Tristan Pope, "Not Just Another Love Story"

STS 144

Game Studies: Issues in Design, Technology and Player Creativity

Spring 2009

Instructor: Henry Lowood Office: M10-11; W 2.30-4, Green Library 321C

Tuesday, 2.15-5pm

ROOM: Encina West 101


Please be prepared by completing assignments before class. We will read approximately 60-120 pages per week during the first seven weeks of class. The reading load is heaviest in weeks 2 and 3, so be prepared for that.

Four texts are assigned and available in the bookstore:

Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation (MIT Press, 2005) -- cited in syllabus as Democratizing Innovation .

Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and Greig de Peuter, Digital Play: The Intersection of Technology, Culture and Marketing (McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 2003) -- cited in syllabus as Digital Play.

Lisa Lewis, ed., The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media (Routledge, 1992). -- cited in syllabus as Adoring Audience .

James Newman, Playing With Videogames (Routledge, 2008) -- cited in syllabus as Videogames.

All other readings are available in Coursework or on the web.


March 31

Game Studies

Please do the reading for this first meeting!

I will provide information about how to sign up for the class, which is capped at twenty students.

This week we will map out the game industry in terms of consumers and producers. Who is a producer, who is a consumer, who controls the medium? What are some of the different ways offered in the readings for understanding how producing content is organized and the importance of consumers in shaping this production? Do you think access to content production by consumers is a benefit or a curse for the game industry?


* Digital Play, pp. 30-59; 74-76 (Optionally, if you need more background on "post-Fordism," read 60-77).

* Videogames, pp. 1-19.

Optionally, if you need more historical background, Digital Play, pp. 84-108.

April 7

The Business of Game Design: Developers, Publishers and Consumers (** WARNING: Lots of reading this week. **)

This week we will map out the game industry in terms of consumers and producers. Who is a producer, who is a consumer, who controls the medium? What are some of the different ways offered in the readings for understanding how producing content is organized and the importance of communities in shaping this production? Is this a benefit or a curse for the game industry?

We will devote the first half of class to a discussion of the relationship between producers and consumers of digital games and virtual worlds. Be prepared to talk about these readings, which we will go through in the order presented below:

* Digital Play, pp. 109-27; 197-217, 269-98. (feel free to skim the other historical chapters, pp. 128-92).

* Cory Ondrejka, "Changing Realities: User Creation, Communication, and Innovation in Digital Worlds" (19 Jan. 2005)

For the second half of class, present one example of anytime you, someone you know, or someone you discovered on the web was creative through digital games. Use your own criteria for what it means to be creative, as long as the focus is play or play-related, not game design. Be prepared to talk for one or two minutes about this example. I will compile a list of the activities and post it to our coursework site for later reference.

April 14

Cultural Studies and Fandom: Appropriation/Resistance (** WARNING: Lots of reading this week. **)

In the first half of seminar, we will discuss two readings that serve as a foundation for fan studies. Begin with Fiske for a basic framework from cultural studies, then read Jenkins for a key piece of research in early studies of fan communities and production.

* John Fiske, "The Cultural Economy of Fandom," pp. 30-49 in Adoring Audience.

* Henry Jenkins, "'Strangers No More, We Sing': Filking and the Social Construction of the Science Fiction Fan Community," pp. 208-36 in Adoring Audience

Then we will discuss two more essays in Adoring Audience (feel free to browse the rest of the book). The prompt for our discussion of these readings is, do fans deviate from or participate in the production of mass culture? What do you think?

Joli Jenson, "Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization," pp. 9-29.

Sue Brower, "Fans as Tastemakers: Viewers for Quality Television," pp. 163-84.

This next reading is not required for discussion, but recommended if you would like to incorporate a study of game fans in the discussion:

Mia Consalvo, "Zelda 64 and Video Game Fans: A Walkthrough of Games, Intertextuality, and Narrative," Television & New Media 4 (Aug. 2003): 321-34. Available via SULAIR e-journals; requires login.

If we have time at the end of class, we will have our own "filk circle" and go around the table; I will ask each of you to give me an example of game fandom either as pathology or as tastemaking. So be prepared!

April 21

Technology Studies: How do users co-create?

