
Video games are one of the fastest growing sectors of the entertainment industry, having recently surpassed the film industry in receipts. However, videogames are having a cultural impact far beyond their role as an economic commodity; they are also changing the way we tell stories, the way we interact with one another, and the ways in which we understand the world and our own roles in it.
In this class, we will explore all of these dynamics, studying the history of videogames, the present industry landscape, their social and cultural impact, and developments in technology, design, and industry organization. In addition to some fascinating readings, we'll enjoy class lectures by guest speakers.
Texts and Supplies:
A course reader will be available to the class via Blackboard, containing all of the readings listed below.
All students are required to subscribe to the daily email feed from http://www.gamesindustry.biz, and for daily Google News Alerts on the words “video game”. The Thursday report from the gamesindustry.biz emails is the most important one to read.
In addition, students are encouraged to immerse themselves in the business and culture of games, by reading web sites and playing games. Some starter sites:
Terra Nova: http://terranova.blogs.com/
Penny Arcade: http://www.penny-arcade.com/
Zero Punctuation: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/
Gama Sutra: http://www.gamasutra.com
Blue’s News: http://www.bluesnews.com/
Water Cooler Games: http://watercoolergames.org/
Serious Games: http://www.seriousgames.org/
Greg Costikyan: http://www.costik.com/
Avant Game: http://avantgame.blogspot.com/
Game Girl Advance: http://www.gamegirladvance.com/
Int’l Game Dev Assoc: http://www.igda.org/
International Hobo: http://www.ihobo.com
Components of the Course Grade:
In-class participation: 10%
Please note that informed participation in class will matter more than in a typical course.
In-class group projects: 15%
In-class projects will take place throughout the term, most often in groups. These will include a mock debate (5%, 10/13), group presentations on gender in gaming (5%, 9/29), and group presentations on current events in networked games (5%, 10/27).
Term project presentation: 10%
The last two class sessions (including the finals slot) are comprised of presentations of your term project. You will be graded on your content, the presentation itself, and your constructive critique of your classmate’s projects.
You will write a one-page reaction paper eight times during the term. Write on the readings assigned for that session. Someone always asks what one page is, so:
12 pt Times, double spaced, 1” margin. No more, no less.
Your term project will consist of a 15-20 page paper analyzing some aspect of games. This can be corporate, cultural, social scientific, or another area proposed by the student. Tailor it to your own interests, and to a practical real-world project if you like. Papers based on some kind of empirical data—whether statistical or qualitative—always fare better. The term paper is due by Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 5 pm to my box or to the front desk of Kerckhoff. Hard copy, not email, plus a return addressed and stamped envelope if you want written feedback.
Academic Integrity Policy
The School of Communication is committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and ethical support. It endorses and acts on the school policies and procedures detailed in the SCampus section titled: "University Student Conduct Code." See especially Appendix A: "Academic Dishonesty Sanction Guidelines." The policies, procedures, and guidelines will be assiduously upheld. They protect your rights, as well as those of the faculty. It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, fabricating data for a project, submitting the same paper to more than one professor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone but yourself. If you have questions about any of these matters, confer with the instructor.
Academic Accommodation based on Disability
Any student requesting academic accommodation based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to the instructor as early in the semester as possible. DSP’s phone number is (213) 740-0776.
Weekly Class Topics and Assignments
Class 1. Introduction: Overview, taxonomy, early history, genres
“Spacewar” in Levy, S. (1994). Hackers: Heroes of the computer revolution. New York: Penguin Books.
Class 2. Industry History of Video Games
Ch. 3-5 (p. 27-58). Kent, S. (2000). The first quarter: A 25-year history of video games. Bothell, Washington: BWD Press.
p. 1-11 & 349-389. Sheff, D. (1999). Game over, press start to continue: The maturing of Mario. Wilton, Connecticut: GamePress.
Ch. 7, p. 151-168. Kline, S., Dyer-Witheford, N., & DePeuter, G. (2003). Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Class 3. Industry Economics: I/O model, vertical integration, state of the industry, distribution models, licensing and franchises, advertising and marketing
Kline et al, “Digital Play” Ch. 8, p. 169-192
Williams, D. (2002). Structure and competition in the U.S. home video game industry. The International Journal on Media Management, 4(1), 41-54.
