English 177: Literature and Videogames (Spring 2014)

Sean Duncan's "Infocom Shelf"

This class will examine the relationship between literature and videogames by looking at a range of artifacts: novels about videogames, works of interactive fiction, electronic literature, and modern digital games that take on certain literary qualities. The goal of this class is not necessarily to equate videogames with novels or poems but to instead consider how videogames intersect with and complicate the category of "literature." Students in this class will read novels, play games, and make games. No technical expertise is required. The course will take place in one of UW-Madison's WisCEL classrooms and will use a "lecture lab" format. Students will register for both a lecture section and a discussion section, but the latter will be used both for discussing and making. Students will learn how to make works of interactive fiction and games with platforms such as Twine.

[Image Credit: "Infocom Shelf" by Sean Duncan]


Professor: Jim Brown
Teaching Assistants: Brandee Easter, Rick Ness, Becca Tarsa
Meeting Place: 3250 Helen C. White

Lecture Meeting Time
Monday, 12:05pm-12:55pm

Lab Meeting Times
Section 301: Monday, 1:20pm-2:10pm (Becca Tarsa)
Section 302: Monday, 1:20pm-2:10pm (Becca Tarsa)
Section 303: Monday, 1:20pm-2:10pm (Rick Ness)
Section 304: Wednesday, 1:20pm-2:10pm (Rick Ness)
Section 305: Wednesday, 1:20pm-2:10pm (Becca Tarsa)
Section 306: Wednesday, 1:20pm-2:10pm (Rick Ness)

Jim's Office: 6187E Helen C. White
Jim's Office Hours: M/W, 1:15pm-2:30pm [Make an Appointment]
Jim's Email: brownjr[at]wisc[dot]edu

Brandee's Office Hours: R 12:30pm-2:30pm
Office Hours Location: 7153 Helen C. White
Brandee's Email: bdeaster[at]wisc[dot]edu

Becca's Office Hours: W, 2:10pm-3:30pm
Office Hours Location: 3251 Helen C. White
Becca's Email: tarsa[at]wisc[dot]edu

Rick's Office Hours: M, 2:10pm-3:30pm
Office Hours Location: 3251 Helen C. White
Rick's Email: rness2[at]wisc[dot]edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/177_spring2014

Course Objectives

  • Learn strategies for conducting close analysis of videogames and literature
  • Develop effective writing and design processes
  • Collaborate with others on writing and design projects

Required Texts, Games, and Equipment

Available at Rainbow Bookstore

  • Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
  • First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan

Available at Amazon:

Available at various websites for various platforms:

Available at various websites and stores:

  • USB Flash Drive (at least 16GB)

Course Work
All course work will be uploaded to Learn@UW, and TAs will inform you of the proper procedures for doing so. The grade breakdown for work in this class is as follows (see the Assignments page for details):

  • 15% Attendance
  • 10% Livetweeting lectures
  • 10% Storify of one day's Lecture Tweets
  • 20% Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments Entry
  • 25% OASIS Twine Game (Group Project)
  • 20% Videogame Storify (Group Project)

Success in this class will require regular attendance. With adequate notice, absences resulting from religious observances and university-endorsed extracurricular activities will be excused. TAs will take attendance at the beginning of both lecture and lab meetings. You are required to attend class daily, arrive on time, do assigned reading and writing, and participate in all in-class work. Please save absences for when you are sick or have a personal emergency. If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class or from arriving on time, please discuss the problem with your TA.

If you are more than 5 minutes late for class, you will be considered absent. If there is something keeping you from getting to class on time (i.e., you have a long trek across campus right before our class), please let your TA know during the first week of class.

Computers, Smartphones, etc.
Please feel free to use your computer or any other device during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class. Please silence cell phones during class.

Late Assignments
Due dates for assignments are posted on the course schedule. TAs will not accept late work, and anything submitted after the deadline will receive a grade of zero.

Intellectual Property
All writing and design involves some level of appropriation - we cite the work of others and in some cases we even imitate that work. However, copying and pasting existing texts, having another student complete an assignment for you, or any other violations of UW's academic misconduct policy will result in a failing grade. If you have questions about the University of Wisconsin's Academic Misconduct policy, please see the Student Assistance and Judicial Affairs website.

