Experimental Games

Danny Snelson

ENGL M129 | Prof. Daniel Scott Snelson
http://dss-edit.com | dsnelson @ humnet
Tues & Thurs | Rolfe 3108 | 12:00 – 1:50pm
Office Hours held in Kaplan 203 (IRL/Hubs)
Book here: danny snelson .youcanbook.me









For example, e.g., consider Dungeons & Dragons. This once-fringe role-playing game has remained a pervasive force in tabletop gaming since its publication in 1974. However, in recent years, its popularity has skyrocketed across a range of media through edited podcasts (The Adventure Zone), streaming actual plays (Critical Role), video games (Baldur’s Gate 3), movies (Honor Among Thieves), and TV series (Stranger Things), among other genres from fan fiction and xerox zines to social media art and webcomics. In the lineage of transmedia storytelling, this seminar will consider ten games “exempli gratia” (e.g., or, for example) in emergent genres. Potential examples will be collectively determined and may include: AI Dungeon, What Remains of Edith Finch, Super Mario, the historical avant-gardes, Beat Saber, Grand Theft Auto, the Oulipo, Alan Wake, Queers in Love at the End of the World, Katamari Damacy, Elden Ring, Surrealism, Dialect, Final Fantasy, Roblox, Disco Elysium, and unexpected works that may emerge over the quarter and in collaborative conversations. Each example will spur a range of critical and scholarly experiments into the form, format, genre, and framework of each game. No previous experience with games or expanded media necessary.  


Occasionally, games will need to be purchased on Steam or via the platform of your choice. Every effort will be made to make course content freely available or via university resources. This will be a topic of conversation as we formulate our syllabus.

All other texts, games, magazines, platforms, recordings, and videos will be freely available online.

As a general outline for the course, take note that these are broad strokes subject to change. This course is fully interactive, growing and responding to its users. Each week will build on previous weeks, class conversations, and the directions that our experimental study happens to follow. The content of the syllabus will be updated regularly as a result, though the requirements will remain fixed. The syllabus will only be completed after we finish the course, and all research (including your own) has been collected

Given the brevity of the quarter, unexcused absences will cut into your participation percentage. If you must miss a class, it is your responsibility to make arrangements with me both before and after the absence. Proposals for interaction commensurate with a two-hour session will be accepted. 

This course will develop critical and creative tactics for experimenting through, with, and for games. Through a series of experiments and collaborative productions, a substantial body of critical and creative work with games will be generated. Alongside creative scholarly production, students will learn new critical trends in game studies and the digital humanities. Particular attention will be paid to gender, race, class, and ability in game studies. Technical and poetic proficiency will work hand-in-hand to develop new perspectives on gaming culture and today’s digital (and post-digital) gaming platforms. 

Throughout this course, our central meeting place will be Discord. To the uninitiated, it’s a chat server that we’ll be using as our Course Management System. All news and information about the course will be conducted over Discord. An invitation and signup to the dedicated (private) server will occur on our first meeting. This is a platform for informal conversation, weekly experiments, and advance preparation for course meetings and play sessions. Responsive posts are encouraged.

This course will double as an online gaming research group that gathers, generates, and comments on gaming and writing. We will use a variety of platforms to create new readings of the works we study and to gather inspiration from fellow travelers. All work posted to the “wider internet” must be psuedonymous, operating under an invented avatar. This is simultaneously a creative decision and a means of guarding your privacy to enable experimentation across the internet. We’ll discuss this aspect of the course over the first week, and further revision to the process of posting and sharing may respond to course use patterns as they develop.

We will be *playing* in a variety of modes—part of the course will be to learn how to work in these platforms in a university setting. How does one have meaningful conversation while playing a game? What does a collaboration in Minecraft look like? What collective games might emerge via Google Docs? Throughout, we’ll interrogate the form and function of our technology alongside the games we discuss each week. 

As such, the course will require access to a computer and adequate internet access in order to fully participate in the range of activities we will explore. If you have any questions or concerns about your setup, please feel free to write or meet with me at any time. 

This course aims to facilitate access to research and exploration across a variety of platforms. Please don’t hesitate to draw attention to any point of access that might be improved: from the volume of the conversation, the size of text, the digital access to the texts, and so forth. All possible accommodations will be made. Additionally, or for more information, you may contact the CAE at (310) 825-1501, or access the CAE website at www.cae.ucla.edu.

