Practical Pedagogical Notes on Games

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you are an educator. You’d like to introduce videogames into the class you’re teaching. Perhaps it’s a course on new media, or digital storytelling; perhaps you’d like to include a section on games in an Intro to Film course, or an Intro to Mass Communication course. Whatever the case, you find yourself faced with practical matters. What games should you assign, and how should you prepare students to play them as part of their coursework?

Perhaps the relevant scholarship on games you are familiar with all came out some time between 2004–2011. You’re not sure if the games discussed in those readings are still readily available, and if they’ll work on your students’ newly-purchased computers. Who has time to troubleshoot such things while lesson planning? Perhaps you’re looking for tips on games students can play for free, or games they can play without installing anything on their computers. Perhaps you’re looking for tips on how many games you can assign as a week’s worth of homework. Just how long do games take to play, anyway? Has anyone reliably timed such things? And what about content warnings? Everybody seems to want those, these days …

Well, fret no more! Welcome to the part of my site where I attempt to provide a guide for such questions.

I would love for this to one day be a proper searchable database, with tags that work as a recommendation system, but unfortunately that is beyond my technological capabilities with WordPress right now. This portion of the site will likely be evolving in the future, but for now it consists of two things. First, a list of games I have used in class, arranged alphabetically by game title, with details on content, relevance, accessibility, and time to play. (Yes, the alphabetical listing is a kludgy solution. Yes, it is one of the top reasons why I would like to eventually transform this into a proper database.) And second, some practical global advice on assigning internet-distributed games as assignments in 2017.

So: scroll down, and search the page to your heart’s content! I hope it proves useful to at least one person out there.


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Anhedonia (Maddox Pratt, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This personal game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Twine
Acquisition Logistics This game used to be freely available online as browser-based Twine. However, merritt kopas stopped hosting it on her site. The only way I’m aware of to get it now is to purchase kopas’ book Videogames for Humans. The game is included in the files distributed for the ebook edition. It is DRM-free, so relatively easy to distribute to students.
Graphical Style Text, with a few illustrations
How Long to Play? 10 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility This game is pure click-through. The only difficulties players encounter will be emotional.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Mental illness, suicidal ideation
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Short, Emily. “Anhedonia by Maddox Pratt, Played by Emily Short.” In Videogames for Humans: Twine Authors in Conversation. Ed. merritt kopas. New York: Instar Books, 2015.

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Art Game (Pippin Barr, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Game artist Pippin Barr is snarky in all the right ways, and I like to pair his game-based parodies of the art world to deflate some of the pretensions of the “are games art?” debate.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Give yourself at least 20 minutes to poke around with it. You don’t have to play the two-player mode.
Difficulty & Accessibility It’s not difficult, but nor is it always clear how the game is grading your performance. The keyboard-based controls can get a little hard on your fingers after awhile.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Ebert, Roger. “Video Games Can Never Be Art” (Blog Post)
  • Preston, Jim. “The Arty Party.” (Blog Post)
  • Melissinos, Chris. “Preface: The Resonance of Games as Art.” In The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect. Ed. Chris Melissinos and Patrick O’Rourke. New York: Welcome Books/Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012

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The Artist Is Present (Pippin Bar, 2011)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Game artist Pippin Barr is snarky in all the right ways, and I like to pair his game-based parodies of the art world to deflate some of the pretensions of the “are games art?” debate.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? It takes about five hours to complete, in one grueling sitting. I don’t force students to complete it, though. Play as much as you feel is necessary.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game is not at all “difficult”, although it certainly is taxing, and making sense of it can be hard (this especially depends on when students open it in their browser).
Violent Combat Required? No
Help! So, pro tip: this virtual version of Marina Abramović’s performance art piece “The Artist Is Present” (2010) is synched to real time, using the EST clock. In order to really successfully “play” the game, students will need to open it in their browser during the designated days of the week and times that MoMA is open. If they do this, they’ll be confronted with a long line, which they’ll then need to virtually stand in for about five hours before they can be in Abramović’s virtual presence.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Ebert, Roger. “Video Games Can Never Be Art” (Blog Post)
  • Preston, Jim. “The Arty Party.” (Blog Post)
  • Melissinos, Chris. “Preface: The Resonance of Games as Art.” In The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect. Ed. Chris Melissinos and Patrick O’Rourke. New York: Welcome Books/Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012

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Become a Great Artist in Just 10 Seconds (Andi McClure and Michael Brough, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Another weird little game I like to have students play when reviewing the “are games art?” debate.
Platforms Windows & Mac
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? If you give yourself 5 minutes, you won’t have “figured it out,” but I’m not sure that it can ever be figured out. 5 minutes of experimentation, though, should at least give you a sense of its strangeness.
Difficulty & Accessibility The UI of this game is a deliberately opaque mess, and it is extraordinarily difficult to figure out what the “point” is of your interaction with this art-copying tool. But, dare I say, figuring out the “point” … isn’t the point?
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Ebert, Roger. “Video Games Can Never Be Art” (Blog Post)
  • Preston, Jim. “The Arty Party.” (Blog Post)
  • Melissinos, Chris. “Preface: The Resonance of Games as Art.” In The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect. Ed. Chris Melissinos and Patrick O’Rourke. New York: Welcome Books/Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012

