Room: asc g34 Instructor: Dmitri Williams, Assistant Professor

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-- DRAFT: Old Syllabus, to be updated --
COMM 350 - Video Games: Content, Industry, and Policy
T & Th, 12:30 – 1:50

Room: ASC G34

Instructor: Dmitri Williams, Assistant Professor


Office: KER 312

Hours: By appointment, usually on the 2nd floor patio


Video games are an increasingly important communication medium in terms of national use, cultural impact and profitability. With the majority of the population now playing them and communicating through them, games are media that need to be examined for their use and impact. This industry, its history and the cultural practices it engenders have until very recently been neglected in comparison to television and other media.

The course has been designed as a broad introduction to the medium and history of video games. It draws from a wide variety of disciplines to examine video games as aesthetic products, cultural products, economic outputs, as a policy issue, as possible sources of effects and sites of community.
Learning Objectives

The interdisciplinary approach will give students exposure to the fundamentals of business and economics, sociology, social psychology, history, policy analysis and cultural studies.

Students need not have prior experience in these areas but must demonstrate a willingness to learn several approaches. Students should also be aware that the interdisciplinary nature of the course will make it more challenging than most, but will in turn offer more to the student over the course of the semester.

The main requirements are participation, readings, two midterms and short assignments leading to a major term project. Participation is an important component of the class.

Readings will be supplied via Blackboard. All of the readings in the syllabus are required, and supplemental readings may be added as the term progresses, depending on the interests of the students. The materials consist of book excerpts, magazine articles, research papers, and trade articles.
A series of short paper assignments will lay the groundwork for a larger, final project of the student’s choosing that will be developed by the student and approved by the instructor.
Attendance & Courtesy

Attendance is mandatory, and is taken at the beginning of the class. You are allowed two absences without explanation. No, really, I don’t want to know. Anything else must be documented or will otherwise affect your grade significantly.

Don’t be late, and don’t leave early. Don’t use your laptop for non-class surfing or playing, please.

All students are required to sign up for two email services:

  1. Games Industry Biz update at

Note that the Thursday edition of this email is particularly key.

  1. A customized email digest based on “video games” at


The papers for this class are graded on both content and format. Papers written unprofessionally will receive poor grades.

Exams are graded blind: names are removed before grading for anonymity.

Any queries about your grade on an assignment must be submitted to me in writing, no sooner than 24 hours after you get your grade.
Short assignments

There are five short assignments during the term:

  1. Write a one-page profile of a game company. Include its origins, its market, and its prospects, plus any relevant statistics.

  2. In one page, describe your own categorization within the player typology scheme known as Bartle’s Types. Which one are you and why? Provide examples.

  3. Without reading about it, try a game for the first time. Write a one-page ratings summary that includes a justification of your own rating, an explanation of the official ESRB rating, why the two differ (if they do), and your opinion on it all.

  4. World of Warcraft guild assignment. Join the class guild and get to level 8, Horde side, Draka server. Use the free 10-day trial at Allow ample time for downloading!

  5. Read through the web site “Terra Nova” ( Find one or more posts and threads of interest and write a one-page reaction paper. Incorporate concepts from the course readings.

Grade breakdown

Short assignments 15%

Midterm 1 20%

Midterm 2 20%

Debate performance 5%

Final Paper 30%

Participation 10%

Final Paper

The final paper is a research paper on a topic of student’s choosing, approved by the instructor. Students will submit proposals and outlines during the term. The paper will be between 10 and 15 pages and due by Tuesday, December 8 at 5 pm to the TA’s inbox in ASC G4 (the garden level, west side of ASC).

Statement for Students with Disabilities
Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) on the main USC campus each semester.  A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP.  Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. The phone number for DSP is +1 213 740-0776.

Academic Integrity Policy

The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University’s Academic Integrity code as detailed in the SCampus Guide. It is the policy of the School of Communication to report all violations of the code. Any serious violation or pattern of violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student’s expulsion from the Communication degree program.

