English 236: Writing and the Electronic Literary (Fall 2011)

Photo Credit: "Turmoil" by Clonny

In her influential volume Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, Katherine Hayles explains that "writing is again in turmoil." The spread of mechanical type allowed for more writers and more texts, troubling those who were accustomed to a manuscript culture in which texts were copied by hand. In a similar way, Hayles explains that a electronic literature opens up difficult questions about writing in our current moment: "Will the dissemination mechanisms of the internet and the Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?...What large-scale social and cultural changes are bound up with the spread of digital culture, and what do they portend for the future of writing?" But Hayles also argues that electronic literature encompasses a broad range of digital writing practices, from video games to interactive fiction to hypertext. She proposes that we shift from a discussion of "literature" to the "literary," which she defines as "creative artworks that interrogate the histories, contexts, and productions of literature, including as well the verbal art of literature proper." This course will use Hayles' definition of the literary in order to read, play with, and create digital objects.


Bascom 236

Professor: Jim Brown
Teaching Assistant: Eric Alexander
Class Meeting Place: 2191E Helen C. White
Class Time: Monday, 2:25pm-5:00pm

Jim's Office: 6187E Helen C. White
Jim's Office Hours: T/W 12pm-3pm [Make an Appointment]
Jim's Email: brownjr [at] wisc [dot] edu

Eric's Office: 7184 Helen C. White
Eric's Office Hours: [Make an Appointment]
Eric's Email: ealexand [at] cs [dot] wisc [dot] edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/236_fall2011

Course Objectives
In this course, we will develop the following skills and strategies:

  • Conducting Medium-Specific Analyses of Digital Objects and Environments
  • Developing a Writing/Design Process
  • Using New Media Technology to Express Ideas
  • Collaborating on Creative Projects
  • Practicing Critical Reading Skills

Required Texts
How To Do Things With Videogames, Ian Bogost
Electronic Literature, N. Katherine Hayles
Twisty Little Passages, Nick Montfort

Course Work
In this class, the following work will be evaluated:

  • Attendance and Participation
  • Short Writing Assignments
  • Group Presentations
  • Electronic Literature Paper
  • Interactive Fiction Project
  • Collaborative Game Design Project

Learning Record
Grades in this class will be determined by the Learning Record Online (LRO). The LRO will require you to observe your own learning and construct an argument for your grade based on evidence that you accumulate throughout the semester. You will record weekly observations and you will synthesize your work into an argument for your grade. You will construct this argument twice - once at the midterm and once at the end of the course. We will be discussing the LR) at length during the first week of class. See below for more details.

Success in this class will require regular attendance. I will take attendance at each class meeting, and your Learning Record will include a discussion of attendance. 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 me.

If you are more than 10 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 me know during the first week of class.

Computers and Cell Phones
Please feel free to use your computer during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class. Please silence and put away cell phones during class.

Grades in this course will be determined by use of the Learning Record, a system which requires students to compile a portfolio of work at the midterm and at the end of the semester. These portfolios present a selection of your work, both formal and informal, plus ongoing observations about your learning, plus an analysis of your work in terms of the five dimensions of learning and the goals for this course. You will evaluate your work in terms of the grade criteria posted on the LRO site, and you will provide a grade estimate at the midterm and final.

The dimensions of learning have been developed by teachers and researchers, and they represent what learners experience in any learning situation:

1) Confidence and independence
2) Knowledge and understanding
3) Skills and strategies
4) Use of prior and emerging experience
5) Reflectiveness

In addition to analyzing your work in terms of these dimensions of learning, your argument will also consider the specific goals for this course. These goals are called Course Strands (these are also listed above in the "Course Objectives" section):

1) Medium Specific Analysis
2) Writing/Design Process
3) Digital Expression
4) Collaboration
5) Critical Reading

The LRO website provides detailed descriptions of the Course Strands and the Dimensions of Learning.

Your work in class (and in other classes during this semester) along with the observations you record throughout the semester will help you build an argument in terms of the dimensions of learning and the course strands. We will discuss the LRO in detail at the beginning of the semester, and we will have various conversations about compiling the LRO as the semester progresses.

Late Assignments
Due dates for assignments are posted on the course schedule. While I will not be grading your assignments, I will be providing comments and feedback. I will not provide feedback on late assignments. Also, late assignments will be factored into your argument in the LR (see the grade criteria for more details).

Intellectual Property
Much of what we'll be working on this semester involves the appropriation of existing texts. This is no different than any other type of writing - all writing involves appropriation. The key will be to make new meaning with the texts that you appropriate. Copying and pasting existing texts without attribution does not make new meaning. Some of your work will make use of different materials (text, video, audio, image), and you will have to be mindful of intellectual property issues as you create texts for this class. 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 I am 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 e-mail, most things 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. I reserve the right to move things around if necessary.

Emails to me 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.