For technology and innovation studies, our main text is Democratizing Innovation. Read chapters 2, 3, 6, 7 and 9. If you need an overview, see chapter 1. We will spend the first hour or so of class talking about Von Hippel's argument.

* Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation, pp. 19-43; 77-106, 121-31.

Next, we will talk about a specific example of "modding" from technology studies, but not about digital games:.

* Ronald Kline and Trevor Pinch, "Users as Agents of Technological Change: The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States," Technology and Culture 37 (Oct. 1996): 763-95. Available to Stanford users via JSTOR. Direct link:

We will close out with a discussion related to games, please view Johnny Chung Lee's YouTube video, "Head Tracking for Desktop VR Displays using the WiiRemote." Let's talk in class about Lee's work and the video as examples of "democratic innovation" and of the sort of technological change Kline and Pinch discuss. For more on Lee's project, see

At the end of class, we will divide into Team Postigo and Team Taylor for next week. I will explain what I want the teams to do (see next week's assignment, too).

April 28

Case Study 1. Mods

We will open by discussing the idea of "playbour" and its implications for the relationship between play and work in game modding. Also, we will talk about different forms of playbour and implications for innovation and design in computer games.

* Julian Kücklich, "Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry."

* Videogames, pp. 151-78.

Optionally, for those who are fascinated by this topic: Olli Sotamaa, "On Modder Labour, Commodification of Play, and Mod Competitions," First Monday 12 (3 Sept. 2007).

Optionally, if you need more historical background on modding, see Wagner James Au's "Triumph of the Mod".

For the second half of class, Team Postigo will read the two essays by Hector Postigo and Team Taylor will read the two essays by TL Taylor. Think about your reading in terms of themes such as games as labor, games as property, games as politics, etc. Both teams have the same task: Distill the two essays by your author into three theses, three by Team Postigo and three by Team Taylor. We will compare the two sets of theses; keep them in mind when you begin work on your term papers.

* Hector Postigo, "From Pong to Planet Quake: Post-Industrial Transitions from Leisure to Work," Information, Communication & Society 6 (2003): 593-607. Available in Coursework and via Stanford e-journals.

* Hector Postigo, "Video Game Appropriation through Modifications: Attitudes Concerning Intellectual Property among Modders and Fans," Convergence 14 (2008): 59-74. also available in Coursework.

* T. L. Taylor, "Does WoW Change Everything?: How a PvP Server, Multinational Playerbase, and Surveillance Mod Scene Caused Me Pause," Games and Culture 1 (October 2006): 318-37. Also available in Coursework.

* T. L. Taylor, "Beyond Management: Considering Participatory Design and Governance in Player Culture," First Monday special issue number 7 (September 2006).

May 5

Case Study 2. Competitive play and Replay Culture

This week we explore player creativity that does not revolve around participation in designing or making games. Consider an analogy to competitive sports: Who do we consider to have been more creative, Michael Jordan or James Naismith? The great player or the designer?

In the first half of seminar, our topic will be performance and game play. First, what is important for us to understand about how a high-performance player shapes or re-defines a game? We will discuss both competitive play and "superplay":

* Henry Lowood, " “It's Not Easy Being Green”: Real-Time Game Performance in Warcraft, " in: Videogame/Player/Text, eds. Barry Atkins and Tanya Krzywinska (Manchester, Eng.: Manchester Univ. Press; New York: Palgrave, 2007) : 83-100. Available in coursework.

* Videogames, pp. 123-43. (Hold off on the machinima section starting on p. 143)

The second part of this discussion will be about a different mode of player culture: "enunciative production" (cf. the Fiske reading from earlier in the quarter). Specifically, how do activities like sharing knowledge about gameplay, making replay movies, building websites and forums build a shared culture around digital gameplay? Let's talk about how sharing knowledge and spectatorship are tied to high-level play and competitive e-sports.

* Videogames, pp. 23-45, 91-122

* A Brief Demo History (start here, note however that there are 7 parts); pay special attention to the "career" of Bahdko in part 4, Interview with Bahdko. Some of this series of mini-articles may seem a little technical or even obsessive; focus on trying to understand the role played by media such as replays, screenshots, websites in building a player community. The interview with Bahdko will pull some of that together. Don't worry about viewing all the demos or getting every nuance of DOOM tactics.