It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, fabricating data for a project, submitting a paper to more than one professor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone other than yourself. If you have doubts about any of these practices, confer with a faculty member.

Resources on academic honesty can be found on the Student Judicial Affairs Web site (

“Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism” addresses issues of paraphrasing, quotations, and citation in written assignments, drawing heavily upon materials used in the university’s writing program; “Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty” addresses more general issues of academic integrity, including guidelines for adhering to standards concerning examinations and unauthorized collaboration.

The SCampus ( contains the university’s student conduct code and other student-related policies.




Associated Assignments


Intro, Hello


Industry History: Origins

“Spacewar” chapter. Levy, S. (1994). Hackers: Heroes of the computer revolution. New York: Penguin Books.


Industry History: Atari

Ch. 3-5 (p. 27-58). Kent, S. (2000). The first quarter: A 25-year history of video games. Bothell, Washington: BWD Press.


Industry History: Nintendo to Now

p. 1-11 & 349-389. Sheff, D. (1999). Game over, press start to continue: The maturing of Mario. Wilton, Connecticut: GamePress.


Economics/IO model

Kline et al, “Digital Play” Ch. 8, p. 169-192


Economics/IO model

Williams, D. (2002). Structure and competition in the U.S. home video game industry. The International Journal on Media Management, 4(1), 41-54.

Short paper: Game & company profile


EA VISIT, 4-7 pm, Playa del Rey Headquarters

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.


Economics/IO, EA Visit Debrief



Game Content: Genres/AI, Content Analysis, Popularity

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.


Social History, Media Constructions

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.


Player types, Midterm review

Bartle, R. (1996). Players who suit MUDs. Journal of MUD research, 1(1).

Bartle player type exercise


Midterm 1


Effects I

Anderson, C. (2004). An update on the effects of playing violent video games. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 113-122.


Effects II

Ferguson, C. (2007). The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of the positive and negative effects of violent video games. Psychiatric Quarterly, 78, 309-316.

Ratings assignment


Public Policy:
Debate & Debrief

Debate Packet: handouts of roles with backgrounds and profiles. Possible updated news clippings.

Group meetings: prepare for debate


Bing Gordon Visit


Online I: Community
Guilds, Clans, Effects;

Case Study: Order of Light

Williams, D., N. Ducheneaut, L. Xiong, Y. Zhang, N. Yee & E. Nickell (2006). From tree house to barracks: The social life of guilds in World of Warcraft. Games & Culture, 1(4), p. 338-361.



Online Issues II: Community, Role Play

“Murder Incorporated” short article

Chiarella, T. (2004). The lost boys. Esquire.


Online Issues III: Identity & Race
(Dibbell video link)

Dibbell, J. (2003, January). The 79th richest nation on Earth doesn't exist. WIRED, 12, 106-113.
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.


Online IV: IP, Business Models (Microtransactions, Subscriptions, ARPU, etc.) and

Herz, J. C. (2002, June). 50,000,000 Star Warriors Can't Be Wrong. WIRED, 10, 114-119.

Terra Nova Assignment



Guest: John Gonzalez, Obsidian Entertainment


Serious Games

Guest: Prof. Doug Thomas


Running a studio/

Guest: Anthony Borquez, VP Konami


Review Class

No reading


Midterm 2

No reading


Term Paper Workshop

No reading

Term paper topic + brief (1 page max) write up due


No class

Cancelled as a replacement slot for our long EA session


Thanksgiving Break


Gender, Sexuality in games

Kline et al “Digital Play” p. 258-268.
Williams, D., M. Consalvo, S. Caplan & N. Yee. (2009, in press). Looking for gender (LFG): Gender roles and behaviors among online gamers. Journal of Communication.

p. 143-147. King, B., & Borland, J. (2003). Dungeons and dreamers: The rise of computer game culture. From geek to chic. Emeryville, California: McGraw-Hill.


Gaming Smackdown

Bring your 733t skills.

Tuesday, Dec. 8,
5 p.m.

Final paper due to Zhan’s box

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