Technology Policy
We will use technology frequently in this class. Although we are assuming that you have some basic knowledge of computers, such as how to use a keyboard and mouse, and how to use the Web and check email, our use of technology will be explained in class. If you don’t understand what we are doing, please ask for help. If you are familiar with the technology we are using, please lend a helping hand to your classmates.

Course Website and Email
You should check your email daily. Class announcements and assignments may be distributed through email. The course website will also have important information about assignments and policies. Pay close attention to the course calendar as we move through the semester. We reserve the right to move things around if necessary.

Contacting Instructors
If you have questions, you should first contact the TA assigned to your Lab section either in person or via email. If your TA cannot answer the question, s/he will contact Brandee or Jim for help. Emails to Jim, Brandee, Becca, or Rick must come from your wisc.edu email address. They must include a title explaining the email, a salutation (for example, "Dear Jim"), a clear explanation of what the email is about, and a signature.


LWB = Lucky Wander Boy
RP1 = Ready Player One
First-Person = First-Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game

Week 1 Lab: No meeting

Unit 1: The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments

Read: LWB, through location #1192
In class: LWB Lecture, introduction to Storify, practice livetweeting lectures

Read: LWB, through location #2179
In class: LWB Lecture, livetweeting
Week 2 Lab: Reading discussion

Read: LWB, through location #3148
In Class: Play games from Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments

Read: First-Person, “Cyberdrama” (1-33)
In Class: First-Person Lecture, livetweeting
Week 3 Lab: Reading discussion

Read: LWB, finish novel
In Class: LWB Lecture, livetweeting

Read: First Person, “Ludology” (35-69)
In Class: First-Person Lecture, livetweeting, discuss paper assignment
Week 4 Lab: Reading discussion

Read: Chapter on Imitation from Crowley and Hawhee (PDF)
In Class: Lecture on imitation, livetweeting

In Class: Collaborative Research
Week 5 Lab: Writing Workshop

Write: Complete Draft of Catalogue Paper (due prior to class)
In Class: Writing Workshop - Peer Review

In Class: Writing Workshop - Peer Review
Week 6 Lab: Writing Workshop

2/28: Paper due at noon

Unit 2: Easter Eggs

Read: RP1, through page 60
In Class: RP1 Lecture, livetweeting

Read: RP1, through page 115
In Class: RP1 Lecture, livetweeting
Week 7 Lab: Discuss RP1

Read: First Person, “Critical Simulation” (71-116)
In Class: Lecture on “Critical Simulation," livetweeting

Read: RP1, through page 179
In Class: Twine Lecture (Brandee), play “Cyberqueen”
Week 8 Lab: Discuss RP1


In Class: Twine Lecture-recap (Brandee), replay “Cyberqueen”

Read: RP1, through page 294
In class: Guest Lecture - Porpentine
Week 9 Lab: Brainstorm Twine Projects, discuss “Cyberqueen”

Watch streaming lecture, complete quiz by midnight

Read: RP1, finish novel
In Class: RP1 Lecture, livetweeting

In Class: Twine workshop
Week 10 Lab: Twine Workshop

In Class: Twine workshop

In Class: Twine workshop
Week 11 Lab: Twine Workshop

4/11 Twine game due at noon

Unit 3: Untangling Games and Stories

Play: Braid
In Class: Braid Lecture, livetweeting

Play: Braid
In Class: Braid Walk-Through
Week 12 Lab: Play/discuss Braid

Play: Braid as Spatial Storytelling
Read: First-Person, “Game Theories” (117-164)
In Class: "Game Theories" Lecture, livetweeting

In Class: Braid and Game Time
Week 13 Lab: Play/discuss Braid, discuss reading

Play: Gone Home
In Class: Gone Home Guest Lecture, livetweeting

Play: Gone Home
In Class: Gone Home Walk-Through
Week 14 Lab: Play/Discuss Gone Home

Play: Gone Home
Read: First-Person, “Hypertexts & Interactives” (165-206)
In Class: "Hypertexts & Interactives" Lecture, livetweeting

In Class: Storify Workshop
Week 15 Lab: Play/discuss Gone Home, discuss reading

5/13: Storify Due at 7:25pm


Livetweeting Lectures

During lectures in this class, students will be using Twitter to "livetweet." This will serve as a way for students to engage with the lecture material, ask questions about that material, and even to interact with each other during lecture.