For the second part of seminar, we are going to investigate competitive gaming by looking directly at community-created resources that document activities around competitive, multiplayer games.

* Now take a look at one source in any of these categories: game replay site (e.g. WCReplays), competitive clan site (e.g., 3D:NY or 4Kings), a high-score site (e.g., Twin Galaxies), a competition site (e.g., World Cyber Games), an "honorifics" site (e.g., DOOM Honorific Titles), a speedrun site (e.g., Internet Archives' Speed Runs collection), or a replay video site (e.g., Warcraftmovies' PVP collection). Figure out what would interest you and find a site like one of these. If you aren't sure what to look at, pick one of the ones I list above or just ask me for advice.

In class, we will go around the table, and I will ask each of you to talk about your site for one or two minutes. Answer one or two of these questions: Who is the community for the site? What does the site offer? Does the site offer any kinds of public performance of gameplay? Does the site focus on a competitive scene, like a clan or professional players?

* Optionally, if you need some background on "e-sports," read: Electronic Sports" and "Sport in Video Gaming" in the Wikipedia.

May 12

Case Study 3. Machinima

First, remember to send me a one-line description of your likely paper topic via e-mail, due before class meets. This will fulfill the "clear paper topic with me" task mentioned under Final Paper Assignment on the assignments page.

In the first half of class, please be prepared to discuss:

* Videogames, 143-48.

* Henry Lowood, "Found Technology: Players as Innovators in the Making of Machinima," in: Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected, ed. Tara McPherson. (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 2007): 165-196. Macarthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning . Also available: (pdf); (pdf plus).

For the second half of class, you will view several machinima pieces for class discussion, namely:

First, the machinima of Baron Soosdon. Go to the Machinima Archive at the Internet Archive. Download "I'm So Sick" and "Unlimited Escapism, Volume One." DO NOT VIEW THESE MOVIES IN THE STREAMED VERSION. (The qualitysuffered in the conversion.) Try to figure out how these movies were made and how the process differed from "Not Just Another Love Story," which was made using the same game, but more than two years earlier. What do the credits tell you about the kinds of teams and techniques that are applied to cutting-edge, MMO-based machinima? What legal and creative issues do you imagine are raised by this process?

Next, find the "Red vs. Blue" series by Rooster Teeth, either on their website or at the Machinima Archive, and look at episode 1 from the first season. Let's talk about whether you think this series offers a potential route for machinima to the media "mainstream." Is this question of finding a path to the mainstream important? What aspects of "Red vs. Blue" contributed to its success?

Next, view two examples of controversial machinima. First, read Paul Marino, "The French Democratizer," Thinking Machinima website (16 Dec. 2005). Follow the links to learn about this project and find the movie on Lionhead's The Movies community site. Next, view "The French Democracy" via the Machinima Archive or another source. Again, please allow time to download the movies for better viewing quality. Now, go to the Machinima Archive and download "Not Just Another Love Story" by Tristan Pope, the piece discussed in my essay above.

In class, we will comment on these movies as we watch sections together. Let's compare these two projects as fan videos, opinion texts, and cultural resistance. Can there be such a thing as "serious machinima?"

May 19

Quickfire paper ideas -- 3 minute presentations by everyone around the table, each followed by 3 minutes of rapidly delivered constructive critique and advice. Please come caffeinated.

For your presentation, deliver three core ideas you plan to explore in your seminar paper and time your presentation at one minute per idea (no intro, no conclusion, just a title and three core ideas).

May 26

Paper presentations -- Half the class will present a more detailed version of their arguments, followed by questions. This is your chance to test your ideas with the group and solicit feedback.

For this presentation, use powerpoint or just make an outline and talk. Limit of 15 minutes, including questions.

Turn in outlines of your paper topics before class via coursework. These outlines can be based on your powerpoint slides, as long as the structure is roughly that of an outline that presents a coherent view of your overall paper.

June 2

Paper presentations -- The other half of the class will present a more detailed version of their arguments, followed by questions. This is your chance to test your ideas with the group and solicit feedback.

For this presentation, use powerpoint or just make an outline and talk. Limit of 15 minutes, including questions.

Turn in rough drafts of your papers before class via coursework.


Papers due June 9!!! (senior grades due June 11@noon) Please submit via coursework.