Dr. Aaron Delwiche (firstname.lastname@example.org)
COMM 3344: Games for the web (Interactive multimedia)
Course meeting times:
T + TH 2:10
- 3:25 (RCC 400 /402)
Office Hours: TBD
Office: Laurie 363
A staple of nerd 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 (MMOs) such as City
of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies, and Second Life.
The popularity of these virtual environments
is staggering. At any given moment, at least 90,000 players are
interacting with one another
in Norrath -- the fictional world of Everquest. According to a
study conducted several years ago, the world of Everquest is
the 77th richest “nation” on
the planet with a per-capita GNP that outstrips China and India
(Castranova, 2002). Others estimate that more than $900 million
in virtual assets
were exchanged in 2005, with a projected market that exceeds $7
billion by 2009. With game characters and virtual objects fetching
of dollars on eBay, sweat shops have been set up in developing
nations to service this micro-economy (Dibbell, 2003).
Last year, we witnessed the emergence of second
generation MMOs characterized by stunning visuals, improved artificial
intelligence, and game dynamics
that appeal to a broader variety of playing styles. One of these
World of Warcraft, has sold more than 3.5 million copies
in North America. It was the most successful PC game launch in
history, outstripping the sales
of Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Half-Life
Of course, MMOs are just one 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 conduct an ethnographic study of the behaviors,
cultural practices and motivations of MMO gamers. Along the way, we
will play and critically analyze a variety of games. In addition to
exploring game mechanics and video-game aesthetics, we will investigate
sociological and psychological dimensions of virtual worlds as well
as social controversies surrounding game violence and gender representations.
We have three objectives:
- to explore themes of cyber-culture studies through sustained
interaction with other residents of Everquest II,
- to apply ethnographic research methods to understand the behaviors,
cultural practices, and motivations of MMO players, and
- to develop a critical vocabulary for analyzing all types
Prior technical and gaming experience is not required for this course.
Course requirements and materials
Readings will be drawn from the course packet and from two assigned
The course packet, which costs approximately $75,
is available at Kinko’s
Paw Prints on the third floor of Coates Library. You are responsible
for all assigned readings, even if they are not addressed during
Throughout the semester, we will spend a significant
amount of time in Everquest II. This virtual world is an
ideal location for studying on-line gamers, cyber-culture, and
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 ethnographic research within Everquest II. To ensure that
spends enough time in the virtual world, two group gaming sessions
will be held between 6:30 and 9:00 on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
You are expected to attend at least one of these sessions each
You are welcome to play the game on 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. If you want to install
the game on your home system, it must meet minimum
system requirements. Even if your computer meets the minimum requirements,
game performance might be sluggish. An ideal system would meet
these recommended requirements.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about your computer's
If your computer is more than two years old, your graphics card may
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.
At the outset, it should be noted that massively multiplayer games
have a reputation for being addictive. When I taught a previous
version of this course using Everquest, I received several e-mail
from former players who were concerned about the potential for
addiction. For example, one person commented “[Y]ou could potentially
get people addicted and lost in this world. I was addicted to the
for 3 years and it IS a very, very powerful addiction. I strongly
urge you to explain to everyone in advance that if they have strong
addictive-type personalities not to force them to do this. . .
[I] could not be any more serious.”
Of course, the same factors that make these
games addictive make them highly interesting to new media scholars.
If you have a compulsive
personality, you might want to consider strategies for placing
limits on your access to the game. One possibility is to avoid playing
game in any location other than the computer lab. Also, please
remember that the game – though intrinsically fun – is
merely a vehicle for understanding the dynamics of virtual worlds.
If you are
worried about your relationship to the game at any time during
the semester, please do not hesitate to contact me.