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Cibele (Nina Freeman, 2015)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness I taught this as part of a section between boundary disputes on the blurry divide between “games” and “interactive fiction” or “electronic literature.” The game simulates a computer desktop, as well as logging into and playing a (rather mindless) MMORPG. Its real draw, however, is its story, which plays out as text conversations and voice-acted audio that give you the feeling of eavesdropping on someone’s romantic life while casually clicking on monsters.
Platforms Windows & Mac
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $8.99. This is a good store where you can get a DRM-free copy. This is another good store where you can get a DRM-free copy. (It costs the same on both stores.) You will need to download it and install it. There are several ways to do this provided by the stores.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? About an hour, although the speed is entirely up to the player, and there are plenty of side-things to poke around with if you want to take it slow.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game includes some click-to-attack 2D RPG combat, in the general vein of Diablo. It seems, however, to have been tweaked as to make it impossible for the player to fail.
Violent Combat Required? Technically yes, but that’s not a very useful way of putting things. There is combat, but it is highly aestheticized, not at all graphic, and in no way difficult.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Juul, Jesper. “Video Games and the Classic Game Model.” In Half-Real: Videogames Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005
  • Anthropy, Anna. “What Is It Good For?” In Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Cobra Club (Robert Yang, 2015)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness If you play through its entirety (which takes about a half hour), Cobra Club reveals itself to be a political rumination on the PRISM program, in line with John Oliver’s famed “Can They See My Dick?” bit. Mostly, though, I’ve just brought this up in class to make students uncomfortable, and prompt a discussion about the standards of obscenity in US First Amendment law.
Platforms Windows, Mac & Linux
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective. But you are only panning, tilting, and zooming a camera, not moving around within the rendered space.
How Long to Play? Probably half an hour if you want to reach the official “ending.” But you can play for less time if you just want to dick around with it (heh … heheh …)
Difficulty & Accessibility It’s as easy to use as Instagram
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Penises
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Oral Arguments for Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. No. 08-1448. November 2, 2010 (online at supremecourt.gov)
  • SCOTUS Opinion: Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. No. 08-1448. (2011) (online at supremecourt.gov)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Companion (Robin Burkinshaw, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A small digital toy that uses some simple AI behaviors exceedingly well, to create the impression of friendship with a naïve companion who needs protected. With is abstract visuals and overwhelming focus on rule-based behaviors, I like to pair it with Ian Bogost’s writings on procedural rhetoric and the “proceduralist style.” (It also makes for a good palette-cleanser after students have played something like Jordan Magnuson’s Loneliness.)
Platforms Browser-based Unity
Acquisition Logistics You used to be able to access the game here … but unfortunately you can’t any more. The link now re-directs to the store page for Burkinshaw’s commercially-released Three Body Problem. I will update this page if I find a site still hosting this game, but, until that time, it should unfortunately be considered indefinitely unavailable.
Graphical Style 3D elements, but 2D play-space and controls
How Long to Play? You probably won’t need more than 5 minutes to get a feel for it. There is no “ending.”
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires only the ability to navigate an onscreen cursor-object/character with arrow keys.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Darfur Is Dying (Susana Ruiz, et al., 2006)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This serious game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Browser-based
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Faux-3D (2D graphics that use sprite-scaling to imitate linear perspective)
How Long to Play? You probably won’t need more than 5-10 minutes to get a feel for it.
Difficulty & Accessibility There is an aspect of challenge to the game, and players can fail. However, it is unlikely that they will fail so much that they won’t be able to spend 10 minutes looking at it.
Violent Combat Required? No, but the game does have action-stealth elements, as the player needs to hide from hostile NPCs.
Content Warnings Frank acknowledgement of the myriad dangers refugees face.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Depression Quest (Zoë Quinn, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This personal game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text, with a few illustrations
How Long to Play? Somewhere around 45 minutes to an hour to do one playthrough, although you may want to experiment with more.
Difficulty & Accessibility Basic click-through, choosing options without time pressure. Some endings are better than others, although I have not explore all of them to be able to say how much the game “punishes” players who make “unhealthy” decisions.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Mental illness, suicidal ideation
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Campbell, Colin. “Gaming’s New Frontier: Cancer, Depression, Suicide.” (Polygon article)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Dwarf Fortress (Tarn and Zach Adams, in ongoing development since 2006)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness I’ve taught this game, legendary for both its incredibly complex simulations and impossible-to-make-sense-of UI, when examining the concept of “difficulty” in games.
Platforms Windows, Mac & Linux
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style Patented eyebleed text-based tileset of hell
How Long to Play? As long as it takes for you to want to give up
Difficulty & Accessibility It’s basically impossible.
Violent Combat Required? Maybe? I guess? In any case, you’ll never be able to tell what’s going on, so it doesn’t really matter.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Doyle, Jennifer. “Introducing Difficulty.” In Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
  • Juul, Jesper. “The Paradox of Failure and the Paradox of Tragedy.” In The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

Dys4ia (Anna Anthropy, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This personal game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Windows & Mac
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $5.00. It is available, DRM-free, here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? 6-ish minutes.
Difficulty & Accessibility Certain sections are a little bit tricky, with mechanics that harken back to arcade-era games. However, the game is mostly built upon the illusion of challenge, rather than actual challenge. For the most part, it’s a series of
autobiographical vignettes which proceed with what is ultimately fairly minimal user input.
Violent Combat Required? Not in any literal sense, although the game does borrow some vocabulary from arcade-era shooters.
Content Warnings Descriptions of emotional distress of dysphoria.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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EAT (Mattie Brice, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness When teaching the concept of “empathy” in the context of both “serious games” and “personal games,” I like to cut it with recent writing by makers who have become more skeptical of the concept and its political usefulness. This game makes a good pairing with these writings.
Platforms Web/mixed media
Acquisition Logistics Access the game’s components here.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? This is not a game that one actually needs to play (if “play” is the right word for this game). I request only that students examine the ruleset, and the materials.
Difficulty & Accessibility It’s impossible that anyone would ever conceive of “playing” this game. It mainly exists as a process-art document.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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EMPATHY MACHINE (merritt kopas, 2016)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness When teaching the concept of “empathy” in the context of both “serious games” and “personal games,” I like to cut it with recent writing by makers who have become more skeptical of the concept and its political usefulness. This game makes a good pairing with these writings.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? 5 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility The game is pure click-through. There is no challenge.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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The End of Us (Chelsea Howe and Michael Molinari, 2011)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Quite similarly to Companion, this uses some very simple behaviors on onscreen objects to create the impression of companionship. The End of Us has the benefit of a musical score and a definitive, emotional ending. I have, though, found that it is distressingly easy to break the behavior of the orange meteor, which ruins the emotional impact of the ending, and just makes the game confusing.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? 5 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility Even if you are unable to do some of the things you might want to do in the game (for instance, successfully collect the stars), it moves inexorably toward its conclusion, so there is no possibility of “losing” it.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

