CMS 4804: Storytelling in Video Games

CMS 4804 Storytelling in Video Games examines the ways that recent video games mobilize traditional narrative elements like plot, character, setting, and genre. In addition, we will study the ways that games’ draw on the techniques of narrative film making, including camerawork, editing, lighting, acting, and mise-en-scène.

The basic setup of the course is to play, talk, think, and write about games with me and your classmates. You will gain insights into storytelling as a cultural practice, video games as a unique narrative form, your individual responses to narrative media, and your critical thinking process.

Links to other sections of this syllabus can be found in the header menu as well as the General Class Policies menu. The “General Class Policies”  menu also includes a link to information related to the pandemic. Additional course materials are accessible to enrolled students through D2L.

The course was last taught in Fall 2022, when it met in a traditional, face-to-face format. This syllabus is not complete; check here frequently to make sure that you have the most current information.

Spoiler Warning

Unfortunately, we will not be able to avoid spoilers in our discussions of either games or movies.

Required Games

Required games and games of interest are listed on a separate page.

Required Textbook

  • The Game Design Reader, Katie Salen Tekinbas and Eric Zimmerman, eds. (2005).

In addition, we will read a variety of PDF and online resources, all linked through the Content panel in D2L.

Required Viewing

All films are available to enrolled students through Swank, Kanopy, and/or other free streaming services. In addition, multiple YouTube videos will be required. All required videos will be linked from the Content panel in D2L.

Required Software, Hardware, and Technical Capabilities

In addition to Desire2Learn, the following software programs and capabilities are necessary for success in this course. The Hub offers training resources to help students master these tools.

Webcam and Microphone
For quizzes and exams, you may be required to use the Respondus Lockdown Browser, which includes video monitoring. If your laptop does not have a built-in webcam, you will need to invest in or borrow one to use with your university-mandated laptop computer. (Wikipedia has a useful entry on webcams.)
Game Footage Capture Utility (e.g. OBS for PC)
Major assignments will require that students record their game footage and upload multiple clips to a personal account on YouTube. Modern game consoles have built-in sharing features that simplify this process. If you are playing on a PC, however, you will need a software tool like the free Open Broadcaster Software, or OBS.
Lockdown Browser
You may be required to use the Respondus Lockdown Browser for quizzes and exams. You will download and install this on your laptop from within D2L. Please complete this process by taking the Sample Quiz during the first week of class.
Web Browser: Firefox or Chrome or Safari
In this media-rich class, using an up-to-date browser is mandatory.
Microsoft Teams
Students should download the Teams app to their computer, since the Web-based version doesn’t support screen- and video-sharing the Hub’s Knowledge Base article details the necessary steps.
PDF Reader (Adobe Reader)
Students must be able to read PDF files.
Media Player: VLC or equivalent
Students must be able to play mp3 and mp4 files. Many software tools will enable this, including VLC, which is available for free download.
Microsoft Word word processing
Students must be able to compose and read documents saved in the Microsoft Word “docx” format.
Clayton State email
Students must access their CSU email accounts on a regular basis. They must be able to use these accounts to attach and retrieve attached files.

Contact Information

My contact information including office hours is collected on separate page.

Vulgarity and Profanity

A note of warning: We are all adults, and we are studying a culture that is often vulgar and profane. As a result, you may hear or see adult content in the materials assigned for our class. Nothing assigned by me or submitted by other students should exceed the MPAA rating of R. When engaging in class discussions, if you submit material that is Not Safe For Work (NSFW) or other venues and audiences,  please note this in your subject line as a convenience to your classmates. Please also be aware that your contributions should conform to the class’s rules regarding  Online Etiquette.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

It is my intent that students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, that students’ learning needs be addressed, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity along multiple dimensions, including ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, and culture. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let me know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for other students or student groups.

Disability Services

Students with disabilities who need to request accommodations should contact the Disability Resource Center, Edgewater Hall, Suite 255; 678-466-5445;