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ENGL/CMST 25945//Fall 2011 MW 3:00-4:20//Cobb 301

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (patrick dot jagoda at gmail dot com)

CA: Jonathan Proniewski (jproniewski at uchicago dot edu)

New media have changed the way that we tell and process stories. Over the last few decades, writers and designers have experimented with text, video, audio, design, animation, and interactivity in unprecedented ways, producing new types of narratives about a world transformed by computers and communications networks. These artists have explored the cultural dimensions of information culture, the creative possibilities of digital media technologies, and the parameters of human identity in the network era.

This course investigates the ways that new media have changed contemporary society and the cultural narratives that shape it. Along the way, we will analyze cyberpunk fictions, text adventure games, interactive dramas, videogames, virtual worlds, transmedia novels, and Alternate Reality Games. Our critical study will concern issues such as nonlinear narrative, network aesthetics, and videogame mechanics. Throughout the semester, our analysis of computational fictions will be haunted unceasingly by gender, class, race, and other ghosts in the machine.

Course requirements include a media-specific analysis, a mid-term paper, and several short inclass presentations. For a final project, students will collaborate in groups and use a new media technology of their choice to tell a story. There will be no exams.


Bioshock (available for Windows and Mac OS X)

Braid (available for Windows, Mac OS X, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3)

Minecraft (Beta available at http://www.minecraft.net/ for several platforms)

Pattern Recognition (William Gibson)

Cathy’s Book (Sean Stewart)

– All other readings and games are available online or on our class Chalk page. Films will be screened and game sessions will take place at 7pm the day before we discuss them in class (see schedule).


Week 1 and 2: Cyberpunk and Post-millennial Technoscience Fiction
26 September: Course Introduction
27 September: Johnny Mnemonic film screening
28 September: Discuss Johnny Mnemonic and “In Medias Res: Filmic Representation, Networked Communication, and Racial Intermediation” (Crane, p. 87-116)
3 October: Pattern Recognition (novel, p. 1-145)
5 October: Pattern Recognition (novel, p. 146-356)

Week 3 and 4: Electronic Literature
10 October: Lexia to Perplexia (e-fiction), Dakota (e-fiction), and Hamlet on the Holodeck (Murray, p. 65-96)
12 October: Electronic Literature Group Presentations
***2-3 Page Media-Specific Analysis Short Paper Due***
17 October: Façade (interactive drama, online) and one Façade essay (interactivestory.net/)
19 October: Trinity (interactive fiction, online)

Week 5 and 6: Computer Games and Videogames
24 October: Braid (videogame) and Einstein’s Dreams (Prologue, May 14, and June 2 excerpts)
26 October: Indie Game Group Presentations
31 October: Bioshock (computer game) and “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (Jenkins,
1 November: Heavy Rain gaming session
2 November: Discuss Heavy Rain (videogame)
***5+ Page Midterm Paper due***

Week 7 and 8: Transmedia Stories and Alternate Reality Games
7 November: “Storytelling in New Media: The case of alternate reality gaming, 2001-2009” (Jeffrey Kim, et. al., online) and “This is Not a Game” (Jane McGonigal, p. 1-10)
8 November: The Game film screening
9 November: Discuss The Game and Explore Exoriare (online transmedia game)
***Final Project Abstract due***
14 November: Cathy’s Book (transmedia novel)

Week 9: Virtual Worlds
15 November: Special evening meeting and activity in Second Life (online world)
16 November: Explore and discuss Second Life
21 November: Play Minecraft (game environment) and Synthetic Worlds (Castronova, p. 1-26)
23 November: No class
24-25 November: Thanksgiving Break

Week 10: Final Project Presentations
28 November: Final Project In-class Presentation and Critique
30 November: Final Project In-class Presentation and Critique
7 December: ***Final Project (Group) and Reflection (Individual) due***


– We only meet for a few weeks so make the most of each seminar session. Arrive on time!

– Do the reading and take the game play seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and artworks. All readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

– Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. Just because we’re discussing digital works, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your papers and project.

– Film screenings, gameplay, and seminar participation are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the screenings or events, you must pre-approve this absence and see the film or play the game prior to our class discussion.

– Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours (you can meet with me or our CA Jonathan Proniewski).


+ Media-Specific Paper (2-3 pages)

In the first three weeks of the course, we’ll discuss a number of popular forms, including Hollywood films, techno-science fiction novels, and electronic literature. This early assignment is your opportunity to address key questions about literary forms and artistic media. You’ll produce a close reading of any work we study in the first three weeks. Keep in mind that writing persuasively about different forms and media requires specific vocabularies and close reading practices proper to the work in question. For example, if you analyze a film, you must attend not only to plot or character development, but also to features such as shot distance, lighting, costume, mise-en-scène, cut type, sound effects, etc.