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Façade (Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, 2005)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Ambitious when it came out in 2005, and still ambitious today, this interactive drama built on natural language processing (players type their dialogue in response to the dialogue of the game’s two other characters) is an idea pairing with readings by Brenda Laurel or Janet Murray. (And it has since been written on by figures such as Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Brian Schrank.)
Platforms Windows. (It was originally build for Windows XP, and seems to be holding up quite nicely across both Windows 7 and Windows 10. The only thing that’s broken are the options at the end, including the option to print the script of the stage play you collaborated with the program in creating.)
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet. (Please note that I’ve experienced HTTPS-related problems in the past with Softpedia, the service Mateas and Stern use to host this download. Hopefully, those do not interfere with your download process, but be forewarned that they might.)
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective. (Mateas and Stern’s expertise in AI rather than in 3D graphics is on display here … be forewarned that navigating through the apartment has a distinct “slippery and shifty” quality that might make students woozy.)
How Long to Play? The game seems to “cap itself” at around 18 minutes, forcing certain story beats even if they player isn’t doing what it wants. I have found it to be about the perfect length to play in-class. (I’ve only demonstrated this in-class. I don’t assign it for homework, as it’s not safe to assume that college students in the 2010s have a Windows computer on-hand.)
Difficulty & Accessibility The weird quality of the movement and graphics are the only thing that might be able to turn students off to this. Other than that, I have consistently found students to consider it inviting and intriguing.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Murray, Janet H. “Harbingers of the Holodeck.” In Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free Press, 1997.
  • Frasca, Gonzalo. “Ludology Meets Narratology.” (Blog Post)
  • Aarseth, Espen. “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation.” In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Female Experience Simulator (Alyson MacDonald, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This personal game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? Less than 5 minutes.
Difficulty & Accessibility Just clicking through text, making some decisions without time pressure.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Street harassment
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Fignermukcre (Trollcore Enterprises, 2014)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Generally speaking, Super Hexagon (Terry Cavanagh, 2012) is my go-to game when getting students to discuss matters of off-putting mechanical and/or ergonomic difficulty in games. This, however, works as a good free substitute.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? As long as it takes for you to want to give up
Difficulty & Accessibility It’s basically impossible.
Violent Combat Required? No, but it is certainly as challenging as any shoot ’em up
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Doyle, Jennifer. “Introducing Difficulty.” In Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
  • Juul, Jesper. “The Paradox of Failure and the Paradox of Tragedy.” In The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

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Freedom Bridge (Jordan Magnuson, 2010)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This could easily be taught alongside the several other games I list here that connect to discussions of “empathy” in game design. I chose a bit more specific topic when I taught this, however, looking specifically at games that restrict or deny player agency, and what it meant for an interactive art form such as games to do so.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Less than 5 minutes.
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires only the ability to navigate an onscreen cursor-object/character with arrow keys.
Violent Combat Required? No, but the game deals with issues of state-sponsored violence.
Content Warnings Abstract acknowledgement of the myriad dangers refugees face.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Jenkins, Henry. “‘Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces.” In From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. Ed. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

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Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness It is, simply put, the best game to use when teaching the concept of environmental storytelling, and the possibility games have to be a mode of electronic literature rendered as 3D space.
Platforms Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $19.99. If you’re in the market for the Windows/Mac/Linux versions, this is a good store where you can get a DRM-free copy. This is another good store where you can get a DRM-free copy. This is yet another good store where you can get a DRM-free copy. (It costs the same across all stores, across all platforms.) You will need to download it and install it. There are several ways to do this provided by the stores.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective
How Long to Play? If you’re not running through it willy-nilly, I would estimate about 90 minutes. Maybe 2.5 hours, if you’re taking it at a leisurely pace.
Difficulty & Accessibility Aside with a general comfort with controlling a 3D first-person game, this game requires only patience and observational skills.
Violent Combat Required? None.
Content Warnings Description of a homophobic home environment. Flirtation with the possibility of suicidal themes, which thankfully do not pan out. A backstory that includes childhood sexual abuse (this will require some astute observation on the part of students, so I wouldn’t say it is worth avoiding the game if you are worried about the sensitivity of this topic).
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

Gravitation (Jason Rohrer, 2008)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Like Passage, this is a personal game where Jason Rohrer uses simple mechanics to simulate the push-and-pull of parenthood, career, and artistic inspiration. Passage makes a good introduction to proceduralism and the idea of rules conveying meaning, but I find this game to be meatier.
Platforms Windows, Linux (requires you to compile from source), Nintendo DS, Mac (broken)
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. Be forewarned that time has not been kind to the Mac version (you might as well forget about using it). You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? 8 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires the ability to navigate an character with arrow keys, and some light platform-jumping (although failure here is not strictly penalized: you will never get a “game over” screen)
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Bogost, Ian. “Art.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Sharpe, John. “Artgames.” In Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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HER STORY (Sam Barlow, 2015)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A fantastic recent game to pair with decades-old literature on “games” vs. “stories,” this ingeniously designed interactive narrative at times feels as if it was specifically created to re-invigorate musty old conversations about Lev Manovich’s concept of “database cinema,” or Janet Murray’s predictions of the computerized future of television.
Platforms Windows, Mac, iOS & Android
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $5.99. This is a good store where you can get DRM-free copies of the Windows & Mac versions. You will need to download it and install it. There are several ways to do this provided by the store.
Graphical Style 2D graphics/Full-motion video
How Long to Play? 2-4 hours, partially depending on if you just want to put the pieces of the mystery together, or if you want to take an exhaustive look at the game’s database of video footage.
Difficulty & Accessibility HER STORY is not “difficult” in any manner that games are usually difficult. It does, however, presuppose a self-directed, self-motivated player, who is willing to poke around and discover what the game has to offer. It does not make its objectives clear: figuring out the interface and what you’re supposed to do with it is just one part of the overall mystery.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Verbally described violence, possible depiction of mental illness (although this is purposefully ambiguous)
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Murray, Janet H. “Harbingers of the Holodeck.” In Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free Press, 1997.
  • Frasca, Gonzalo. “Ludology Meets Narratology.” (Blog Post)
  • Aarseth, Espen. “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation.” In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Hurt Me Plenty (Robert Yang, 2014)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness As with Robert Yang’s other games, I brought this up in class to make students uncomfortable, and prompt a discussion about the standards of obscenity in US First Amendment law. However, it would also make a great addition to any class examining whether procedural rhetoric can educate people about issues of consent (in BDSM communities, and in general).
Platforms Windows, Mac & Linux
Acquisition Logistics The final, “HD” version of this game is available in the compilation Radiator 2, available here. (It is name-your-own-price. You will need to download it and install it.) Yang keeps prior versions of the game archived here, and although he recommends playing the Radiator 2 edition, looking comparatively across the various versions provides a fascinating glimpse into how UI design choices contribute to the game’s themes of consent.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective. But you do not have to navigate through the rendered space, just look around and manipulate things.
How Long to Play? Just a few minutes, depending on some factors.
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires only whipping a mouse back and forth
Violent Combat Required? Spanking, but it’s consensual (if you do it right)
Content Warnings There are bare butts and BDSM spanking in the game, but that’s more likely to prompt student giggles more than anything. On a more serious note, since the game attempts to simulate consent, it is possible to violate consent in the game, and experience the consequences of that violation. This is all handled in an abstract and fairly cartoony manner, but students might want to be made aware of that possibility, so that they can avoid it accordingly.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Oral Arguments for Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. No. 08-1448. November 2, 2010 (online at supremecourt.gov)
  • SCOTUS Opinion: Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. No. 08-1448. (2011) (online at supremecourt.gov)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Hush (Jamie Antonisse and Devon Johnson, 2008)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This serious game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Windows (broken in Windows 10) & Mac (still works)
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet. WINDOWS USERS: although there is a Windows download available for this game, I have found that it freezes quite violently when playing in Windows 10. Running in compatibility mode did not solve this problem for me. Perhaps you’ll be able to troubleshoot this better than I was, but generally you should be aware that this game might not work. UPDATE: Some of my Mac-using students also had problems getting this to launch. This may stem from them having newer hardware or OS versions than I do. I am unsure, but will update if I discover anything concrete.
Graphical Style Text, with illustrations
How Long to Play? Around 8 minutes if all goes well; however you may want to give yourself 15-20 to account for possible failure.
Difficulty & Accessibility Skills of timing and careful visual attention are required to succeed in the game. It is possible to fail.
Violent Combat Required? No, but the game can be viscerally intense nonetheless.
Content Warnings Violence against civilians in war.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