9/15 EA Visit
Class 4. Mobile, How studios work, Marketing.
Changes to the distribution model
Class 5. Media Constructions/Social history of gaming, Left vs. Right
Glassner, B. (1999). The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. New York: Basic Books. p. 58-74.
Herz, J. C. (1997). Joystick nation. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Ch. 4, p. 43-59.
Williams, D. (2006). A (brief) social history of gaming. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Video Games: Motivations and Consequences of Use. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
“The Coming of the Masses.” Gasset, J. O. y. (1994). The revolt of the masses. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Excerpt: Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (1979). Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso.
9/29 Class from 6 to 7:30.
Class 6. Where the boys (and girls?) are: Gender and gaming.
Barbie and Mortal Kombat book, sections TBA
Williams, Martins, Consalvo and Ivory, “The virtual census.”
Class 7. Social Science of Games: Motivations, Player Types, Presence, Effects
Sherry, J., Greenberg, B., Lucas, S., & Lachlan, K. (2006). Video game uses and gratifications as predictors of use and game preference. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing computer games: Motives, responses and consequences. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
Anderson, C. (2004). An update on the effects of playing violent video games. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 113-122.
Freedman, J. (2002, October 27). Evaluating the research on violent video games. Paper presented at the Playing By the Rules, Chicago, Illinois.
Class 8. Policy debate and term paper workshop, ratings systems
Policy packet on Blackboard
Ch. 10. Jones, G. (2002). Killing monsters: Why children need superheroes, fantasy games, and make-believe violence. New York: Basic Books.
10/20 No class – classes bumped into finals slot
Group assignment on online issues.
Class 9. Online gaming I, Identity, race and management. IP and legal issues, new business models, Terra Nova material
A) Identity and race
B) Leadership and management via gaming, player types
C) Legal and economic regulation of virtual worlds. Intellectual property issues.
Nakamura, L. (2001). Race in/for cyberspace: Identity tourism and racial passing on the Internet. In D. Trend (Ed.), Reading digital culture (pp. 226-235). Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.
Dibbell, J. (2006). Play money. Basic Books. Introduction and Tijuana chapter.
Dibbell, J. (2003, January). The 79th richest nation on Earth doesn't exist. WIRED, 12, 106-113.
Bartle, R. or Yee, N. on player typology
Optional: Podcast at http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3356.html
Group presentations on Terra Nova topics
Class 10. First half of class is Making Games Part I.
Guest: John Gonzalez, Obsidian Entertainment
Second half of class is Online gaming II, Community and Governance
A) World building
B) Guilds, clans, governance and griefing.
“Murder Incorporated” handout
Chiarella, T. (2004). The lost boys. Esquire.
C) Customer service, community management
D) Console gaming networks. Social and technical issues
Assignment: Reach level 8 in World of Warcraft, server to be assigned
Class 11. Making games Part II.
A) Building games in the academic and military contexts: Funding, creativity
B) Game making in the industry context
Optional: Sellers, M. (2006). Designing the experience of interactive play. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Video Games: Motivations and Consequences of Use. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
Guest: Mike Sellers, Online Alchemy, and possibly two others.
Class 12. Industry Trends
A) User-created content, modding, cheats, machinima
C) Mobile gaming
D) Older and female players
E) Location-based games
Assignment: Explore Second Life, World Without Oil or NIN tie-in
Optional: Vinge, V. (1981). True Names. In V. Vinge & J. Frenkel (eds.), True Names: And the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier. Tor Books; pp. 239-330.
Class 13. Games for Education and “Serious Games,” Term Project Workshop
Reeves et al. (2008) Leadership’s Online Labs. Harvard Business Review.
Gee, J. P. (2004). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palmgrave Macmillan. Chapter 2; pp 13-50.
Guest: Doug Thomas, Assoc. Prof, USC
Class 14: Final presentations I
Finals slot is 12/10. Everyone available on 12/8?
Class 15: Final Presentations II