Gaming Experiments & Multimedia Scripting
ENGL M138.2 | Prof. Daniel Scott Snelson
http://dss-edit.com | dsnelson @ humnet
Tuesdays | Kaplan Hall A56 | 6:00 – 8:50pm
Office Hours: danny snelson .youcanbook.me
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.
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
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 three-hour seminar session will be accepted.
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.
Between seminar sessions, we’ll continue an ongoing conversation over Discord. An invitation and signup to the dedicated (private) server will occur on our first meeting. This is a platform for informal conversation, weekley workshop responses, and advance preparation for seminar meetings and course actions. 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 the Are.na platform 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.
Laptops or commensurate devices will be necessary for certain tasks. At some points in conversation, they will be banned. Laptops are required for every session, as experiments or research questions may arrive on the fly. I welcome any questions about technology or technical tasks at any point of the quarter.
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 lighting of the classroom, the size of text, the format of conversation, and so forth. All possible accommodations will be made. Additionally, or for more information, you may contact the CAE at (310) 825-1501, or at the CAE office at A255 Murphy Hall, or access the CAE website at www.cae.ucla.edu.
|Course Actions||Due Date||% of Grade|
Seminar Attendance & Participation. This is a conversation-based workshop course. We only get to meet on a handful of occasions—your input before and during each session is paramount to the course's function & collective success.
Are.na Posts. This course will require regular posts to Are.na 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
Discord Server Interactions. Continuing conversation from the seminar room to Discord. Gathering & sharing resources. Responding to peers' works & sharing your own creative process.
Each week should feature at least:
Ongoing, due before class meetings
Pecha Kucha. Penultimate session final project rapid-fire presentations.
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.
Week 1 — 1.7 — Introduction to GEMS
Write: Collective Experiment.
An improvised GEMS game using an implementation of GPT-2 at talktotransformer.com.
Chris Sylvester, TOTAL WALKTHROUGH (2011) and STILL LIFE WITH THE POKÉMON YELLOW… (2013)
Alejandro Miguel Justino Crawford, Link (2012) and Diana Hamilton’s Dreams (2016)
Nick Walton, AI Dungeon 2 (2020)
This syllabus, Are.na, Discord.
George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and K. Robert Gutschera, Characteristics of Games (2012)
Week 2 – 1.14 — 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 — 1.21 — Twine Poetics
Write: Collaborative games for procedural Twine games.
The aim this week is to develop a game system for 2-4 players that can generate a Twine work—the primary focus in on making the Twine, and coming up with a playful collaborative way to do so. The syllabus links offer some prime examples of Twine games, and the Saints of Hysteria collection gives some great examples of collaborative writing. The Twine wiki has great tutorials and guides for working in Twine. 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)
Mimi Campbell and Jason Huff, American Psycho (2011)
Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton & David Trinidad (ed), Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (2007)
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)
Nick Montfort, Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (2005)
Stephen Voyce, “Toward an Open Source Poetics: Appropriation, Collaboration, and the Commons” (2011)
Week 4 — 1.28 — Comics Adaptation
Write: Comic adaptation of any game. Using Comic Life 3 (30 days free) or any format available (from paper to powerpoint), to produce a comic adaptation of a game that flips the genre of the game you adapt. You must misuse the game at hand. If it’s a shooter, make it a romance. A space opera to a domestic drama. A SIMs-style slice-of-life game to horror, or superhero, or tragedy, or… Entirely up to you! Five pages absolute minimum. We’ll gather all adaptations into a collective comics fic anthology. See the Discord for instructions on standard sizes and requirements (fyi: 6.625″ x 10.25″).
Tools: for texts (@foone) see deathgenerator.com or Anna Antropy’s World of Fonts (or similar); for images, consider a vectorizer, glitcher, your own pen &pencil, or any image manipulation app (these are only the first hits: there are many!).