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Is This a Game? (The Game Police, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A bit of fun to leaven the debates that pop up around the definitional boundaries of games, which, as the readings included for this lesson attest, have gotten quite political in recent years, and inextricably (inexplicably?) linked to online harassment.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? Less than 5 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility It’s a simple click-through process, with binary choices. No time pressure or chance of failure.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Anthropy, Anna. “What Is It Good For?” In Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012.
  • Koster, Raph. “A Letter to Leigh.” (Blog Post)
  • Yang, Robert. “A Letter to a Letter.” (Blog Post)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This is one of those “if you teach one game…” situations. It’s useful for talking about the possibilities of networked interactions, multiplayer design, games and aesthetics, games and emotion/affect, games as art … it’s made it onto many a syllabi, I am sure.
Platforms PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Acquisition Logistics You can download the game from the PlayStation Store on Sony hardware. Because this game is exclusive to Sony’s platforms, this is not a situation where you can ask students to take it up as homework. The only time I’ve taught it, I have handled it as an in-class screening. And, based on the number of times I’ve hauled my PS3 over to another professor’s class to help them show the game, this is a popular one to show in screening environments.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, third-person perspective.
How Long to Play? 1.5–2 hours
Difficulty & Accessibility Journey is a game that tries hard to be accessible. It expects players to be comfortable navigating a 3D space with an analog stick-based controller, but not much more than that. It is impossible to lose the game, although it is possible to get stuck on some frustrating sections.
Violent Combat Required? There are some tense moments where players must avoid attacking creatures. Although the game cannot come to a premature end, these sections can nonetheless be stressful, and potentially frustrating for less-experienced players.
Help! A very large point of interest for this game is how it handles online interactions. Depending on how your school handles network protocol, you might have to enter additional log-in information to access the internet. On a laptop, this is easy (a little browser window will automatically pop up), but on a Sony console it is a little less obvious. First, make sure that the console is connected to the correct network in its network settings. Next, you’ll have to open the console’s internet browser (and setting this up at a school is the only time I’ve EVER used the PS3’s browser) to input your login credentials. Make sure that you have been signed in to the PlayStation Network before you start the game. This ensures that the online features will be activated when the time comes.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Isbister, Katherine. “A Series of Interesting Choices: The Building Blocks of Emotional Design.” In How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

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Kabul Kaboom (Gonzalo Frasca, 2001)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A classic in the genre of “serious games,” “persuasive games,” or “games for change” (whatever your preferred term for advocacy games is), this is always a good addition to any syllabus for a week on the intersecting issues of games, politics, advocacy, and journalism.
Platforms Browser-based Shockwave
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your the Safari or Internet Explorer browsers (other browsers no longer support the Shockwave plug-in). If you find that your browser does not have the Adobe Shockwave Player plug-in installed, you can download that plug-in here. You will need to install it, then return to the site, and activate the plug-in for the game. For troubleshooting, go here.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Less than 5 minutes should be enough to get a feel for its message.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game is an arcade-style action game, and therefore requires the usual hand-eye coordination skills of such games. However, its message is easily graspable even for players who do not have the coordination skills necessary to play it for very long.
Violent Combat Required? Players must avoid incomming projectiles.
Content Warnings Violence against civilians in war.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  •  Bogost, Ian, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer. “Journalism at Play.” In Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Cambrdige, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

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LIM (merritt kopas, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This could easily be taught alongside the several other games I list here that connect to discussions of “empathy” in game design. I chose a bit more specific topic when I taught this, however, looking specifically at games that restrict or deny player agency, and what it meant for an interactive art form such as games to do so.
Platforms Browser-based HTML5
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style 2D
How Long to Play? It depends on whether you want to just see some of the game (in which case it only takes 5 minutes), or actually see the game’s proper “ending”, in which case I would say more in the range of 20-30 minutes. (See “Difficulty & Accessibility,” below.)
Difficulty & Accessibility In truth, this game is quite difficult. It is VERY TRICKY to see the “real end.” It is quite easy to have the game break, and become unwinnable. (This is on purpose.) If you stick with it, though, learning the map and going slowly and carefully, you can probably see the “real” ending after 20 minutes of practice, practice, practice. And luck.
Violent Combat Required? No, not technically, although navigating the maze while avoiding the aggression of the other squares can be quite intense.
Content Warnings Abstract depiction of transphobic bullying and harassment. Also, the game’s more hectic moments can create a flashing screen, so students who are prone to epileptic seizures should be cautious.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Jenkins, Henry. “‘Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces.” In From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. Ed. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Allen, Samantha. “TransMovement: Freedom and Constraint in Queer and Open World Games.” (Blog Post)
  • Cárdenas, Micha. “A Game Level Where You Can’t Pass.” (Blog Post)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Loneliness (Jordan Magnuson, 2011)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A short visual poem that uses extremely simple behavioral rules of onscreen objects as a metaphor for social isolation. With is abstract visuals and overwhelming focus on rule-based behaviors, I like to pair it with Ian Bogost’s writings on procedural rhetoric and the “proceduralist style.” (You might have to have students play Robin Burkinshaw’s Companion as a chaser to this, as it is a quite dour experience.)
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? 4 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires only the ability to navigate an onscreen cursor-object/character with arrow keys.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

