GEMS
Gaming Experiments
&
Multimedia Scripting

Danny Snelson

ENGL M138.2 | Prof. Daniel Scott Snelson
http://dss-edit.com | dsnelson @ humnet
Tuesdays | URL + IRL @ Kaplan A56 | 6:00 – 8:00pm + Homeplay Bonus Hours TBD 
Office Hours held in Kaplan 203, Hubs Edition
Book here: danny snelson .youcanbook.me

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Start

This creative writing course explores new genres of writing with games. We’ll write games and game writing. And, most importantly, play a variety of games as generator for creative writing. We’ll experiment in a wide array of genres and media, potentially including: procedural writing experiments, interactive hypertexts, dating simulators, tabletop (and online) role playing games, LARPs, and VR/AR poetics, alongside documentary practices like collecting, journaling, podcasting, machinima, and actual play recording. Studying gaming platforms and histories alongside contemporary art and poetry, we’ll reimagine experimental and multimedia writing practices through a constellation of contemporary approaches to gameplay. Using a collective workshop format, we’ll engage in a series of gaming experiments that attempt to find some of our own poetic responses to today’s technological environment. No previous training in games, creative writing, or new media is required.

  
 
 

Where necessary, games will need to be purchased on Steam or via the platform of your choice. The course will require one purchase of a Print on Demand edition of your own work. Every effort will be made to make course content freely available.

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 seminar is fully interactive, growing and responding to its users. Each week will build on previous weeks, class conversations, and the directions that our 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

This course requires synchronous play during course sessions. I will not be “lecturing” on “Zoom” in a way that could be usefully recorded and accessed asynchronously at some later time. I aim to produce live and meaningful interactions despite virtual distance and technological mediation. We will break into Mozilla Hubs, Online Town, High Fidelity, Discord, and many other platforms (idk, Tik Tok?) in the search of collective experiment and active conversation—and will produce collaborative content that could not be made otherwise. For this reason, your “attendance” online is essential for the short 6-week intensive session. Repeated absences will cut into your percentages. 

Of course: these are *impossible* times. If you cannot attend a meeting for any reason, please make arrangements with me before and after the session!

This seminar will develop critical and creative tactics for writing through, with, and for games. Through a series of experiments and collaborative productions, a substantial body of creative writing with games will be generated. Alongside creative production, students will learn new critical trends in game studies and digital theory. 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 creative potential inherent to 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 (sorry, not sorry, CCLE). 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, bi-weekly reaction comics, and advance preparation for seminar meetings and course experiments. Responsive posts are encouraged.

This creative writing seminar 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 post creative works before each session and to gather inspiration from fellow travelers. All work posted 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. How does one have meaningful conversation in VR? What does a collaboration in Online Town look like? What collective games might emerge via Etherpad? Throughout, we’ll interrogate form and function of our technology alongside the comics we discuss each week. 

As such, the course will require access to a computer (more than a phone or tablet, preferably with a mouse) 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
Seminar Synchronicity & 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.
  • Homeplay: Between each session assigned groups will play a game of their choosing for at least an hour and report on the process in the Discord. We'll compile this resource for distanced play at the end of the quarter.
Ongoing
20%
Experiment Posts. This course will require regular posts using a pseudonym. Your timely engagement with the weekly experiment will enable the ongoing workshop 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 Monday evenings
20%
Discord Server Interactions. Playful, constructive, collaborative, civil, expanding, informal conversation should characterize the "seminar room" 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) Your experiment and reflections on your process and how the work responds to weekly prompts and inputs.


  • 2) At least two responses to peers' works.


  • 3) Something Else.
Ongoing, due before class meetings
20%
Pecha Kucha. Penultimate session final project rapid-fire presentations.
3.8.22
10%
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.
3.18.22
30%
Experiment
Input
Study

Week 1 — 1.4 — Introduction to GEMS

Gather GEMSverse Library.  

