Course Description

In the wake of the video game explosion in the early 1990s, scholars began to investigate the pedagogical, epistemological, and even cultural implications of “games.” Not surprisingly, games have been exceedingly fruitful for these discussions: from understanding how games offer immersive learning models (cf., James Paul Gee) to how games, based in critical theories of play, have proliferated the histories of humanity (cf., Johan Huizinga). Beyond those considerations, games offer access to a wide range of conversations, from narrative theory (narratology) to attention economies (as Richard Lanham has constructed them). Add to this the fact that gaming industry commercial sales regularly rival (if not top) cinema, and we see not only a cultural shift occurring but also a need for us to critically and creatively consider the rhetorical possibilities emerging with games.

As such, this course will focus on rhetoric, play, and games. Now, students like yourself likely come to this course with some grasp on the concept of games. From video games to board games, sports games to drinking games, card games to dating games, and so on, you probably have experiences with games, opinions on games, and sometimes strong feelings (good and bad) toward particular games. While you have undoubtedly experienced play (in many forms most likely), you may not have attempted to conceptualize play, or to articulate a definition of play. But even still, you likely know play when you see it, when your in it, when it is offered to you, and the like. Rhetoric, however, may be a relatively unknown in your intellectual and experiential world. Stemming from the classical tradition, rhetoric is understood as the art of persuasion. In more popular usage, however, it often takes on a negative connotation. It regularly gets used to indicate meaningless discourse (“that’s just empty rhetoric”) or in political arenas it can often been synonymous with obfuscation (“If you can just block out her rhetoric and see the real issue…”). But rhetoric is far more than these reductive understandings. What makes rhetoric so special is that it is both an inventive and interpretive art. Rhetoric provides not only guidance for how we come up with and convey our ideas to others (in written, spoken, electronic, and/or digital form), but also provides frames by which make sense of our worlds. From analysis to general communicative exchange, rhetoric is central to our daily activities. And play and games are no exception. Play is not only central to the act and art of rhetoric, it also offers a conceptual model for thinking about rhetorical activities. And games of all kinds offer us particular representations and/or statements about cultural values, popular ideologies, and even things like procedural mechanics. In so doing, they ask us either to accept particular assumptions or to start to interrogate those aspects in relation to the larger socio-cultural landscape. This course, then, will attempt to bring these three concepts together, to do so towards productive ends (particularly as it relates to writing), and it will do so as a game.

As such, in this course you will be asked to play a game, well multiple games really. The first will be this course, which is itself designed as a game (with a clear win state, expected player activities, and so on—more on this to come). During this course gameplay, students will be asked to read texts on play and/or games, and, more specifically, to play games. Students will be encouraged to play a variety of games throughout the course, with select in-class activities designed to create shared course artifacts and experiences. Students, in turn, will be asked not only to reflect on their gaming experiences but to use them as bases for course work (i.e., as evidence and support for ideas as well as grounds for coming up with writing/making topics).

Course Goals & Objectives
By the end of this course students will have had the opportunity to learn to

  • navigate, identify, and critically engage norms, rules, guides for games, gaming environments, or a gaming community;
  • extend theories of play to include rhetorical and cultural considerations;
  • analyze, articulate, and critically respond to issues related to game content, game experiences, game communities;
  • develop expository discourse and artifacts, primarily in writing but also in oral, visual, and multimedia modes, that demonstrate an increasingly sophistication of their abilities;
  • work collaboratively to solve problems in gaming environments;
  • and to improve as thinkers, writers, and peer-reviewers.

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