You are required to tweet at least five times during class discussion, and you must use the lecture hashtag #eng177 in order to get credit for your tweets. You are encouraged to retweet anything you find interesting or worthy of passing along, but a retweet does not count toward your five tweets. While you will not be graded on the content of your tweets, your TAs will be tracking the Twitter conversation during class to make sure that your posts pertain to lecture. In addition, TAs will be ensuring that each student meets the minimum number of required tweets.

If you already have a Twitter account, you may use that account during lecture. You may also choose to set up a separate Twitter account for this class. Regardless, the Twitter account you use for this class cannot be "protected," and you will have to share your Twitter username with your TA.

While there are any number of ways to approach livetweeting during lecture, here are a few suggestions for how you might approach these posts:

  • Summary: A summary of a point or argument made during lecture. This kind of tweet might summarize an argument made by the person lecturing, or it might summarize an argument that the lecturer is citing.
  • Link: A link to something mentioned during lecture or to something relevant to the discussion.
  • Question: A question you have about material covered in the lecture. TAs will keep an eye on the Twitter stream, and we will try to answer your questions either during the lecture period or during Labs.
  • Answer: An answer to a classmate's question. Maybe you know the answer to a question asked during lecture. Why not answer it?

Lecture Storify

Due Date: Due one week after the lecture day that you are discussing in your Storify. TAs will schedule these with you at the beginning of the semester.

Once during the semester, you will compose a summary of a day's tweets using Storify, a web service that allows you to synthesize a collection of tweets and text. Your TA will provide you with a signup sheet for scheduling which Lecture day you will cover with your Storify. We'll cover how to use Storify in lecture and lab.

Your lecture Storify will be graded on a credit/no credit basis, and it will be worth 10% of your grade. Your job in this assignment is to identify some pattern or trend during the Twitter conversation and to synthesize some of the tweets from that day into a coherent story. You'll use Storify to embed tweets, and you'll write text that explains the trends and patterns that you've noticed.

When creating this Storify, keep in mind that you'll be using this tool for your final project (a Storify that documents how you and a partner traversed one of the games we're playing in class). So, this assignment offers you a chance to synthesize one day's discussion as well as a chance to become familiar with Storify. Take advantage of this opportunity as it will help you during that final project.

In order to get credit for this assignment, you'll need to do the following:

  • Include at least 20 tweets from the lecture day that you're analyzing.
  • Locate some pattern (or set of patterns) from the Twitter conversation, linking together tweets into a coherent story.
  • Use your own words to synthesize the conversation. Your Storify should include text written by you in addition to embedded tweets, images, video, and links.
  • Create a Storify that is generally well written and free of grammatical errors.

The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments

Due Date: 2/28 at noon

In D.B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy, Adam Pennyman is working to create what he calls The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments, a collection of videogame reviews that analyze old games such as Pac-Man and Micro-Surgeon. The reviews are written in a very particular style, and D.B. Weiss seems to want to show us that Pennyman takes these games and their cultural implications very seriously (perhaps too seriously). Your task during this 750-1000 word paper (3-4 pages, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman) is to write your own entry for The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments, imitating Pennyman's style.

You will choose which game to write about, but it must be a game that could conceivably be in Pennyman's catalog. Our cutoff date for Adam's "classical" period is any game made up to and including 1983 (the year of the videogame crash). This means that you can't write about a contemporary videogame and that you'll have to do some research on older games. In addition, you can't write about any of the games that Pennyman writes about in Lucky Wander Boy. In addition to finding a game to review, you'll need to play that game (using any number of emulators online for old game systems) and conduct some research on it.

Your entry into the Catalogue should mimic Pennyman's style in terms of both how the review looks (providing technical specifications at the beginning, etc.) and his writing style. In class, we'll discuss some strategies for imitation.

