Upon completion of FMS 321, students will be able to:
- Reconstruct the history videogames from a global perspective
- Connect videogames to other forms of contemporary entertainment
- Write about the formal and narrative properties of contemporary videogames
- Analyze videogames through close playing and procedural literacy
- Evaluate recent controversies surrounding race, class, sex, and gender in videogames
There are three required books for FMS 321:
- Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012)
- Ian Bogost, How to Do Things with Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011)
- Alexander Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006)
In addition, there will be various journal articles, book chapters, and online material to read throughout the semester. I strongly urge you either to print out the material or to use a PDF application to take notes on the digital version of the material. You are required to bring the day’s reading to class with you.
In order to critically study videogames it is necessary to play them. We will engage with games in class, and many Fridays will serve as a “game lab.” Much like a lab in the sciences, these sessions will involve experimentation and a resulting lab report.
You will also be responsible for playing games outside of class. There is a videogame station in the Connolly Media Lab, located in the south basement of Chambers. This station includes a PS4, an Xbox One, and several other consoles. The lab has a number of games as well. We will make extensive use of this videogame station throughout the semester.
You are required to purchase (or otherwise find a way to play) one game: Portal (available for $9.99 on Macs and PCs through Steam).
Be forewarned that several games we play contain content that may offend or disturb you, including graphic violence, explicit language, and sexual references. If you anticipate that such material may prevent you from completing the required work, I recommend that you reconsider your enrollment in FMS 321.
The graded work for FMS 321 will take several forms:
- This class places a high premium on engagement. It is essential that everyone has carefully considered the day’s material, attends class, and participates. I also expect students to bring the day’s readings to class, well-marked up with notes and annotations. Part of your engagement grade will come from short in-class writing assignments and quizzes. Because much of what we learn this semester will come from each other, more than three absences will lower your engagement grade by at least 10 percent. More than four absences will reduce your engagement grade by 50 percent. Engagement is worth 20% of the final grade.
- Throughout the semester you will keep a game log, where you record your ideas, analyses, and experiences playing video games. Like a blog, this game log will be public and you should anticipate a wider audience than just our class. Your first game log entry will be on Portal. Then you will devote your game log to 3 different games, each of which you will devote 3 sessions of at least 30 minutes each playing. One of the games will be a console game. Another of the games will be a casual game. The third game will be your choice. This adds up to 9 posts: 3 posts X 3 games. You’ll have an 11th post that synthesizes your game log. You’ll keep your game log on a blog that you set up through Davidson Domains. I’ll aggregate each student’s posts on a central blog for the class. The game log is worth 20% of the final grade.
- One of the books we’re reading this semester is Ian Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames, in which each chapter briefly explains one action or sentiment that videogames can foster. Bogost comes up with twenty “things” videogames can do, but surely there are more. For this project you will write a missing chapter of approximately 2,000 words, following the form and style of Bogost’s book, but venturing a single new “thing” to do with videogames. You can work individually on the book chapter or in pairs. The chapter is due on Thursday, March 7. The book chapter is worth 20% of the final grade.
- The lab reports are short reports that apply the game studies research we’re reading about to games. You’ll work in groups of 3 for the labs, though each student will submit their own individual report. The labs will be evaluated on a 0-3 point scale, described below. The lab reports are worth 15% of your final grade.
- The final project is your choice of either a 7-8 page research-based analytical paper or a modest game that you design yourself, using tools we encounter in class. The exact content and design of such a game is up to you, though it should be a self-aware game that incorporates, reflects upon, and even challenges the principles we’ve discussed throughout the semester. The final project is due Wednesday, December 7. The final project is worth 25% of your final grade.
I’ll evaluate individual entries on your game log according to this rubric:
3 – Exceptional. The entry is readable, with clearly expressed ideas. It’s thought-provoking, going beyond what we talked about in class or what you’ve discussed in previous entries. It’s connective, making connections to material from this class, other classes, other games or texts, or historical or contemporary events and culture. Finally, it’s progressive, in the sense that it moves your thinking about this game—or other games—forward.
2 – Good. The entry is readable but lacks full development of new ideas. Instead of thought-provoking, it’s predictable. Fewer connections are made between the game and other material or phenomena.
1 – Insufficient. The entry retreads previous posts or discussions without adding anything new. It’s mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives.
0 – No Credit. The entry is missing or late.
I’ll use a similar 0-3 point rubric for evaluating your game lab reports. The difference between a 2 (Good) and 3 (Exceptional) lab report is in how far you pursue your own leads. The trick is to recognize when you’ve discovered something new and exciting in your lab, and then to follow up on that discovery, elaborating upon its significance.
When it comes to assigning final grades, I convert between letter grades and percentages using this formula:
A = 95% /A- = 90%
B+ = 88% / B = 85% / B- = 80%
C+ = 78% / C = 75% / C- = 70%
D+ = 68% / D = 65% /F = below 60%
I am committed to the principle of inclusive learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to inclusive learning.
Any student with particular needs should contact Nance Longworth (x2129), the Academic Access and Disability Resources Coordinator, at the start of the semester. The Dean of Students’ office will forward any necessary information to me. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.
Students at Davidson College abide by an Honor Code. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form.
Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.
While this course embraces the digital world it also recognizes that digital tools and environments complicate personal interactions. Studies have shown that students who use laptops in class often receive lower grades than those who don’t. Even more worrisome are studies that show laptop users distract students around them. I permit laptops and tablets in class, but only when used for classroom activities, such as note-taking or class readings. Occasionally I may ask students to turn off all digital devices.
Text messaging or other cell phone use is unacceptable. Any student whose phone rings during class or who texts in class will be responsible for kicking off the next class day’s discussion.
Late arrivals or early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided.