Courses in game design, performance, play

In big ideas on December 24, 2010 at 7:36 am

I’m not currently teaching — but I hope to teach my favorite four classes again someday. In the meantime, you can check out the syllabi for these classes, which I’ve taught previously at the University of California, Berkeley (“Performance and Play“, and “Theater and Games“) and San Francisco Art Institute (“Game Design as Art Practice“, and “Game Design for Real Life and Everyday Spaces“).

PERFORMANCE AND PLAY (undergraduate course at UC Berkeley, Spring 2004)

Members of this class will improve their research and analytic writing skills as we investigate the connections between contemporary performance and play. Early in the semester, you will select a research question of personal interest and spend the rest of the course exploring, revising, and refining this question. This individual research will culminate in a final 10-page paper and a “creative intervention” (performance, game or some combination) of your own design.

Questions we’ll explore together include:

  • How do actors, directors and audiences play in theatrical performances?

  • How do we perform as players and spectators in games, sports and everyday life?
  • What kinds of performances and play blur the line between theater and games?
  • What are the best research tools and methods for investigating, documenting and analyzing live events like play and performance?
  • How can we use game development and theatrical design to make a persuasive argument?
  • Who else is trying to answer these questions, and how can we start conversations with them?

Our collective investigations will consist of research-oriented:

  • class readings, assigned by me (theories of play and drama, fundamentals of game
  • design, recent writing in game and performance studies);
  • individual readings, chosen by you (theater history and criticism, actor and director
  • training guides, game reviews, interviews, play scripts, design documentation, fan essays, and whatever else you dig up in the course of your research!);
  • playing (in the classroom, in theaters, at home, on the field, onstage, online, in the streets);
  • brainstorming (informal weekly discussions on our blog);
  • writing (weekly formal and informal assignments in preparation for a final 10-page research paper on the play and performance topic of your choice); and
  • design (a 3-page creative document with detailed instructions for an original game or
  • performance related to your research topic).

THEATER AND GAMES (undergraduate course at UC Berkeley, Fall 2003)

Members of this class will improve their writing skills as we explore the connection between plays (theater) and play (games).

Questions we’ll explore include:

  • What is a game, and how do we know when we are playing?
  • What kinds of live performance are particularly game-like?
  • Why do games appear so frequently in modern drama as a central metaphor?
  • Is “playing” a part on stage really playful?
  • Do audiences and spectators get to play, too?
  • How do contemporary game designers draw on theatrical models?
  • How do we play (roles and games) in everyday life?

Our collective investigations will consist of:

  • reading (dramatic literature, theater history, theories of play, and game criticism);
  • playing (acting exercises, playground games, party games, computer games, life);
  • brainstorming (informal weekly discussion on our course blog); and
  • writing (3 formal writing assignments with peer review, a midterm writing workshop, and a final exam paper.

GAME DESIGN AS ART PRACTICE (BFA/MA studio class at San Francisco Art Institute, Fall 2004)

Game design allows artists to create meaningful play and interactive experience in any medium.  This introductory course, which explores both digital and non-digital games, aims to provide students with a critical vocabulary and historical context for analyzing games as art, as well as the skills and techniques necessary to incorporate game design into their ongoing art practice.

Through a combination of theoretical readings, case studies, critical analysis and design exercises, students will explore the expressive potential of games.  They will learn how to identify, create and manipulate core game elements such as player objectives, rule systems, feedback structures, win-loss scenarios, competitive and cooperative dynamics, and social interaction.

As a final project, students will work toward the design, development and deployment of a game in any medium of their choice.

Note: While digitally-based projects are welcome, students may also choose to work entirely with non-digital media.  No programming or computer design experience is necessary to enroll in this course.


(BFA/MFA seminar at San Francisco Art Institute, Spring 2007)


Where can we play new games — and how might they change our real lives?

Experimental game design is the field of interactive arts that seeks to discover new platforms and contexts for digital play. This course examines the contemporary intersection of ubiquitous computing and experimental game design. The convergence of these two fields at the turn of the twenty-first century has produced a significant body of games and performances that challenge and expand our notions of where, when, and with whom we can play. This course explores how and to what ends such projects reconfigure the technical, formal and social limits of play and performance in relation to everyday life.

Throughout the semester, we will design and test a series of playful interventions and performances that seek to turn everyday life and public spaces into a “real” little game. A primary goal of students in this course will be to develop a critical gaming literacy that can be applied to ordinary, everyday life. Together, we will work to read the “real” world as rich with playful opportunities, carefully testing everyday media, objects, sites, and social situations for the positive and negative consequences of inscribing each within the magic circle of a game. Readings will concentrate on classic design manifestos from the fields of ubiquitous computing and game design, as well as theoretical essays on collective intelligence, public space, and the performance of everyday life.

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