C.J. & Anka, Superpose (start here) (2018-present)
millionfish, yellowcake (Metal Gear fic) (2016-19)
Abbadon, Kill Six Billion Demons (2013-present)
Egypt Urnash, Decrypting Rita (2012)
Jamal Campbell, The Immortal Nadia Greene (2016)
Blue Delliquanti, O Human Star (2012-present)
Scout Tran, Falling Sky (2013-)
See also, Archive.org Comics Collection (feat Manga, classic, etc) free trials at comiXology (comics) & Crunchyroll (manga)
UbuWeb: Visual Poetry
Last VisPo Anthology (2012)
Tamryn Bennet, “Comics Poetry: Beyond ‘Sequential Art’” (2014)
N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines (2002)
Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image” (2009)
Aria Dean, “Closing the Loop” (2016)
Boris Groys, “From Image to Image File—and Back: Art in the Age of Digitalization” (pp. 83-92) (2008)
Artie Vierkant, “The Image Object Post-Internet” (2010)
Mary Widicks, “The visual language of comic books can improve brain function” (2020)
Week 5 — 2.4 — Light Novels & RPGs
Write: Ren’py Light Novel. This is an open format collaborative light novel experiment. Working in teams of 3-4, develop a twist on the “dating sim” genre, or any related light 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)
Team Eleven, SC2VN (2016)
Mediatonic, Hatoful Boyfriend (2014)
Solmare, Shall We Date (Nilfheim+ and others) (2014-)
Hima/Piti, Jurassic Heart (2013)
Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form (2012)
Hiroki Asuma, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (2009)
Patrick W. Galbraith, “Bishōjo Games: ‘Techno-Intimacy’ and the Virtually Human in Japan” (2011) (See also: Game Studies journal)
DJ Pangburn, “It’s You vs. Pickup Artists in a Dating Simulator Inspired by ‘The Game’” (2016)
Emily Short, Galatea (2004)
Week 6 — 2.11 — Tabletop RPG Fiasco
Write: A Playset using Fiasco-Mustache: A Playset-Editor for Fiasco to consider for play on Tuesday. Everyone will write one playset, be sure to include a cover image and see the examples here to model your playset. In class, we’ll group up by theme and you’ll decide which set to play. Consider adapting a game or scenario or inventing an entirely new gameworld. What might be engaging for a group who may not necessarily know all the references in your work? How to make the playset resistant or welcoming for your players?
Jason Morningstar, Fiasco (see the companion full supporting folder contents here)
Tabletop, Fiasco Setup Video and Fiasco Actual Play: Part 1 and Part 2 (see also, on Saving Throw)
Gosh Darn Fiasco podcast
Fiasco Playsets (444 sample playset scenarios)
Some good examples include, “To Be the Very Best: A Pokemon Fiasco Playset“, “Dragon Slayers“, “The Beast of Sucker Creek“, “Science Comics“, “Toil and Trouble.”
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)
Week 7 — 2.18 — Tabletop RPG Podcast
Special Guest: Aaron Winslow (USC)
Write: Group Introductory Podcast, open RPG selection (Audacity or editor of choice), upload to Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or the platform of your choice. Produce an introductory episode to a tabletop RPG podcast. Open format, add sound and edit. Explore RPG options online, and/or see The Trove—discussions in the Discord welcome!
Pitch: A final project idea in class ~3min.
Explore podcasts: Join the Party, Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, Not Another D&D Podcast, Queens of Adventure, HarmonQuest, The Stranger Lands, Serendipity City, Very Random Encounters, Heart Beats, etc.
Aaron Winslow and Fernando Diaz, Human Scale (audio app, iOS, 2019)
Winslow, Jobs of the Great Misery (2016) (See also: J2 roundtable)
Everest Pipkin, The Ground Itself (2019)
Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (2017)
Alexander Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006)
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 8 — 2.25 — Final Project, First Hurdle
Write: Begin 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 9 — 3.3 — Choose Your Own Experiment
Write: CYO — any short-form experiment that you haven’t had a chance to pursue in the course. Post your experiment’s instructions, input, and study sources to the Discord.
Peggy Ahwesh, She Puppet (2001)
Sondra Perry, It’s in the Game ’17 (2017)
Rindon Johnson, Away with You (2017)
Henry Lowood and Michael Nitsche, ed., The Machinima Reader (2011)
Jenna Ng, Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds (2013)
Week 10 — 3.10 — Final Pecha Kucha
Final Project Demos (20 Slides @ 20 Seconds per Slide) & Playtesting
Final Projects Due 3.20.20