Playable Media, Spring 2019

CMPM 290J / DANM 250D
Meetings: T 8:50-11:25am (Workshop), Th 9:50-11:25am (Seminar) 
In Digital Arts Research Center Room 206 


Elements of Game Design, by Robert Zubek
Computers as Theater, 1993 ed, by Brenda Laurel
Hamlet on the Holodeck, Updated Edition, by Janet Murray
Cybertext, by Espen Aarseth
More TBD

Games / Interactive Narratives


General Course Notes

Course Structure:

Meeting types. We will meet twice a week. Once will be a workshop meeting and once will be a seminar meeting. During the workshop meeting we will critique prototypes, have check ins, and play games together (more on this below). Seminar meetings will be discussions of games and other playable experiences, texts in game studies, and related topics.

Grading. 40% of each student's grade is determined by participation in group critiques and discussions (including agenda items) while work on prototypes is worth 60%. Failure to fully participate in both elements of the class will make it impossible to pass.


Playable prototypes. Each student will undertake a significant prototype. These should be made available to the class for a week before critique, to give time for sustained engagement. Software should be distributed digitally. Other forms can be made available in other ways, for example making multiple copies of physical materials available in rooms to which class members have access. If the prototype's medium makes these kinds of availability impossible, other solutions can be found -- but please discuss beforehand.

Prototypes may be in any medium -- whatever is best for the ideas your prototype explores. This includes live actors and "Wizard of Oz" interfaces, software for desktop or handheld devices, interactive installations, or board/card game elements. But cross-platform software is the assumed default (other options should be discussed prior). Prototypes must engage an element of the course focus (e.g., narrative structure experienced through gameplay) meaningfully.

If your work on a prototype is less effort than it would take for you to write a research paper, you need to do more before presenting it to the course. This could mean developing more elements, developing a series of prototypes, doing more playtesting and revision, etc. Each student will present a significant revision of their prototype, responding meaningfully to group feedback, during the final meeting of the course.

The week before prototypes are distributed (two weeks before they are critiqued) students will be asked to give the course a short preview of their project and how people should expect to interact with it.

Agenda items. At the beginning of each seminar meeting we will build an agenda, which will drive the discussion for the remainder of our meeting. Each student will bring at least one "agenda item" -- a particular idea they wish to discuss. This idea must be grounded in at least one specific page reference (to a reading for that week) or moment from a game (ideally with an illustrative screenshot to show). Agenda items should be expressed in a few-word "headline" during the agenda-building process (suitable for writing on the board), with a sentence-length version prepared (for while the headline is being written on the board), and should be expanded into a larger idea when it becomes the active topic in the seminar discussion. Agenda items form an important part of the participation requirement, while also broadening who determines what we will discuss.

Crits. Each student is expected to deeply engage the large projects being critiqued before the day they are critiqued. This includes writing a thoughtful, detailed response email to each person whose work is being critiqued, sent before the class meeting at which it is critiqued. (I appreciate it if students copy me on these messages, but I do not require it.) It also includes coming prepared with a short (one minute) summary of these thoughts, which each student will offer before the more general critique discussion.


UC Santa Cruz is committed to creating an academic environment that supports its diverse student body. If you are a student with a disability who requires accommodations to achieve equal access in this course, please submit your Accommodation Authorization Letter from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to me privately during my office hours or by appointment, preferably within the first two weeks of the quarter. At this time, I would also like us to discuss ways we can ensure your full participation in the course. I encourage all students who may benefit from learning more about DRC services to contact DRC by phone at 831-459-2089, or by email at