Unit 1: New Horizons for the Literary

September 12

September 19

September 26

Friday, September 30


October 3

October 10

  • Hayles, pp159-170
  • Bring draft of Expanded Summary-Analysis Paper to class
  • In class: Short Writing Exercise, Paper Workshop

Friday, October 14

  • Expanded Summary-Analysis Paper Due by midnight

Unit 2: Twisty Little Passages

October 17

  • Montfort, pp1-36
  • For a Change (Schmidt)
  • In class: Inform7 Workshop

October 24

Saturday, October 29


October 31

  • Montfort, pp95-118
  • Zork (Anderson, Blank, Daniels, and Lebling)
  • In class: Inform7 Workshop
  • Interactive Fiction Project 1.0 (completed in class)

November 7

  • Montfort, 193-222
  • Book and Volume (Montfort)
  • In class: Inform7 Workshop
  • Inform7 Project 2.0; Paper, first draft (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

November 14

  • Montfort, pp223-233
  • Inform7 Workshop
  • Inform7 Project 3.0; Paper, second draft (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

Friday, November 18

  • Game+Short Paper Due at noon
  • Final Inform7 and Paper Due (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

Unit 3: How To Do Things With Videogames

November 21

  • Bogost, Introduction, “Art,” "Empathy," "Reverance," Conclusion (pp1-29 and 147-154)
  • Prezi and Pecha Kucha Workshop

November 28 [class meets in Room 2257, College Library]

  • Bogost, read your group's assigned chapter
    Group 1: Pranks
    Group 2: Kitsch
    Group 3: Throwaways
    Group 4: Work
    Group 5: Drill

  • InDesign Tutorial
  • Group Project Workshop

December 5

  • Group Project Workshop
  • Group Presentation, Dry Run

December 12

  • Group Presentations
  • Final LRO Workshop
  • Course Evaluations

Wednesday, December 21



The pages below describe the assignments for this course.

Summary-Analysis Papers

Due Dates

Short Papers: 9/19, 9/26, 10/3
Extended Paper: 10/14

S-A papers due prior to the beginning of class, submitted to your Dropbox folders.

As we read Hayles' Electronic Literature, we will be learning new theoretical concepts that help us make sense of works of electronic literature. In an attempt to apply those concepts, we will write three short Summary Analysis (S-A) papers. In addition, we will revise and expand one of those shorter papers. You will choose which paper you'd like to revise.

Paper Assignments

Paper 1 (9/19)
Define Hayles concept of "intermediation," and use it to conduct an analysis of Stuart Moulthrop's Reagan Library.

Paper 2 (9/26)
Define Hayles' discussion of "hyper attention" and "deep attention," and use these twin concepts to conduct an analysis of Kate Pullinger and babel's Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China.

Paper 3 (10/3)
Define Hayles' discussion of "recursive interactions," and use it to conduct an a analysis of Wardrip-Fruin, Durand, Moss, and Froehlich's Regime Change.

Keep the following things in mind as you write your S-A papers:

The summary section can be no longer than 250 words in the three short papers. Fairly and adequately summarizing a theoretical concept is a difficult task, especially when space is limited. The summary section of S-A papers should very concisely and carefully provide a summary of Hayles' theoretical concept. Please note that you are providing a summary of a particular concept and not the entire chapter. Because your summaries are limited to 250 words, you won't be able to mention every single point the author makes. Your job is to decide what's important and to provide a reader with a clear, readable, fair summary of the concept. While you may decide to provide direct quotations of the author, you will need to focus on summarizing the author's argument in your own words.

The analysis section can be no longer than 500 words in the three short papers. In the analysis sections of these papers, you will focus on applying the theoretical concept described in the summary section. You will use the concept you've summarized to explain how a piece of electronic literature works, and you will explain how one of Hayles' concepts allows us to make sense of this piece of literature. Just as Hayles does throughout the book, you will provide a close reading of a piece of literature (we will study examples in class).

In the extended paper, your summary should be about 500 words and your analysis should be about 1000 words.

Grade Criteria

While I will not be grading your papers, I will be providing feedback. Here is what I will be looking for:

* Is your paper formatted correctly (double-spaced, observes the word limit, name in upper-left-hand corner)?

* Does your summary fairly and concisely summarize Hayles' theoretical concept?

* Have you used your own words to summarize the concept?

* Does your analysis use Hayles' theoretical concept to explain and interpret the assigned work of electronic literature?

* Have you devoted the appropriate amount of space to the two sections of the paper? Remember that the word counts I provide are just guides (not strict word limits), but also remember that both summary and analysis have to be adequately addressed in the paper.

* Is your paper written effectively and coherently with very few grammatical errors?

* Was the paper turned in on time? (Reminder: I do not accept late work.)

For the extended S-A paper, you will be revising one of the three short papers. In that assignment, I will be looking for all of the above. In addition, I will be asking:

* Have you significantly revised the first version of this paper? Have you expanded, cut, added, reworked, or reordered your ideas? Remember that revision is about more than punctuation and grammar. I am looking for evidence that you've spent time reworking the paper.

