Start Playing Around

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Start Playing Around
English Composition 101
School: Rutgers University
Section: 350 101 05 (03628)
Semester: Fall 2015
Location: Mon ATG-205; Wed FA-217
Time: MW 2:50 - 4:10pm
Instructor: Michael Russo
Contact: Available on Sakai
Additional: None
#! This is a course description page, designed for students and containing the course syllabus and expectations.
#! If you are a student, then check this page regularly for updates.
#! All changes are recorded and documented on the course history page.

Start Playing Around, Fall 2015, Rutgers University, is an English composition course, taught by Michael Russo with the purpose of inspiring students to become better thinkers, better writers, and better citizens of the public sphere. The class is modeled on the pedagogies of Dr. William FitzGerald, Dr. James J. Brown Jr., Dr. James Crosswhite (The Rhetoric of Reason), Dr. Ian Bogost (Persuasive Games), and Michael Russo.


Students of Composition: The goal of this course is to teach you to become better thinkers and better writers. By engaging with persuasive, rhetorical games, you will be placed in a position of simulation-identification in an effort to spark fruitful and interesting cross-cultural conversation. In simpler terms, you will play games, think critically about games, and write critically about games. You will also create your own games.

Although you will be learning and practicing different methods and styles of communication, by the end of the semester you will be expected to produce a thoughtful, purposeful written work demonstrating academic skill in the areas of summary, analysis, and synthesis. You will be expected to show that you can engage productively with difficult texts and ideas. Using the techniques learned in this course, you will prove an ability to process your thoughts and opinions into productive discourse.

This is not a class in creative writing. The purpose here is to help you better understand some of the guiding procedures behind critical reading and critical writing, especially when dealing with new concepts. The class theme, Start Playing Around, is meant to introduce you to alternative ways of thinking about issues involving identity, freedom, and personal responsibility. Many of the games demand higher-order engagement apart from mere fun.


Learning Goals

This class is broken into four units that will culminate in the creation of a five-page analytical paper.


Concentrate on posing questions, pre-writing, understanding and responding to texts and other media. Practice writing in different genres and styles for different audiences. Understand the structure of argument along with the affordances and constraints of different forms. Summarize and respond to readings. Compose short response papers showcasing the skills you’ve learned.


Practice approaching texts with a more critical eye. Closely analyze texts and other media. Follow an author’s process throughout a work. Distinguish the procedures at work in your own writing. Express what you've learned in the format of short instruction manual.


Practice creating argumentative theses across various media. Support your theses with argument. Concentrate on distinguishing the differences between strong and weak claims. Learn how to support your own claims using performative rhetorics. Express what you've learned in the format of a video game.


Refine your skills and take a closer look at style. Embrace revision. Synthesize what you’ve learned so far into a polished analytical essay.



Cover for Everyone's an Author, by Lunsford, Brody, et al.
A critical reading of a classic video game.
Screenshot of Solve the Outbreak, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Screenshot of Phone Story, Molleindustria.
A Slow Year for the Atari 2600, Ian Bogost.

This is a composition course, so of course you'll need a pencil and paper. Also you'll need a notebook, and a binder for class handouts. Laptops and other devices are encouraged but not necessary. Most (but not all) of the material in this class can be made available in the Rutgers Digital Studies Center if you do not have a device on which to access it.

NOTE: This list will update as the class progresses.


~ Texts available for purchase at Amazon or Rutgers University Bookstore:

  • $$$ Lunsford, Andrea A. Everyone's an Author. ISBN: 0393932117.
  • $$$ Quammen, David. Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus. ISBN: 0393351556.
  • $$$ Irwin, John. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Boss Fight Books). ASIN: B00NMYTCKA.

~ Texts Provided by Instructor:

  • Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games. Excerpts. ISBN: 0262514885.
  • First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardip-Fruin. Excerpts. ISBN. 0262731754
  • Murray, Janet. "From Game-Story to Cyberdrama." 0262731754
  • Penny, Simon: "Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation." 0262731754
  • Frasca, Gonzalo. "Videogames of the Oppressed." 0262731754
  • Sarkeesian, Anita. Feminist Frequency Excerpts. Website.
  • Nooney, Laine. "The Odd History of the First Erotic Computer Game." The Atlantic. Website
  • Frank, Jenn. "How to Attack a Woman who Works in Video Gaming." The Guardian.
  • Doucleff, Michaeleen. "Contagion on the Couch" NPR Health.
  • Weiss, D.B. Lucky Wander Boy. Excerpts. ISBN. 0452283949.

Video Games

Some of these games we'll play at home. Others will be reviewed in class. See the schedule below to know which is which.

Board Games

Instruction Manuals

  • Pandemic. Instruction Booklet. Matt Leacock. Print.
  • Monopoly. Rules & Instructions. Parker Brothers. Print.
  • The Game of Life. Instructions. Hasbro. Print.

