Equality Game, Anxiety Attack, and Misfortune: A Pedagogical Post-Mortem on Engines, Modding, and the Importance of Player Experience

Equality Game, Anxiety Attack, and Misfortune: A Pedagogical Post-Mortem on Engines, Modding, and the Importance of Player Experience

Victoria McArthur (York University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6206-3.ch002


In this chapter, I present a post-mortem covering three consecutive offerings of a course on persuasive games at the university level over a three-year period from 2010 – 2013. The course, “Designing Persuasive Games,” is part of a larger, multi-disciplinary program on digital media and game design. In this course, students are invited to engage both with theory and praxis, the process of “practicing” theory (Shaffer, 2004), by not only reading and writing about persuasive games but also through the design and development of one. Here, I present the overall design of the course across the three offerings and describe the most significant aspects of the course, from a pedagogical perspective, that I believe to be of value to others designing similar courses. These aspects include choosing a game engine, scaling projects to retain rhetoric, modding as praxis, and player experience testing. A sample grading rubric for persuasive games is also included at the conclusion of this chapter.
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Setting The Stage

The Designing Persuasive Games course presently uses Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games book (Bogost, 2010) as its primary text. Sections of Flannagan's Critical Play (Flanagan, 2009) and a number of articles on game design serve as supplemental texts. I like to begin the class with an activity I borrow from a former instructor in which we play Gonzalo Frasca's game September 12th, (Frasca, 2003) and read an interview with Noam Chomsky discussing the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in 2001. Both the game and the interview with Chomsky present the same thesis: a broken logic drives post 9/11 conflicts and that violence begets more violence. By engaging with the same thesis, expressed first by game mechanics and second in written form, students begin to understand how procedural rhetoric works.

We then read Bogost's work and discuss it in seminar. All three iterations of the course have included this text as our primary theoretical source as it is the most prolific and thorough text on the subject. We explore the examples provided in the book, playing the games whenever possible (a handful of games described in the text are no longer hosted online or are rare games for the Atari), and seeking out additional examples of persuasive games. Students are then asked to design a persuasive game of their own. This project represents a significant portion of their final grade and involves the following milestones: a written proposal (500 words), a research poster presentation, a paper (analogue) prototype, a digital prototype, and a playtesting session. While the written proposal and final game are for me, the other milestones present opportunities for students to explore their proposed game in meaningful ways with their peers.

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