Mainichi (Mattie Brice, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This could easily be taught alongside the several other games I list here that connect to discussions of “empathy” in game design. I chose a bit more specific topic when I taught this, however, looking specifically at games that restrict or deny player agency, and what it meant for an interactive art form such as games to do so.
Platforms Windows. There is also a Mac version, but it requires a Wine wrapper to run, and I have consistently found that students have problems getting it to launch. At this point, I think it’s probably for the best to consider it Windows-only.
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet. MAC USERS: Although this is supposed to technically be available for Mac, there seems to be a problem running this on many Macs. Download it, and try it, but be aware that it may not run, and that this is not your fault.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? This game doesn’t have an “ending.” It takes the form of repeated cycles. I would say that 20 minutes should be enough time to poke around with it, to make some different choices on some different cycles and see their results.
Difficulty & Accessibility The gameplay is built on binary choices, in the vein of interactive fiction. There is no real-time pressure to perform any actions, and thus no need for extensive hand-eye coordination.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Transphobic street harassment
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Jenkins, Henry. “‘Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces.” In From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. Ed. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Allen, Samantha. “TransMovement: Freedom and Constraint in Queer and Open World Games.” (Blog Post)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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The Marriage (Rod Humble, 2007)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A classic example of pairing abstract visuals with simple behaviors as a way of highlighting game mechanics as a metaphor for life experiences. It’s still something that critics and academics like to write about (see, for example, John Sharpe’s recent words on it), but I typically like to pair it with more recent fare, such as merritt kopas’s LIM (2012) or Jordan Magnison’s Companion (2012). (Although, writing that out, I now notice that those are five years old, as well…)
Platforms Windows (despite this game’s age, I have had no problems running it on Windows 7 and Windows 10). ALSO—UPDATE: Hooray! The Marriage has, very belatedly, been ported to HTML5, and is now a browser-based game. One less headache in this cruel, cruel world.
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? This is more of a “digital toy” than a “game,” and doesn’t have a definitive “end” that players are working toward (although those players who can successfully keep playing will see some gradual changes to the game’s visuals)
Difficulty & Accessibility It is not at all evident at first how to interact with this piece of digital art. Players will usually click, which, strangely, ends the game immediately. Thankfully, Humble explains quite a lot about how to interact with the game and the systems that underlie it in the artist’s statement that can be found on the game’s download page. (Honestly, the biggest accessibility hurdle for this game is the fact that it is Windows-only. For this reason, I’ve only ever assigned it as in-class work, when I have a Windows machine handy for students to use, rather than a take-home play assignment.)
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Bogost, Ian. “Art.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Sharpe, John. “Artgames.” In Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

McDonald’s Video Game (Molleindustria, 2006)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness When teaching Ian Bogost’s concept of procedural rhetoric, it is hard to go wrong with Molleindustria. In teaching this unit, I like to go with one old Molleindustria that Bogost discusses in his own writings (giving students the ability to follow along with his arguments), and one new Molleindustria game (so that students have to actively apply his ideas). McDonald’s Video Game, from 2006, is my designated “old” game. Bogost spends a few pages discussing it in Persuasive Games.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Playing around with it for 10-20 minutes should give you an idea of its mechanics, and its message.
Difficulty & Accessibility This game is a genuine real-time strategy/business simulation game, and requires quick thinking and acting for continued successful play. However, even players that aren’t very successful at the game should be able to grasp its purpose.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Turkle, Sherry. “Seeing Through Computers: Education in a Culture of Simulation.” The American Prospect No 31 (1997): 76-82
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Sharpe, John. “Artgames.” In Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015

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Nova Alea (Molleindustria, 2016)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness When teaching Ian Bogost’s concept of procedural rhetoric, it is hard to go wrong with Molleindustria. In teaching this unit, I like to go with one old Molleindustria that Bogost discusses in his own writings (giving students the ability to follow along with his arguments), and one new Molleindustria game (so that students have to actively apply his ideas). Nova Alea, from 2016, is my designated “new” game. It is their take on gentrification.
Platforms Windows, Mac & Linux
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 3D map manipulated and spun around (no first-person movement)
How Long to Play? Reaching the “ending” takes about 5-10 minutes. I’d recommend spending 10-20 with it, to explore its systems in a little more depth.
Difficulty & Accessibility This game is a genuine turn-based strategy/business simulation game, and requires patience and predictive thinking continued successful play. However, even players that aren’t very successful at the game should be able to grasp its purpose.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Turkle, Sherry. “Seeing Through Computers: Education in a Culture of Simulation.” The American Prospect No 31 (1997): 76-82
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Sharpe, John. “Artgames.” In Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015

