Close Playing Project

Two of our goals for Interactive Digital Narratives are the following:

  • Write about the formal and narrative properties of contemporary videogames
  • Analyze videogames through close playing and procedural literacy

With these goals in mind, you will “close play” a videogame and write a thorough analysis of the game’s mechanics, narrative themes, and underlying cultural messages.

The phrase “close playing” is inspired by “close reading”—an interpretative approach to poetry and fiction that relies on precise details in the text to make an argument about the text’s meaning. Similarly, close playing means that you will present a claim about a game’s meaning by highlighting details of the game, identifying patterns, and making connections.

Keep in mind that close playing offers an analysis not a review. A review tells someone why they should or shouldn’t buy something. An analysis tells us why something matters.

Review Analysis
Subjective response Subjective response informed by history and theory
“This is interesting” “This is important because…”
Surface meaning Underlying meaning
Provides information Provides perspective

What to Analyze

The best close playing analyses will use small slices of gameplay in order to make a broader argument about the game’s meaning. Details matter! Draw evidence from the various elements of games we’ve considered so far this semester:

  • Mechanics such as diegetic and nondiegetic player acts
  • Mise en scene, including setting, lighting, and sound
  • Narrative features like story, plot, character development, dialogue, and micronarratives
  • Representation of race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, nationality, or other social, cultural, and political identities

You can choose any narrative-heavy game to analyze, including one of the games you’re playing for your game log.


I will evaluate your close playing analysis using five criteria:

  1. Overall Argument
  2. Depth of Analysis
  3. Evidence and Examples
  4. Rhetoric and Style
  5. Mechanics and Citation

A draft of the full rubric is available. Please look over the rubric carefully!

Note that a key aspect of your overall argument is originality. Your argument should be non-obvious, a claim that a casual player of the game might not have noticed. Be sure to conduct your due diligence research, in order to make sure that your argument is not one that has circulated on journalistic and popular websites, including blogs.

If you do find someone else who has made similar claims about your game, that doesn’t mean you need to change your argument completely. Rather, use the existing claims to gain traction for your own argument. You can do this by any one of the following moves:

  • Show how additional evidence deepens or complicates the claim
  • Show how that claim ignores important issues or doesn’t go far enough
  • Show how that claim is simply wrong.

This project is worth 20% of your final grade for FMS 321.


By end-of-the-day on Friday, March 16 the following is due as a Google Doc shared with

  • An introductory paragraph that provides a synopsis of the game, including the developer and release date, as well as your opening “hook”—i.e. a compelling question or issue that makes the reader want to know more.
  • A body paragraph that analyzes a key piece of evidence from the game.
  • Another body paragraph that analyzes a second piece of evidence and builds on the first piece.

By end-of-the-day on Saturday, March 24 the full version is due as a new Google Doc shared with The full version includes:

  • About 1200-1500 word analysis
  • A Works Cited page using a standard citation format


Elements of this assignment were inspired by Edmond Chang’s Game Play Logs assignment.