This paper will represent 20% of your grade. When grading these papers, your TAs will be asking the following questions:

  • Have you chosen an appropriate game?
  • Does your catalogue entry demonstrate that you've researched and played the game?
  • Does your entry look like those composed by Pennyman? Is is formatted similarly?
  • Have you effectively imitated Pennyman's style and approach to reviewing games?
  • Is your entry generally well written and free of grammatical errors?

OASIS Twine Game

Due Date: 4/11 at noon

In Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, the characters move through a massive online game world called the OASIS, and the central plot focuses on an easter egg embedded in the OASIS by its creator, James Halliday. Halliday is obsessed with 1980s popular culture, and each of the puzzles he creates for the easter egg are focused on that obsession. In this project, you'll be using a platform called Twine to create your own puzzle game inspired by Halliday's various puzzles in the OASIS.

For this project, you'll work in groups of three or four, and you'll create an easter egg puzzle based not on 1980s culture but instead on contemporary popular culture. So, while Halliday was obsessed with anything from The Breakfast Club to Family Ties, you should feel free to pursue your own interests and obsessions from contemporary culture.

Regardless of what inspires your puzzle game, the goal is to create a game that calls for the player to solve puzzles in order to reach some "win" state. In addition to submitting your Twine game, you'll submit a walk-through document. This will serve as the "key" to your game. While your TAs will be evaluating your game by playing it, these documents will help them if they get stuck.

This project will represent 25% of your grade. When grading these projects, your TAs will be asking the following questions:

  • Does your game make use of the affordances of Twine, using code to create a dynamic reading and playing experience?
  • Does your game ask the player to solve puzzles in ways similar to Halliday's easter egg?
  • Is the game coherent and clear? Do all of its pieces hold together? Does the player leave the experience with a clear sense of what you are trying to communicate?
  • Are your project and walk-through document generally well written and free of grammatical errors?

Game Storify

Due Date for Braid Storify: 4/25 at Noon
Due Date for Gone Home Storify: 5/6 at Noon
Due Date for Final Revised Storify: 5/13 at 7:25pm

Our final unit has included the games Braid and Gone Home, each of which use the videogame medium differently to tell stories. In this project, you'll pair up with one person from your Lab section to "livetweet" the process of playing the game and then to create a Storify that synthesizes all of those tweets. Together with your partner, you will be creating Storifies for both of these games, but only one will be submitted for the final project. This will give you an opportunity to choose which Storify you'd like to submit for credit, and it will also mean that you'll have an opportunity to revise the Storify that you decide to submit.

You should plan several gameplay sessions with your partner. One group member should be playing the game, while the other is livetweeting the action. Members should change roles often. The tweets are an opportunity to record your progress and insights about the game, note when you are stuck or how you solved certain puzzles or problems, point out "light bulb moments" during gameplay, and connect the game to class readings. You should also link to other texts or resources (for example, texts, songs, or films alluded to during the game or pieces others have written about the game). Much like lecture livetweets, you should use Twitter in whatever way works best for you and in ways that shed light on your group's experience of playing the game.

After completing the game, your group will create a Storify that synthesizes all of your game tweets and tells the story of how you finished or "solved" the game. The Storify does not have to encompass the entire game--you can choose a section of the game to focus on as you compile tweets and other resources for the STorify.

Your Storify should also incorporate relevant sections from First-Person, and it can also incorporate sources you discover on your own. All group members should contribute to all portions of the project (playing the game, livetweeting, composing the Storify).

This project will represent 20% of your grade. The breakdown is as follows:

Braid Storify: 5% (Credit/No Credit)
Gone Home Storify: 5% (Credit/No Credit)
Finale Revised Storify: 10%

When grading these projects, your TAs will be asking the following questions:

  • Does your Storify identify a central theme that arose during gameplay?
  • Does the Storify include what your group discovered and struggled with while playing the game?
  • Does your Storify incorporate various media to tell your story, including Tweets, images, and video?
  • Does your Storify demonstrate that you've conducted research by connected the game to sources we have read in class and sources that you've discovered on your own?
  • Is your Storify generally well written and free of grammatical errors?