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On Formalism (Darius Kazemi, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A bit of fun to leaven the debates that pop up around the definitional boundaries of games, which, as the readings included for this lesson attest, have gotten quite political in recent years, and inextricably (inexplicably?) linked to online harassment.
Platforms Browser-based
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text-based … ?
How Long to Play? 1 minute should be enough
Difficulty & Accessibility Moderate hand-eye coordination required, but players cannot lose
Violent Combat Required? Arcade-style abstract shooting (spoilers?)
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Juul, Jesper. “Video Games and the Classic Game Model.” In Half-Real: Videogames Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005
  • Koster, Raph. “A Letter to Leigh.” (Blog Post)
  • Yang, Robert. “A Letter to a Letter.” (Blog Post)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Oxenfree (Night School Studio, 2016)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness File under “digital storytelling.” If you’re teaching a week on commercial games in a course on electronic literature and digital narrative forms, or if you’re teaching a week on narrative in a course on videogames, there are several relevant things you could add to the syllabus. You could turn to LucasArts and Black Isle Studios in the 1990s, or to Quantic Dream and Telltale Games in the 2000s. Until recently, I would have gone with Telltale, but Night School Studio’s debut game Oxenfree proved to be so charming that it pulled ahead for me.
Platforms Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $19.99. I believe it is the same across all platforms. This is a good store where you can get DRM-free copies of the Windows, Mac & Linux versions. You will need to download it and install it.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? I would estimate 5-6 hours. (I have not assigned students to play the entirety of this game as a take-home assignment. I have only used scenes from it as an in-class demonstration.)
Difficulty & Accessibility For a combat-free, dialogue-based game, this game does require some surprisingly quick reflexes. Dialogue options, presented as speech bubbles, fade out after a short while, forcing the player to read, make decisions, and then click on the appropriate response quickly, or risk having the other characters talk over them. Conversation in this game requires an aggression that is unusual for the genre.
Violent Combat Required? No, but do be warned that there is some scariness ahead, and characters can face violent consequences for your actions
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Murray, Janet H. “Harbingers of the Holodeck.” In Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free Press, 1997.
  • Frasca, Gonzalo. “Ludology Meets Narratology.” (Blog Post)
  • Aarseth, Espen. “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation.” In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A good game for teaching Ian Bogost’s conception of procedural rhetoric, but also a good game for complicating the concept by adding in discussions of feelings, emotions, and affect. Bogost’s procedural approach is fairly intellectualized, but students’ experience playing Papers, Please can open up questions about how emotions—including guilt, regret and complicity—can make game rhetoric more powerful.
Platforms Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS & PlayStation Vita
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $9.99. This is a good store where you can get DRM-free copies of the Windows, Mac & Linux versions. You will need to download it and install it. There are several ways to do this provided by the store.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? To reach one of the more robust endings, players will likely need to put about 8 hours into this, practicing and re-playing as needed. I don’t require that of students, however. I generally recommend putting 2-3 hours, which should be enough to get a good feel for the game.
Difficulty & Accessibility This is a difficult game, taxing player’s visual attention, memory, and fine motor skills. Again, though, I have no expectation that students reach one of the “better” endings. Spending 2-3 hours should be enough for even a player who is uncomfortable with the game’s expectations to see some interesting things.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Themes of political oppression and invasions of privacy. Specific instances of state-sponsored violence and state-sponsored transphobia
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Tavinor, Grant. “Emotion in Videogaming.” In The Art of Videogames. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
  • Isbister, Katherine. “A Series of Interesting Choices: The Building Blocks of Emotional Design.” In How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Passage (Jason Rohrer, 2007)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness The progenitor of the “personal games” movement, Rohrer’s simple and poetic “game about life” turned heads when it was released in 2007, appearing in many a conversation about games as an art form. Students still connect with it, although the charge can be made that it is too simplistic (in both mechanical and political terms). Best when paired with other examples of personal games or proceduralism.
Platforms Windows, Linux (requires you to compile from source), Nintendo DS, Mac (broken), iOS (broken)
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. Be forewarned that time has not been kind to the Mac or iOS versions (you might as well forget about using those). You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? 5 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires only the ability to navigate an character with arrow keys.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Bogost, Ian. “Art.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Sharpe, John. “Artgames.” In Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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The Path (Tale of Tales, 2009)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This is a favorite of mine when discussing the unique affective potentials of games, when compared to other visual media. I like to drop students into it with little warning, and have them experience the feeling of getting lost that games can provide.
Platforms Windows & Mac
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $9.99. This is a good store where you can get a DRM-free copy. You will need to download it and install it. There are several ways to do this provided by the store.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, third-person perspective. The controls for this game are a little wonky. (The upside of that, I suppose, is that students with extensive experience playing 3D games will be placed on a more even footing with students who may not be comfortable navigating virtual 3D space.)
How Long to Play? If you’re really throwing students in without any sort of guide, and expecting them to finish the entire thing (and the game does have a defininte “ending”), I would estimate 8 hours. However, I don’t ask that of my students. I ask them to play one specific character’s story in the game, and I suggest that they put aside 1-2 hours to do so.
Difficulty & Accessibility You can place this firmly in the “difficulty through obscurity and opacity” school of game design. This is not an easy game to make sense of. This is on purpose: getting lost, in several senses, is part of the point of the game. It is not possible to end the game early due to a lack of skill; however it is quite possible to wander around aimlessly, unsure of what is expected of you. I provide my students with a general guide, which steers them toward the most productive ways to point their interaction with the game.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings This heavily depends on which character’s scenario you assign to students. I generally go with the “Scarlet” scenario, as I find it strikes the right balance between obscurity and accessiblity. Be forwarned, however, that both the “Carmen” and “Ruby” character scenarios include implications of sexual violence. These implications are not explicit (again, obscurity is a central feature of this game), but the themes will be readily apparent to receptive students. If you are going to use those scenarios, proceed with caution.
Help! There is a pretty good guide to progressing in this game online here. I don’t direct my students to it, though. Instead, I give them more basic and cryptic clues. (You can see those in the assignment description linked to below.)
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Tavinor, Grant. “Emotion in Videogaming.” In The Art of Videogames. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
  • Vivian Sobchack, “Breadcrumbs in the Forest: Three Meditations on Being Lost in Space.” In Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
  • Shaw, Adrienne. “Does Anybody Really Identify with Lara Croft? Unpacking Identification in Video Games” In Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Edges of Gamer Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
  • Tuan Yi-fu. “Body, Personal Relations, and Spatial Values.” In Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Points of Entry (Persuasive Games, 2008)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A classic in the genre of “serious games,” “persuasive games,” or “games for change” (whatever your preferred term for advocacy games is), this is always a good addition to any syllabus for a week on the intersecting issues of games, politics, advocacy, and journalism. This nearly decade-old game gets bonus points for being especially relevant in the current climate of executive orders on immigration.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? The game is arcade-style, high-score based. I would say around 5-10 minutes should be enough to get a feel for its message and how it works.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game has ever-escalating time pressures, and requires more and more in terms of quick thinking and hand-eye coordination as it continues. Players that “lose,” however, will still get the point.
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer. “Journalism at Play.” In Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Cambrdige, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

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Problem Attic (Liz Ryerson, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness I’ve taught this game when examining the concept of “difficulty” in games. Its mechanics are obscure and opaque, and its platforming puzzles abuse your fingers while its textual content verbally abuses you. All of this is seemingly in service of a (again, obscure and opaque) gender critique. Also file under: personal games.
Platforms Browser-based Flash
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser, if you have Flash enabled.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Ryerson herself estimates “2 hours,” but my in my own experience it took much larger. It is often difficult to figure out what to do, and it is often difficult to execute what you’re supposed to do. (It’s also often difficult to figure out if you’re executing it wrong, or if you haven’t guessed the right solution yet!) If you really want to finish it (and I do not hold it against students if they don’t), I would give yourself somewhere around 4 hours.
Difficulty & Accessibility As the above “How Long to Play?” description makes clear, this is a difficult game. It requires significant skills at the platform genre, combined with significant lateral thinking skills and willingness to push through the hand cramps that will inevitably set in when controlling a game like this with a computer keyboard.
Violent Combat Required? No, but like LIM, the game can be quite intense.
Content Warnings Very frequent flashing on the screen. I DEFINITELY would advise against playing if you’ve ever had epileptic episodes. Also, this game is sometimes verbally abusive to you while also being ergonomically abusive to your fingers. It’s good to remember to take breaks if you get stuck on a jumping puzzle.
Help! I have created a walkthrough for this game, hosted on this very site. Here it is.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Doyle, Jennifer. “Introducing Difficulty.” In Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
  • Juul, Jesper. “The Paradox of Failure and the Paradox of Tragedy.” In The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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The Refugee Challenge: Can You Break into Fortress Europe? (John Domokos and Harriet Grant, 2014)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A relatively recent entry in the “games as advocacy journalism” sub-genre that makes a good, more recent counterpart to classics such as Freedom Bridge (Jordan Magnuson, 2010) or Darfur Is Dying (Susana Ruiz, 2006). Given that it addresses a contemporary refugee crisis, it presents a good opportunity to pull student discussion to current events.
Platforms Browser-based
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text, with illustrations
How Long to Play? I would say give yourself 10 minutes to try, retry, and try again. You may want more time if you want to read the linked articles and watch the embedded videos to enhance your experience.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game is based on multiple choices, but there are “wrong” paths that lead to “bad” endings. Getting to Sweden is, in fact, a challenge.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Frank acknowledgement of the myriad dangers refugees face.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer. “Journalism at Play.” In Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Cambrdige, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

