My patience dwindles on the possible approval of uploading anonymous feedback and official course evaluations from my Fall09 courses. However, I received a message from a Fall09 student enrolled in ENG 298 Analysis & Criticism of Videogames. Rather than respond in private, I acquired his permission to post both his email and my replies.
> ...Thank you for the feedback and for the engrossing semester. The
> breadth of content offered, although petering out towards the end (due to
> the understandable emphasis on final projects, etc), was astounding - you've
> done a great deal of homework getting ready for the course, and it showed.
> While I'd already read many of the entries, there were many that I had not,
> and pretty much all of them were interesting.
This is something I agonized over in putting the course together, and then again when Kieron Gillen of Rock Paper Shotgun linked to it. I was concerned about how well the readings represented the range of writing possible regarding videogames. I was also concerned about the timeliness of some selections. In the next incarnation of this course, renamed Videogame Studies on the official proposal, there will be some new readings, other more historical and two required texts, Galloway's Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture and Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design. I will also make available a .pdf of the last chapter in Masra's An Introduction to Game Studies as that appeared to be the most (if only) worthwhile reading from that text for a majority of the class.
> Here is some stuff I think
> would be pretty cool for considering for future videogame courses:
> 1. A potentially entertaining (or depressing) first and introductory
> assignment: why are videogames valid to study? Are they important? .. and
> so on and so forth. This would also be interesting to revisit at the end of
> the semester. I'd mostly be curious to see what non-games have to say, and
> how they align with people like me that want to base aspects of their lives
> on games.
Questioning the validity of studying videogames as viable cultural artifacts is an aspect I want integral to the course. It isn't my intention to have students get existential about it but, given the range of responses I've received from friends and colleagues about why there should even be a college-level course about videogames, I think it more than appropriate that students face such questions. Part of what I hope will come out of such direct address concerns how students will not only be able to justify such study to each other but also to help others beyond the class, and even outside the university, understand its importance.
> 2. More intentionally-divisive stuff. Our class was good about this during
> discussions, but I'd love to see more fire in the writing content. That's
> likely more a personal preference for debate, though.
I prefer reasoned debate to wholesale consensus, but I do understand the reluctance to embrace and engage divergent views sometimes. A college-level course on videogames has a tendency to interest a certain kind of student and even "intentionally-divisive stuff" can see a majority in agreement. As such, I'm unsure about spending much time on hot-button issues like videogame addiction and the connection to real-world violence. There too many ignorant arguments to be made from either side and I'd rather the course be more proactive and productive if such topics are addressed. Perhaps those could work better as scenarios for group projects.
> 3. Maybe this could tie into the games-as-art section, but I'd like to see
> a games-as-politics section, too. My personal definition of art revolves
> closely around suffering and expression of anger, and I think for games to
> be art, they must address this. Some certainly do - the Red Faction games,
> for example - and some approach it in interesting ways. I think the airport
> level in Modern Warfare 2 would be an interesting piece to base a discussion
> around; was this level a valid statement? What message is it trying to
> send? Or, like Kieron Gillen argued on RPS, was it gratuitous and
> unnecessary, a developer adding arbitrary and unnecessary shock value simply
> because they could? (I assume you've read that piece, but it's one of the
> best pieces of gaming criticism Gillen has written in quite awhile.)
The games-as-art section was rather successful, I think, but more in terms of enlightenment than real engagement. Again, this might have had something to do with the agreeable nature of the students, i.e., "yeah, games can be art, sure, why not?" So, perhaps a games-as-politics section could get more into "intentionally-divisive stuff," along with representations of ethnicity, gender and sex in videogames. One of the intriguing blogs out there now addressing such issues is The Border House. Maybe some students could tailor their compositions with a specific eye toward submitting to there (after I've obtained permission from the editors, of course).
> 4. More engagement and highlighting of Achievements. I'm sure you're still
> working the achievements system out, and I think it went pretty well for a
> first run - but as someone new to Xbox Live and other achievement systems, I
> found myself not caring. Maybe require the class to get x/y achievements
> for the grade requirement, and allow z/y to generate extra credit? I'm not
> sure you're the extra-credit sort though. It would also be neat if you
> announced students attaining new achievements via Twitter or something. WoW
> is doing this now - when a guildmate or friend gets a new one, its announced
> locally, in party, and in guild chat - this has the effect of drawing more
> people towards them, and I think integration on this level would serve the
> purpose well. Alternatively, you could set up a simple Wordpress blog and
> spin them out there. My room mate might be willing to design something
> simple for you (and since it would be applied academically, he'd probably do
> it just for the resume listing), as I'm not sure what your coding/publishing
> skills are like.
I put no stock in extra credit, but I do want Achievements to be part of all future courses and have explicit ties to the grading contract. Already this semester I assume some students will be less than satisfied with my critical comments on their work, so deep is that need for an arbitrary letter grade. I intend to have Achievements act as replacements, thereby providing an additional record of students' efforts and engagement in the way videogames do. Regarding an official notification system for Achievements, though, I'm uncertain about implementation. Announcing Achievements via Twitter is most appealing, but it could become tedious. As I'm sure those following me have little to no interest in what Achievements students earn/unlock over the course of a semester, opening a second, Achievement-specific Twitter account will be necessary. Furthermore, I'm curious if Achievements might be crowdsourced somehow so that it isn't just me whose responsible for keeping track of who earned what. Perhaps students could come up with their own Achievements for a class as well.
> 5. This is more of a sidenote, but I think if you were to gather a
> collection of contemporary gaming bloggers and write up a brief guide on how
> to add them into an RSS feed-thing and post it as optional course content,
> it might be pretty neat. I prefer going to the official blogs, but this
> might benefit some people. And me too! I've never tried to set up the RSS
> thing, although I've been meaning to.
This is a future blog entry, one I probably should've put together long ago, well before ENG 298 began. Then again, I rationalized (perhaps incorrectly) that I was already providing almost too much required reading for students, that the great majority had little interest or time in any nonrequired reading. I will not hold such a cynical view any longer.
> 6. Extra-credit opportunities: Other than the achievements thing, maybe
> have students attend the videogame club tournaments and write about what
> they saw. I'll avoid going into too great of detail concerning writing
> possibilities because I think it would be more interesting to see what
> different students came up with rather than mandating guidelines (of course,
> some students hate this open-ended thing, but piss on them anyway). There
> are other notable events, too - large conventions, like Blizzcon, or huge
> release-day events, like the Modern Warfare 2 stuff. All of this would
> provide neat fodder for extra-course content.
Again, I'm not the extra-credit sort, but I can see benefits to a greater variety of potential assignments. Given some students' inexperience with playing and writing about videogames, having an observation assignment/option requiring them to attend a convention, a midnight-release event or a videogame club tournament could serve a worthwhile function. Such an assignment/option would introduce students to aspects of gamer culture and help foster anthropological awareness. For those students more interested in watching others play videogames (and there were a couple last semester), composing an observation should be a worthwhile exercise.