 

This syllabus. Plan course futures in Gather.

Zoom, Snap, Discord, Gather. Are.na? 

Week 2 – 1.11 Gaming Writing

Write: a game for writing with games.

Open format writing experiment. Explore the links for this week and develop a set of rules to produce a work of writing using game culture/materials/forms as automatically as possible. The writing must be about “games” in some regard. Or, here are some dice, how might a poem emerge? 

Sol LeWitt, Paragraphs and Sentences on Conceptual Art (1967)

Bernadette Mayer, Writing Experiments (1970s)

Charles Bernstein, Writing Experiments (2006)

McKenzie Wark, Writing Metagames (2013)

Explore: Constrained Writing and Oulipo (for example, “Oulipo: freeing literature by tightening its rules“)

Craig Dworkin, “Introduction” & UbuWeb Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2003)

Laynie Browne and Caroline Bergvall, foreword to I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (2012)

Ian Bogost, Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism (2006)

Patrick Jagoda, Network Aesthetics (2016)

Week 3 — 1.18 — Twine Poetics

Write: games for procedural Twine games.

The aim this week is to develop a game for Twine. The Twine wiki has great tutorials and guides for working in Twine. See also, UCLA’s ACM Games Studio Twine tutorial. Once the Twine is finished, you can upload to NeoCities, Itch.io, or any other free platform for hosting the html.

 

Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Various Games (2012-2020); With Those We Love Alive, Psycho Nymph Exile &many others (see interview)

Anna Antropy, Various Games 

neongrey, Cat Petting Simulator 2014 (2014)

Zoe Quinn, Depression Quest (2013)

Abigail Corfman, Open Sorcery (2017)

Michael Lutz and Kimberly Parker, The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo (2014)

Andrew Plotkin, The Dreamhold (2004)

 

Espen Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, “Introduction: Ergodic Literature” (1997)

Bonnie Ruberg and Amanda Phillips, Special Issue — Queerness and Video Games (2018) 

(See also: Ruberg, Queer Game Studies 101: An Introduction to the Field + Bibligraphy)

Stephen Voyce, “Toward an Open Source Poetics: Appropriation, Collaboration, and the Commons” (2011)

Week 4 — 1.25 — Dating Sims

Write: Ren’py Visual Novel. This is an open format collaborative visual novel experiment. Working in teams of 3-4, develop a twist on the “dating sim” genre, or any related visual novel genre. See examples here, and consider producing a set of rules or procedures for you group collaboration. Be sure to consider all aspects of composition: interactivity, text, and image. Generative processes encouraged but not required! 

Team Salvato, Doki Doki Literature Club (2018)

Angela Washko, The Game: The Game (2016-19)

Game Grump, Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (2017)

Ceritz, Mystic Messenger (iOS, Play) (2016)

Mediatonic, Hatoful Boyfriend (2014)

Brother, Love! Brother-kun (2013)

Brianna Lei, Butterfly Soup (2017)

Beautiful Glitch, Monster Prom (2018)

Lena NW, Nightmare Temptation Academy (2020)

Akabaka, Sucker for Love: First Date (2022)

Week 5 — 2.1  Ambient Documents

Write: the story of a place told in fragments of text or documents left behind. Produce a walking simulator by writing ambient documents or worldbuilding with media elements.

Open platform: Use the platform of your choice this week. Some options:

A custom Gathertown space—perhaps considering LARP elements? 

Mozilla Hubs and/or Spoke to produce a 3D/VR environment. For more on this, see: this Tutorial (or others).

Bitsy for a minimal game environment.

