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COMM 3344: Games for the web (Interactive multimedia)

T + TH 3:35 - 4:50 (RCC 402)

Dr. Aaron Delwiche (

Office Hours: M + F 10:30-1:30T + TH 9:30 - 11:30
Office: Laurie 363
Phone: 999-8153

Course description

A staple of geek subculture for almost three decades, role-playing games have taken on new life in the era of networked computing. High-speed connections, sophisticated graphics and powerful microprocessors have paved the way for massively multiplayer games (MMO’s) such as Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and Second Life.

The popularity of these virtual environments is staggering. At this very moment, more than 90,000 players are interacting with one another in Norrath -- the fictional world of Everquest. With game characters and virtual objects fetching thousands of dollars on eBay, sweat shops have been set up in developing nations to service this micro-economy (Dibbell, 2003). According to one recent study, the world of Everquest is the 77th richest “nation” on the planet with a per-capita GNP that outstrips China and India (Castranova, 2002).

It may seem far-fetched to apply economic indicators to virtual worlds. However, a growing number of scholars use social science research methods to investigate MMO’s (Turkle, 1995; Yee, 2002; Schaap, 2002; Delwiche, 2003). Such theorists believe that these cultural objects raise important questions about identity, community, and the influence of technology in our daily lives.

Of course, MMO’s are a subset of a much larger videogame industry. From home gaming consoles to arcade-based machines, gamers are confronted with a staggering array of choices. As more individuals turn to interactive media for entertainment, television and film audiences are dwindling. In 1999, “total videogame software and hardware sales in the U.S. reached $8.9 billion, versus $7.3 billion for movie box-office receipts” (Poole, 2000, p. 6). Clearly, videogames are here to stay.

In this course, we will play, design, and critically analyze a variety of videogames. We have three objectives:

  1. to explore themes of cyberculture studies through sustained interaction with other residents of a virtual world called Second Life

  2. to develop a critical vocabulary for analyzing all types of videogames

  3. to experiment with mechanics of game design by creating games that can be played by other residents of Second Life

The course is divided into four segments.

  • Social dynamics of virtual game-worlds
  • Fundamentals of game design
  • Videogame aesthetics
  • Social aspects of videogames

Prior technical experience is not required for this course.

Course requirements and materials

Readings will be drawn from the course packet and one “textbook.”

  • Communication 3344-2: Games for the web
  • Lucien King (2002) Game on: The history and culture of video games. New York: Rizzoli Press.

The course reader is available at the campus bookstore. You are responsible for all assigned readings, even if they are not addressed during class.

Throughout the semester, we will spend a significant amount of time in Second Life. This virtual world encompasses almost 1,000 acres of land and contains more than 200,000 user-created objects. It is an ideal location in which we can investigate themes in cyberculture studies, and it offers powerful development tools for creating our own games.

The creators of Second Life have generously agreed to provide us with free accounts for the duration of the semester. A significant amount of class time will be spent in the game-world, but you are also expected to devote at least five hours a week to Second Life outside of class. You are encouraged to play via the lab computers when other classes are not using the facilities, and you may also be able to install the game on your personal system.

In order to install the game on your home system, it must meet the basic requirements listed below.

  • Graphics Card: Nvidia Geforce 2 (32MB RAM) or higher, or ATI Radeon 8500 (32MB RAM) or higher
  • Computer: 800MHZ or higher, 256MB RAM or more
  • OS: Windows XP/2000
  • Internet Connection: Broadband (DSL/Cable Modem/LAN)
  • DirectX 8 or 9

If your computer is more than eighteen months old, your graphics card will probably not be capable of rendering this three-dimensional environment. If this is the case, you will have to access the game via the lab machines.