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This Author: Matthew Hall
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Worlds of Wordcraft by Matthew Hall

Worlds of Wordcraft

Vanderbilt University Course

by Matthew Hall

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Computer games are transforming the entertainment industry, generating $12.5 billion in revenue in 2006 and attracting countless adults as well as children to virtual play. For more than twenty years, online communities have been producing new forms of psychological, social, and cultural experience. The early text-based spaces of MOOs and chat rooms have evolved into virtual societies such as Second Life , which provide a platform for everything from educational experiments to virtual sex to commerce with imaginary currency and real money freely exchanged. Early text-based adventure games such as Zork have become the multimedia environments of online games like World of Warcraft , which combine the written word with graphics, music, skills, professions, and action.

Are online games generating new interactive modes of narrative? How do multimedia environments transform the age-old patterns of quest romances that structure much game play? Is the line between virtual and real experience erased by the fusion of online communities, role playing, and escapist fictions? Can computer games be pedagogical tools, as some academics maintain, or are they only addictive, sedentary, and antisocial activities? These questions will animate our consideration of digital narrative forms.

Co-taught by the head of ITS and a professor of English, the course will meet in a high tech multimedia seminar room, allowing us to explore the fundamentals of game design. Students will be required to subscribe to an online game for the semester and will compare the interactive story arcs with related narrative forms from literature and film. Readings will range from Spenser’s Faerie Queene to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and include critical theory such as Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media, Jesper Juul , Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds , Marie- Laure Ryan, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media, and McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory.


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