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Rinse & Repeat (Robert Yang, 2015)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Another Robert Yang game I show in-class to make students uncomfortable, and prompt a discussion about the standards of obscenity in US First Amendment law.
Platforms Windows, Mac & Linux
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. It is free, or name-your-own-price, as you see fit. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective. But you do not have to navigate through the rendered space, just look around and manipulate things.
How Long to Play? 10 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility Requires only the ability to swirl a mouse around
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Pixelated nudity + over-the-top homoeroticism
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Oral Arguments for Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. No. 08-1448. November 2, 2010 (online at supremecourt.gov)
  • SCOTUS Opinion: Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. No. 08-1448. (2011) (online at supremecourt.gov)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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A Russian Valentine (empty fortress, 2014)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness So, this one is about at subtle as being repeatedly smacked in the face with a police baton, but I began including it during in-class play sessions when I wanted some “new blood” to infuse into my lesson plan on procedural rhetoric, in the form of more recent games.
Platforms Browser-based
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Much like Kabul Kaboom, this one takes a page from the arcade tradition in being tremendously difficult and only having a “bad” ending. Also like Kabul Kaboom, it’s didactic enough that spending less than 5 minutes with it should be enough to get a feel for its message.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game is an arcade-style action game, and therefore requires the usual hand-eye coordination skills of such games. However, its message is easily graspable even for players who do not have the coordination skills necessary to play it for very long. (And to be clear, it’s basically impossibly hard to score much above a 0.)
Violent Combat Required? It’s an action-stealth game, where the player needs to avoid attacking enemies as best as possible.
Content Warnings State-sponsored homophobic violence.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

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Sacrilege (Cara Ellison, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness When I’m teaching the concept of procedural rhetoric, I generally try to steer away from purely text-based games, in favor of games with at least some minimal graphical content. Cara Ellison’s Sacrilege is the only Twine game that I have broken this rule with. The reasons are fairly arbitrary, in the end, I suppose. But I do think that its theme (hooking up) and its message (a feminist critique of heterosexual men’s inability to discuss the emotional realities of sex) are easy for college students to grasp and appreciate.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text, with a few illustrations
How Long to Play? 20-30 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility As long as you keep track of which paths you have followed, and keep clicking through the options, you will reach the end. It is not possible to fail.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings A delve into some emotionally-tricky aspects of sexual encounters (while steering clear of issues of sexual assault)
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

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September 12: A Toy World (Gonzalo Frasca, 2003)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness A classic in the genre of “serious games,” “persuasive games,” or “games for change” (whatever your preferred term for advocacy games is), this is always a good addition to any syllabus for a week on the intersecting issues of games, politics, advocacy, and journalism.
Platforms Browser-based Shockwave
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your the Safari or Internet Explorer browsers (other browsers no longer support the Shockwave plug-in). If you find that your browser does not have the Adobe Shockwave Player plug-in installed, you can download that plug-in here. You will need to install it, then return to the site, and activate the plug-in for the game. For troubleshooting, go here.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Part of the point of this game is that it is endless. Less than 5 minutes should be enough to get a feel for its message, though.
Difficulty & Accessibility It is neither possible to “lose” or to to “win” at this game. We could say, following WarGames, that “the only winning move is not to play.”
Violent Combat Required? Yes, but it is problematized.
Content Warnings Violence against civilians in war.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer. “Journalism at Play.” In Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Cambrdige, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

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Simmons (Ashton Raze, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness I taught this during a lesson on games that restrict or deny player agency, and what it meant for an interactive art form such as games to do so.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? Half an hour or so.
Difficulty & Accessibility The game is click-through. There is no way for the player to get stuck, or to lose.
Violent Combat Required? No (although the game sometimes jokes that there is)
Content Warnings Violence that is (usually) just implied or threatened; emotional self-harm.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Jenkins, Henry. “‘Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces.” In From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. Ed. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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The Static Speaks My Name (Jesse Barksdale, 2015)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness When it comes to teaching the concept of environmental storytelling, Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) is the gold standard. However, it costs a not-insignificant amount of money ($20). This makes for a good short, free alternative. A warning, though: its strange, pitch-black humor (the game involves a kidnapping, and culminates in a suicide, without ever leaving behind its surreal humor) may be off-putting to some students.
Platforms Windows, Mac & Linux
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. It is free, or name-your-own-price, as you see fit. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective
How Long to Play? 10-20 minutes, maybe more depending on your competency with controlling a first-person game with mouse and keyboard.
Difficulty & Accessibility There is nothing particularly challenging about the game, although anyone who has never controlled a 3D first-person game with mouse + WASD controls will face a learning curve.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings Abduction, suicide
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