Course Actions Due Date % of Grade
Course Participation & Play. (See descriptions above.) This is a collaboration-based course. We only get to meet on a handful of occasions this quarter—your input before, after, and during each session is paramount to the course's function & collective success.
Experiments. This course will require weekly experiments with our selected games. Your timely engagement with the weekly experiment will enable the ongoing conversation of the course. Please note that these are *experiments* in the fullest sense—you are expected to play, fail, discover, and surprise yourself. Grades will be non-qualitative given timely assignment fulfillment.
Ongoing, due Wednesday evenings
Discord Server Interactions. Playful, constructive, collaborative, civil, expanding, informal conversation should characterize the "virtual classroom" that is Discord. This includes: gathering & sharing resources; responding to peers' works & sharing your own creative process; idle chatter; pet pictures; etc.

Before each session, you should at minimum share:

1) Mondays: post your reflections on the game(s) and reading(s) for each session. Wednesdays: alongside your experiment, post reflections on the process & related materials.

2) At least two responses to peers' works or commentary on both Monday & Wednesday.

3) Something else.
Ongoing, due before class meetings
Final Project. Open format, open platform, full creative license. Play with a system we haven't had a chance to explore or develop a previous experiment into a full-fledged work. Must synthesize and respond to course materials & conversations. Collaboration, invention, exploration all encouraged. Group finals are entirely encouraged. We will develop the scale & scope of final projects in conversation. At its core, you will use an experimental technique to respond to any game of your choice.

Week 1 — Introduction to EG


Collectively determine experimental grounds for our collective study & play.

IRL Cancelled: Prof. @ Carnegie Mellon

Week 2 — Platform(er)s for Experiment


Super Mario Cultures: spend time with SMB or Mario-adjacent media of your choice: from NES origins to Switch releases, games to movies, fan mods to art hacks, guides, memes, vids, &everything between.


“Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers: Serial Histories of Super Mario Bros.” in Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux, 2017)


GRIS (Nomada Studio, 2018)

Bonus Games:

Braid (Jonathan Blow, 2009)

Cuphead (Studio MDHR, 2017)

Hollow Knight (Team Cherry, 2017)

Celeste (Maddy Thorson, 2018)

Katana Zero (Justin Stander, 2019)


Week 3 — Meta-Gaming Experimental Mysteries


The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden and William Pugh, 2013) (Optional: +Ultra Deluxe, 2022)

Bonus (Optional):

The Beginner’s Guide (Wreden, 2015)

Thomas Was Alone (Bithell Games, 2012)

Superliminal (Pillow Castle, 2019)

Baba Is You (Arvi Teikari, 2019)


“Introduction” (p. 1-30) to Handmade Pixels: Independent Video Games and the Quest for Authenticity (Jesper Juul, 2019)


Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope, 2019)

Bonus (Optional):

World of Horror (Paweł Koźmiński, 2019)

Hypnospace Outlaw (Tendershoot, 2019)

Paradise Killer (Kaizen Game Works, 2020)

The Case of the Golden Idol (Color Gray, 2022)

Pentiment (Obsidian, 2022)

Week 4 — Collecting Experiments


Expanded Pokémon. Open format, open play: from Gen 1 to the present. 

Bonus (Optional):

Palworld (Pocket Pair, 2024)


“Mobile Frontiers: Pokémon after Pearl Harbor” in The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities (Tara Fickle, 2019).

Optional additional reading: “Introduction” to Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon (ed. Joseph Tobin, 2004)


Before Your Eyes (GoodbyeWorld, 2021)

Bonus (Optional):


Week 5 — Cards & Decks of Experiments



Inscryption (Daniel Mullins Games, 2021)


“Mapping the Machine Zone” (p.10-27) in Addiction by Design: Machine gambling in Los Vegas (Natasha Dow Schüll, 2012)

“Reparative Game Creation: Designing For and With Psychosocial Disability” (Kara Stone, 2023)


Balatro (LocalThunk, 2024)

Week 6 — Second Life Experiments




~ 20 Pages



Week 7 — eSports &Experimental Competition


Open eSports Games


~ 20 Pages



Open Rhythm Games

Week 8 — Literary Experiments


Word Games


~ 20 Pages




Week 9 —  D&D …&Experimentation


Expanded D&D


~ 20 Pages


Disco Elysium

Week 10 — TBD


Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth





Final Projects Due 6.14.24