For future exploration, see also: RPG Maker and/or Unity and/or Roblox

The Chinese Room, Dear Esther (2012) and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2016)

Fullbright, Gone Home (2013) and Tacoma (2017)

Campo Santo, Firewatch (2016)

Giant Sparrow, What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)

kikiyama, Yume Nikki (2018)

Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk, Footnotes (2018)

Mooneye, Lost Ember (2019)

 

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemeiux, Metagaming, “Introduction. Metagaming: Videogames and the Practice of Play” (2017)

Alexander Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006)

Tobias Heussner (ed), The Advanced Game Narrative Toolbox (2019) (on Discord)

Eddie Paterson, Timothy Williams, and Will Cordner, Once Upon a Pixel: Storytelling and Worldbuilding in Video Games (2020) (on Discord)

SCP Foundation (2007-Present)

Nicole Carpenter, “Why Gone Home Is the Most Important Game of the Decade” (2019)

Week 6 — 2.8 — Tabletop RPGs

Write: A micro RPG. Create a tabletop role playing game in one page or 200 words. Explore examples here on the syllabus for inspiration and formal ideas. You may develop your game around an existing game (to “hack” or “jam”) or invent something entirely new. Consider playing your game IRL: how might you play with a group of peers around a table? What would be fun to use as props, tools, mechanics, devices? Write your game to be played in roughly a class session or shorter. 

We’ll group up in class and each group will select a game(s) to play. Prepare to pitch your game for play—and to play it if your groups decides to!

200 Word RPG Challenge (see, for example, previous winners, or inspirations like Jeffrey Grant and Michael Sullivan, All Outta Bubblegum (2001)) and One Page Dungeon Contest

Grant Howitt, Honey Heist (2017) (See also, Evan Saft’s Be Gay Do Crimes)

John Harper, Lazers and Feelings (2018)

From Sam Malabre:

Jason Tocchi, 240024XX and 24XX Jam (2020)

Jared Sinclair, What’s So Cool About Outer Space (2020) and WSCA Jam

Nate Treme, Tunnel Goons (2019) and Goon Jam (also see Pamphlet Dungeon Jam)

Sinta Posadas, Various Games  (including Bonsai Brawlers! (2019))

Everest Pipkin, The Ground Itself (2019)

Reddit, r/rpg Beginner’s Guide to Role Playing Games (if you’re looking for a good introduction)

Neima Jahromi, “The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons & Dragons” (2017) 

Ashley ML Brown, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games (2015) 

Matt Barton, Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games (2008)

Jennifer Grouling Cover, The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games (2010)

Monte Cook, Your Best Game Ever (2019)

The Trove (VAST RPG database)

Week 7 — 2.15 — Games on Demand

Write: Card/board game TBD. 

Produce a game with The Game Crafter or Make Playing Cards

Pitch: A final project idea in class ~2min. Be prepared to share an idea for your final project.

Card/board Games TBD

TBD

 

Week 8 — 2.22 — Machinima/Stream

Write: A meaningful narrative using video capture of any game. As always, feel free to work in groups. The aim is to produce a work that transcends the game that record in to speak to the world at large. A variety of screen capture tools can be readily found online. OBS is a great free and open source option..

Peggy Ahwesh, She Puppet (2001)

Cao Fei, i.Mirror (2007) and RMB City (2008-2011)

Rindon Johnson, Away with You (2017) (as part of New Black Portraitures)

Sondra Perry, It’s in the Game ’17 (2017)

Alice Ming Wai Jim, “The Different Worlds of Cao Fei” in Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in The Twenty-First Century, eds. Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter (2015)

Henry Lowood and Michael Nitsche, ed., The Machinima Reader (2011)

Jenna Ng, Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds (2013)

Week 9 — 3.1 Final Project, First Hurdle

Write: Continue work on your final project. Aim to get to your first “roadblock” or “hurdle”—to a moment where you might need some advice, or have some uncertainty, or feel like you’ve got a good handle on where the project will be going in the future.

Post related works for your project in the Discord. (We’ll update here.)

Post any reading of interest to the Discord. 

Week 10 — 3.8 — Final Pecha Kucha

Final Project Demos (20 Slides @ 20 Seconds per Slide) & Playtesting 

~ PARTY ~

 

Final Projects Due 3.18.22