+ Midterm Paper (5+ pages)

For your midterm paper, you’ll perform an extended analysis of an electronic literary work, a computer game, or a videogame we have discussed in class. As you explore your topic, integrate the formal approach taken in the first paper with a cultural theory or philosophical methodology of your choice. In other words, how can we best combine media-specific reading practices with critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxism, anthropological ethnography, media theory, etc.? Begin with a close reading, as you did before, but now expand on your implications (i.e., be attentive to the “So what?” of your argument).

+ Electronic Literature Presentation

In groups of three or four, you will select a piece of electronic literature from the “Electronic Literature Collection” archive (collection.eliterature.org/1/) or another source, and give a 5- minute presentation of it to the class. However, you should strive to produce more than an oral book report or plot summary. As you think about your selected work, be attentive to such features as narrative structure, form, aesthetic style, interface design, navigability, and interactivity.

+ Indie Game Presentation

In groups of three or four, you will select a short indie game (from a preapproved list that includes Passage, Today I Die, One Chance, Every Day the Same Dream, The Company of Myself, End of Us, Freedom Bridge, I Wish I Were the Moon, Storyteller, Loved, and Knytt) and give a 5-minute presentation of it. As you think about your selected work, be attentive to the media-specific techniques through which the game tells a story. How does it both deploy and challenge traditional narrative techniques? How does each game help us think about the relationship between games and stories? While a brief summary of the game will be necessary for people who may not have played the game, you should focus on analysis. Your presentation style may be as poetic or innovative as you’d like, provided that it tells us something meaningful about the production, aesthetics, gameplay, and form of your selected game.


Final Group Project

Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill in a cultural landscape dominated by digital technologies. While novels and poems are often written by individual authors, many contemporary artistic forms, such as videogames, depend on partnerships among writers, artists, programmers, and designers. For the final project, you will create a pre-approved digital media story (e.g., a work of electronic fiction, a Machinima film, an interactive website, a text adventure, a computer game, a Game Design Document for a larger-scale project such as an ARG, etc.). To produce your work, you might consider turning to software such as Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Comic Life, Flash, Final Cut Pro, Unity, Unreal Development Kit, etc. In order to create a compelling digital work, you need not have substantial technical knowledge. For those of you without preexisting tech skills, you can, for instance, create a browser-based story using blogging software or a free web design program such as Kompozer. Since this is an English course, I am more interested in the creativity of the narrative form, the quality of the writing, and your engagement with theoretical concepts we have been exploring throughout the quarter. As you approach this assignment, be careful not to treat it as a total departure from the first two analytic papers. Instead, I’d like you to engage in a process of what Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire have called “theory by design.” In other words, instead of working through ideas in an expository fashion, you will do so through creative development.

Final Project Abstract (Approximately 1 page)

Write a brief abstract for your final project that is due approximately a month before the project deadline. In this abstract, introduce your project and comment upon the type of research and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline. While I don’t require it, you may also find it useful to write a brief outline of your narrative. In order to make things more interesting, we’ll treat this abstract as a role-playing exercise. When you compose this document, write it as if you are submitting the proposal to a foundation or a contest that might provide you with operational funds. I will play the part of an award committee member and either advance the proposal to the next round or remove it from the competition.

Final Project In-class Presentation and Critique

About a week before the final project is due, we’ll engage in two presentation and critique sessions. Each group will present its digital storytelling project to a panel of evaluators (consisting of myself and 2 guests). This assignment will force you to present the features of your project in a clear and persuasive manner to digital storytelling experts from outside of our course. Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos to the completed project) will certainly strengthen your talk. Your project does not need to be completed, at this stage, but a mockup or selections from the final piece may help.

Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)

Along with your actual group project, I’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 page) individual reflection about your project that does two things. First, offer an artist’s statement on the formal significance of your project. This is your chance to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your digital story. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? What did you contribute to the group?


– Preparation, Discussion, Presentations, and Screenings: 20%

– Media-Specific Paper: 15%

– Midterm Paper: 25%

– Final Project Group Abstract: 5%

– Final Project Presentation: 10%

– Final Project and Individual Reflection: 25%


1. 5 Questions: Dr. Patrick Jagoda (UChicago), Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellow in American Studies « AMS :: ATX - March 17, 2014

[…] theory but culminate in substantial creative productions. For example, I taught a course on “Digital Storytelling” in which students studied the history of electronic literature, interactive fiction, and […]

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