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Thirty Flights of Loving (Brendon Chung, 2012)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This short vignette of a game is a no-brainer when taking a comparative media approach to cinema and games. I have taught it a couple of times in that context, and it tends to be a hit with students.
Platforms Windows & Mac
Acquisition Logistics This game must be purchased. It costs $5.00. It is available, DRM-free, here. You will need to download it and run the program. This might require changing the security settings in your OS so that you can run applications downloaded off of the internet.
Graphical Style 3D graphics, first-person perspective
How Long to Play? 10-20 minutes, maybe more depending on your competency with controlling a first-person game with mouse and keyboard. (This game has the added complication of adding cinematic cutting to first-person gaming, which might make some novice players queezy at first, so you should account for that.)
Difficulty & Accessibility This game mostly consists of figuring out which direction to walk, and then walking there. Sometimes players will be asked to click on specific things in the environment, look in certain directions, or target certain things, but that’s about the extent of it. However, anyone who has never controlled a 3D first-person game with mouse + WASD controls will face a learning curve, especially considering the aforementioned cinematic cutting.
Violent Combat Required? Yes, there is some minimal first-person shooting. But the shooting is not directed at human enemies, and the section is no-fail, so skill does not factor in. It might take some players longer, but they won’t be in any real danger of getting a “game over” screen.
Content Warnings Stylized violence
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Ultra Business Tycoon III (Porpentine, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness I taught this as part of a section between boundary disputes on the blurry divide between “games” and “interactive fiction” or “electronic literature.” This is a richly-layered artifact: players who assume they are merely interacting with a piece of Twine-based interactive fiction will soon discover that there’s more “game” here than they anticipated, including some adventure-game style puzzles. By the conclusion, the game-within-a-game has receded in favor of the framing story about the person who is playing the game. A rich text when considering the boundaries between “games” and “stories.”
Platforms Browser-based Twine (free); Windows, Mac & Linux (paid)
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? Between half an hour and an hour
Difficulty & Accessibility A good portion of the game is simple click-through; however, it does have some puzzle-like moments where what the player needs to do next is not at all clear. See the “Help!” section below for tips I’ve used to guide students through.
Violent Combat Required? Well, a text-based simulation of violent combat (which can get quite graphic)
Content Warnings Verbal recounting of growing up with abusive parenting.
Help! There are a few possible places where you might get stuck in the game. Three words of advice: 1) Try doing certain things over again, using different combinations of choices. When you have exhausted the combinations, sometimes you need to try the thing yet again, in a way you previously tried. You may get a different result! Just keep at it. 2) Don’t be ashamed to change the difficulty level, and be aware that sometimes “harder” difficulties can be easier than “easy” ones. (Pay close attention to bee behavior!) 3) At a certain point you won’t be able to progress in the game until you verify that you’re a “paid customer” with an official boxed copy. You need a serial number. Type in 3497282.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Anthropy, Anna. “What Is It Good For?” In Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012.
  • Koster, Raph. “A Letter to Leigh.” (Blog Post)
  • Brice, Mattie. “Triptychs.” (Blog Post)
  • Yang, Robert. “A Letter to a Letter.” (Blog Post)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo (Michael Lutz, 2014)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This is the only good thing that ever came out of the Gamergate phenomenon. “Self-identified nerds are often so obsessed with their identity as cultural outcasts that they are willfully blind to their privilege,” Leigh Alexander wrote in one of her more aggressively incisive moments, and they “take their myopic and insular attitudes to ‘art’ and ‘culture’ with tunnel-visioned, inflexible, embarrassing seriousness that often leads to homogeneity, racism, sexism and bullying.” Lutz took this frustration and made a game out of it: a text-based horror game that is scary in all the right ways, becoming even more chilling when you realize the real-life attitudes it is channeling.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style Text, with a few illustrations
How Long to Play? Players will likely get one of the endings very quickly. However, I would recommend re-playing and getting additional endings. There are six endings to see, overall, and the game becomes very rich once you start seeing some of the longer and more well-hidden ones. To see everything in the game, I would give yourself between an hour and an hour and a half.
Difficulty & Accessibility The player need only click through text. Things do get tricker later on, as the player pursues some of the more obscure endings, but the game never gets hard, per se. (There is never any time pressure, for instance.)
Violent Combat Required? No, but it is a horror game, so violence is heavily implied.
Content Warnings Well, on a very basic level, it is scary. So be prepared for that. It also deals with harassment, but in a very, very oblique way.
Help! If you’re finding it difficult to figure out all of the endings, this is a very good guide. I would NOT, however, recommend starting with the guide. It will ruin too much. Instead, maybe take a peek at it once you’ve reached your fourth ending or so.
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Brice, Mattie. “Would You Kindly.” (Blog Post)
  • Yang, Robert. “For Better or Worse.” (Blog Post)
Lesson Plans and Other Relevant Materials on this Blog

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Waiting for Godot (Zoë Quinn, 2014)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness Another parodic game that I assigned together with some of Pippin Barr’s work to bring some snarky fun into the debate as to whether games can be art.
Platforms Browser-based
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. You can play it in your internet browser.
Graphical Style 2D graphics
How Long to Play? Oh, you’ll see …
Difficulty & Accessibility Easy peasy
Violent Combat Required? No
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Ebert, Roger. “Video Games Can Never Be Art” (Blog Post)
  • Preston, Jim. “The Arty Party.” (Blog Post)
  • Melissinos, Chris. “Preface: The Resonance of Games as Art.” In The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect. Ed. Chris Melissinos and Patrick O’Rourke. New York: Welcome Books/Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012

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Walking Home (spinach, 2013)

General Notes on Pedagogical Usefulness This personal game makes a good example for discussions of “empathy” in game design, as well as that concept’s limits.
Platforms Browser-based Twine
Acquisition Logistics Access the game here. Even though this is an HTML file, when you click on the link it may download onto your desktop, rather than open in your browser. Weird. Anyway, just double-click on the file, wherever it landed, to open it in your browser again.
Graphical Style Text-only
How Long to Play? Less than 5 minutes
Difficulty & Accessibility This game is pure click-through. The only difficulties players encounter will be emotional.
Violent Combat Required? No
Content Warnings The threat of violence
Readings I Have Paired With This
  • Bogost, Ian. “Empathy.” In How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Global practical matter: The state of internet-distributed apps on Macs

With the release of the Mac App Store for Mac OS X Snow Leopard in 2011 and the subsequent release of the Windows Store for Windows 8 in 2012, the writing was on the wall: over time, both Apple and Microsoft were going to pursue an iOS-like “walled garden” approach on their desktop OSs, funneling more users to their official storefronts and weaning them off of downloading and running random applications off of the internet. The commercial benefits to this approach are obvious, but it the new forms of gatekeeping it introduces have a deleterious effect on students being able to easily install and run classic independent games from the 2000s.

Apple is the worst offender here, so I’ve created a special guide to getting around their road blocks. Now, be warned: my Macs are kind of old, and I am actually typing this on a Mac using OS X Yosemite. Students running El Capitan or Sierra may face even more severe roadblocks. I’ll try to update this in the future. Anyway …

If you’re running an application, such as a game, that you downloaded from somewhere other than the Mac App Store, there’s a fairly good chance you are going to run into an error message like this one if you try to launch it by double-clicking on its icon:

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The way to get around this is to open it without double-clicking. Instead, control-click, and hit “Open” at the top of the drop-down menu that appears next to the application’s icon.

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A similar message will come up, but this one gives you some options, rather than just telling you straight out that you can’t open the application. “Cancel” is the default highlighted option, but instead you want to click on “Open.”

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If you want to skip this process entirely, you can change a setting—but only if you’re running a slightly-older-than-current version of the Mac operating system. (This option was still available in Yosemite. I know it’s no longer available in Sierra. I’m not sure where the cutoff point was.) Go to your System Preferences, and click on “Security & Privacy.” Here, there is a password-protected option to allow apps downloaded from anywhere. It will warn you before you click on this option, but it will let you change this setting.

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