STS 145/HPS 163.

History of Computer Game Design:

Technology, Culture, Business

Winter 2005

Source: Softline 2 (March 1983). Front cover.
Instructor: Henry Lowood  Office: M 9.30-11; W 2.30-4, Green Library 321C
TA: Waynn Lue. Graders: Douglas Wilson & Galen Davis

T 2.15-3.30; Th 2.15-4.05

Cummings Art Building, Art2


Requirements There are four assignments that add up to 100 points. Final grades will be based on a curve, not the number of points you receive. For more details, see notes following statement of assignments.

Assignment 1. Short Essay due Feb. 1 via Coursework. (20 points)

Choose one question of the two that follow and answer it in 1000-1250 words:

* Is Spacewar! art?
* Loftus & Loftus and Kline, et al. in the assigned readings represent two different ways of writing about the videogames of the late 1970s to late 1980s. Compare and contrast these two approaches.

Assignment 2. Submit a two-sentence description of your proposed paper topic, due Feb. 8 via Coursework. (5 points)

Assignment 3. Short essay due March 1 via Coursework. (20 points)

* Answer in 1000-1250 words:

Pick any two games (console, arcade, video, PC, handheld) with some common aspect. Write about how they illustrate diversity in game design in a significant way.

You are free to define diversity as you wish. These aspects may be social or cultural, such as target age, gender, race, nationality, etc.; or in terms of the point-of-view taken by the game; or in terms of another cultural or social variable you would like to highlight. Or they may illustrate how different game mechanics can be used for a similar game topic. If you need help coming up with game titles, contact Henry, Waynn, Doug, or Galen for suggestions at least a week before this assignment is due..

* Case Study due March 15. (55 points) This is the major project for the course.

Notes on the assignments

1 & 3. Short essays.

Please try to hold to the limit of 1250 words. Make note of ideas from relevant assigned readings and class sessions, as appropriate. You should not have to do any additional research to answer these questions; however, you may use additional sources if you wish.

2. Description of Proposed Paper Topic (due Feb. 8. Don't forget!).

Tell us in a few sentences what you will write about in your case study. If you do not get a negative response from us, the topic is approved. We may provide feedback suggesting you alter your choice. You are required to contact either me (Henry) or Waynn, Doug or Galen (with cc: to Henry) to request approval for any major changes in your topic.

You will receive 5 points for submitting a proposal on time, 2 points for submitting it up to a week late (Feb. 15), or none if you fail to submit a proposal by Feb. 15.

4. Case History (due March 15).

NOTE WELL: See assignment 2! Your proposal statement is due Feb. 8.

Pick a topic. The topic can be a game or games published on any platform you wish: arcade, video console, computer, network. The topic can be a specific game, a series of games, a designer, or a game company. Generally, topical or theme-based papers will be discouraged, as it will be difficult to do them justice in the case history format and short time available for research. Whatever your topic, it should have some significance in the evolution of game design, game culture, game-related technology, or the game industry. If in doubt or if you need help in the selection of a title, please contact me.

You may choose a recently published game or set of games, but if you do, please pick one that has "enough history." This means that you must be able to acquire some historical perspective on the significance of the development you are describing. As a rough guideline, begin your story at least 3 years ago. More important, end it with a sense of closure (a game design in progress is a bad idea); check with me on exceptions to this rule. In any case, if your topic is not sufficiently historical, expect corrective feedback after you turn in the proposed paper topic. (Did I mention that's due on Feb. 8?)

Some ideas for case study topics are here.

Obviously, the history of computer game design is recent history, and you should understand that any project that involves recent history will be problematic in terms of finding sources--scholarly articles, documents and information. I encourage you to try and contact game designers or companies for information, maybe even setting up interviews or corresponding with people involved in the design project you are investigating. This can be the most rewarding aspect of your research, and many of the best papers in this course written in previous classes have made use of such contacts. Note, however, that it takes planning to set up contacts with people, so be sure to get an early start on your project. Especially start the search for documentation as early as possible.

Another tip in the area of sources is that you should use the other class assignments to read and think about your case history as well; use these assignments to be sure you have reviewed class readings, as you are likely to find useful ideas or pointers to information there.

As you think about organizing the analytical section of your paper, you may want to take a look at the various "post-mortem" reports for specific games published on the Gamasutra website. However, keep in mind that these case histories tend to result in an evaluation of "what went right" versus "what went wrong" in the design of a game. Try to capture the kinds of insights many of these reports reveal, such as the ways in which they evaluate the technology used for a game, the participants in the design process, debates about how the game should work, controversies about contents, and so on. Instead of deciding what went right or wrong, explain how technical, cultural and/or business factors -- the three areas discussed in this course -- affected your particular case. This means not only telling about each aspect individually, but bringing the three together in your analysis. (True, all three of these aspects may not be prominent in your particular case, but surely at least one of them will be important.)

Here are some more specific guidelines on the structure of the case history.

Cover the following content points in the order you find most suitable to the topic. It is possible that not all of these points will be relevant to your particular topic, but be sure to address all that are:

1. Identify your topic clearly in the introduction. Briefly sketch your case study and tell how you intend to organize it.

2. Why is this topic significant? How is it related to readings, discussions or class sessions in this course.

3. What is the basic background information about your topic? For example, if you are doing a case study of a game, provide publication information, including the name of the company that published the game. Always identify the people involved in your case study. Provide the names of the design team and others significant in your story, and be sure it is clear why you name them. If you are writing about a game, make sure the reader gets information like the platform for the game (console? PC? arcade? multiple platforms?), when iit was published, and in what country. What was the context of its publication? Into which genre would you place the game, and what was the state of game design in that genre when it was published. Remember, this is not the case study itself, so this information is background, not the entire case study. Be economical in presenting this information, but do present it in prose (not an outline, or bulleted list).

4. The main section of your case history is an analytical narrative, a story that tells the reader what happened, but also analyzes why events unfolded as they did and why they are important as an example. The virtues of the case history format are (1) that is asks you to focus tightly on a particular case; and (2) it asks you to draw conclusions about more general matters of the history of computer games based on this case, not to produce a survey or an essay on more general topics or themes. So, focus on your historical narrative, but feel free to draw more general conclusions based on this story in the conclusion of your paper.

5. The conclusion should reiterate the significance of your topic and give you a chance to think more generally about your case. Speculate a little about how what you have learned from this case might lead to a more general conclusion.

6. It is required that you provide a bibliography of print and electronic materials. Include URLs for websites. Note any interviews with game designers or other participants in the story you are investigating. Cite all your sources. Feel free to include lists of questions you asked or transcripts of interviews as appendices. This part of your paper does not count toward the minimum length. FYI, here is some guidance on "Using Primary Sources on the Web":

2500 words is probably a good length for this paper. Every year, we get papers that are substantially longer from students who were obsessively drawn into their topics (a good thing). We will read what you write, and you will not be penalized for writing a paper longer than 2500 words if it is well-written and calls for it. Padding, however, will certainly be noticed and not be beneficial for your grade. The quality of your writing is important, in the sense that you will be expected to write clearly and cogently.

Your case history will be graded on a subjective 55-point scale; here is the grading sheet from 2004, which we are likely to use again this year.

IMPORTANT: Please be aware of the Stanford Honor Code.

Finally, a reminder that you might want to read papers from previous years. Many are available here, with the permission of the authors. We will be asking you for permission, too.

Henry Lowood, 2 Jan. 2004, rev. Dec. 2004.