Interactive Fiction Project

Due Dates:

October 31
Inform7 Project 1.0 (completed in class)

November 7
Inform7 Project 2.0; Paper, first draft (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

November 14
Inform7 Project 3.0; Paper, second draft (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

November 18 (noon)
Final Inform7 and Paper Due (both saved to Dropbox prior to class)

We've read about the history of Interactive Fiction (IF), its historical precursors, and about the basic components of IF. Using the Inform7 system, you will work with one other person to design a piece of IF. Your project can be inspired by a previous work of IF or even by one of the other works of electronic literature that we've discussed in class. It can also be inspired by something we have not read in class. Regardless of its inspiration, your IF should incorporate some of the ideas from Nick Montfort's text Twisty Little Passages and should create a meaningful and relatively complex experience for the interactor.

In addition to designing this piece of interactive fiction, each pair of students will write a paper describing and explaining what you've created. Your paper will be roughly 1000 words (four pages double-spaced) and will:

1) Explain the inspiration for your project.

2) Explain your project in the terms laid out by Montfort in Twisty Little Passages. You may choose to describe your game in terms of the basic components of IF (laid out in Chapter 1), or in terms of Montfort's discussion of riddles, or you might compare your game to one of the examples of IF he discusses in the text.

3) Explain how you incorporated feedback that you received during the testing phase. Your classmates will play the various versions of your game, and you will incorporate the feedback you receive during these "user tests." Your paper should explain what changes you made and how you addressed this feedback.

Grade Criteria
When responding to these projects, Eric and I will be asking:

  • Does your project show evidence that you have understood and made use Montfort's discussion of IF in Twisty Little Passages?
  • Does your project take advantage of the Inform7 system? Does it provide a meaningful and relatively complex experience for the interactor?
  • Does your paper explain the inspiration for your project, how it works, and how you've incorporated feedback?
  • Was your project submitted on time? (I do not accept late work.)
  • Does your paper observe the word limit?
  • Does your paper have minimal grammatical and/or structural problems?

Media Microecology


November 21: Prezi Workshop, Pecha Kucha Workshop
November 28: InDesign Tutorial and Workshop
December 5: Open Workshop
December 12: Open Workshop, Group Presentations

In How to Do Things With Videogames, Ian Bogost makes an argument for media microecology. He argues that pundits and scholars tend to make broad claims about how technology either “saves or seduces us” (5). Bogost proposes a smaller, less glamorous, and more difficult task:

Media microecology seeks to reveal the impact of a medium’s properties on society. But it does so through a more specialized, focused attention to a single medium, digging deep into one dark, unexplored corner of a media ecosystem, like an ecologist digs deep into the natural one. (7)

In this final project, we’ll get even more "micro" than Bogost by focusing on one of the games that he discusses in HTDTWV. In addition, we'll think about how a change to a game (a proposed change to one of the game's functions) would allow us to recategorize the game. Each group will be assigned a chapter in the text, and each group will compose a presentation about one of the games Bogost mentions in that chapter. You should choose a game that you can play, so this will mean that you choose a game that is available for free or that one of your group members has access to. (If you’re having problems locating and playing a game you’d like to study, please see me.)

Group presentations will have two components:

1. Pecha Kucha presentation using Prezi

A Pecha Kucha is a presentation format that has very strict rules. The presentation includes 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds (that means presentations must be exactly six minutes and forty seconds long). Every member of your group must speak during the presentation, and your presentation must observe the time constraints. You will be using Prezi for this presentation, which includes a timed slide show function. So, it will be easy to abide by the Pecha Kucha format. We will learn how to use Prezi in class, and you will have practice creating and presenting Pecha Kuchas during class as well.

2. A one-page handout created using InDesign

Each group will design a one-page handout that effectively integrates word and image using Adobe InDesign software. That handout should act as a guide to your presentation, and it will be handed out prior to the presentation. But in addition to acting as a guide, this handout should include information that complements your presentation. It should present information that you may not have a chance to address during a 400 second presentation. You will learn how to use InDesign during a workshop on November 28.

Your presentation and handout must address the following questions:

1. How does your game work and why does Bogost categorize it the way he does? For instance, if your game was Passage, you’d have to explain how the game works, what the basic game mechanics are, and why Bogost categorizes it as Art.

2. How could you redesign one piece of the game in order to shift it from Bogost’s current category to another category in the book. For instance, if your game was Disaffected! (mentioned in the “Empathy” chapter), you could consider redesigning the game's point structure or allowing the player to embody a Kinko’s customer rather than a Kinko’s employee. How would these changes to the game change what this game does? What new category could we put it in if we made these changes? Could one of these changes to Disaffected! allow us to put it in the category of “Work” (Chapter 17) or “Disinterest” (Chapter 19)?

As always, I will not be grading these presentations, but I will be providing feedback. When providing feedback, I’ll be asking these questions:

  • Did all group members speak during the Pecha Kucha?
  • Does your presentation demonstrate that you’ve rehearsed and coordinated each participant’s role?
  • Did the presentation observe the constraints (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide)?
  • Does the presentation address the two main goals of the project described above, an explanation of the game and an explanation of your proposed redesign of the game?
  • Does your handout supplement and complement your presentation? Does it do more than present the information that you discuss during your Pecha Kucha?
  • Is your handout effectively designed? Does it incorporate image and text effectively? Is it free of grammatical errors?