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The Gameplay's the Thing: Story and Game Design

Semester and Year FA 2018
Course Number ARTS-UG1649
Section 001
Instructor Barton Bishop
Days M
Time 6:20 PM - 9:00 PM
Units 4
Level U



In recent years, video games have exploded as both a cultural force and a pioneering creative medium. Many critics and creative professionals believe that gaming offers both its practitioners and its audience the next evolution in storytelling. But how--and why--did digital games evolve from mechanic-focused experiences such as  Pong  and  Tetris  into more narrative-rich undertakings along the lines of  Mass Effect ,  Horizon Zero Dawn , and  The Last of Us ? In this course, we will explore the vibrant and complex intersection between narrative expression and interactivity, examining the myriad ways dramatic storytelling techniques can be applied to a series of design mechanics to bring context to the player’s action, and, inversely, the ways that mechanics and design can be employed to express a theme or to convey a story. The course is intended to appeal to all gaming backgrounds--neophytes with a casual interest in games, enthusiasts who’ve spent many years passionately gaming and discussing games, and everyone in between. The first half of the course will establish a creative grammar and a base of common reference points from which students will develop their creative projects. The second half of the course will focus on the creative project. Students will be challenged to “gamify” a popular work of literature (of their choosing with professor approval) into an interactive project--video game, interactive fiction, board game, interactive theatre, or any combination thereof. Incorporating the fundamentals established in the first half of the course, students will develop a game concept through multiple rounds of iteration and feedback, eventually breaking down the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics of the proposed project via a highly detailed game concept document—the  blueprint  of an interactive experience. In the end, students should come away with a command of basic game vernacular, inspired to view  Game Theory and Design  as expressive narrative tools available to them in their own creative toolbox, regardless of discipline or medium.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Arts Workshops (ARTS-UG)