Moving Pictures

  • "How and Why We Read." Crash Course with John Green. YouTube.
  • "The Design of Fun." Ian Bogost. WIRED by Design. YouTube.
  • "The Hidden Genius of Monopoly's Rules." PBS Game/Show. PBS Digital Studios. YouTube.
  • "What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about persuasion." Conor Neill. YouTube.
  • $$$ The King of Kong. Dir. Seth Gordon. IMDB.



Writing Prompts

This is – after all – a composition class. There will be numerous in-class writing prompts along with homework reading, writing, and analysis. The writing prompts will allow you to practice writing in different styles and genres for various audiences and purposes. The writing prompts are low-stakes, which means that so long as you turn them in on time, you will receive 100% credit for the work completed. If you do not turn the prompts in on time, you will forfeit credit and your participation grade will suffer. Low-stakes work cannot be turned in late.

Discussion Board

Participation on the online discussion board is mandatory. A new thread will be posted to Sakai at the start of class each week. The threads will include word games, scavenger hunts, writing prompts, and other assignments. You will have one week to respond to each post. Your response must be at least 50 words long and address whatever issues are raised in the thread. You are encouraged to post more often and to engage with your classmates. The discussion board is a low-stakes assignment. So long as you respond each week, you will receive 100% credit for your post. If you do not respond in time, the thread will close and you will forfeit credit.

Instruction Manual

After conceptualizing a board game, you will write a step-by-step guide for new players. The manual should include a brief overview of your game and directions on how to play. The grading criteria:

  • Does your game make philosophical and/or moral demands on the player?
  • Does your instruction manual include an overview of those demands?
  • Does your instruction manual include a step-by-step guide that covers the mechanics of gameplay?
  • Does your instruction manual include clear diagrams or other visual elements to help new players grasp the mechanics of your game?
  • Is your instruction manual generally free from grammatical and syntactical errors?

You do not have to create the actual game. Not yet. For this assignment, I want you to focus on the demands of creating the instruction manual only.

Twine Game

Your Twine game should be a translation of your conceptualized board game into an actual video game. Don’t worry. No coding experience is required. After porting your board game into video game format, you will write brief three-page statement describing the difficulties of working within different genres. What exactly happened when you translated your board game into a video game? What did you have to leave out? What new avenues of gameplay became available? The grading criteria:

  • Does your game make philosophical and/or moral demands on the player?
  • Does your game allow for player agency in which player decisions have clear consequences?
  • Does your game make use of stylistic language as an expressive medium?
  • Does your game create an immersive experience by adhering to a clear aesthetic?
  • Is your game (and game statement) generally free from grammatical and syntactical errors?

Your video game does not have to be an exact copy of your conceptualized board game. How could it be?

Analytical Paper

The final analytical paper is your chance to showcase the skills you've learned through the semester. Here you will write a five-page paper detailing an account of any videogame (your choice). You will discuss your game in terms covered throughout the semester, making sure to touch on its philosophical and/or moral implications.The grading criteria:

  • Does your paper have a clear thesis statement?
  • Does your paper discuss in detail the philosophical and/or moral implications of your game?
  • Does your paper make an attempt to situate your game in conversation with our class theme?
  • Is your paper holistically strong at the levels of structure, sentence, and logical progression?
  • Is your paper generally free from grammatical and syntactical errors?

All assignments must meet the academic expectations discussed in class.



I am not interested in policing your every behavior. The rules of this course can be summed up in three points:


The classroom is a place for learning. While I encourage individuality and original thought, even argument, it is important to note that everyone has the right to be considered in a manner consistent with academic civility. If somebody says something that you vehemently disagree with, I expect you to reply calmly and with propriety. Remember that we are here to learn from each other, not to criticize without tact or reason. Disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.

A NOTE ON FOOD: Food will not be allowed in the classroom. Water is acceptable.


All required work must be uploaded to Sakai by the start of class. Low-stakes writing assignments will not be accepted if they are late. Graded papers and projects will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade (B+ to B to B-) for each day the project is late. If you do not have a device on which you can read from your paper in class, then you must bring a paper copy of all of your work.

NOTE: If for any reason you have technical difficulties with Sakai, you may submit a printed paper copy on the day the assignment is due.

The work you submit must be your own, and written specifically for this class. If you plagiarize another author’s work, you will receive an F for the paper and may fail the course.

Familiarize yourself: Rutgers Academic Integrity Policy


All written work should follow the MLA guidelines covered in the required text, Everyone's an Author, by Andrea Lunsford.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Set the margins of your document to one inch on all sides.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Arial).
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks.
All of your work must be uploaded to Sakai in Microsoft Word format (preferred), .pdf format, or using the open-source .odt alternative. Zip files are unacceptable and will not be opened, since they can contain viruses. Also, I prefer sans-serif fonts similar to Calibri or Arial. They are easier to read on my computer.

Determining Your Grade

  • Participation: 25% ; Discussion Board: 25% ; Instruction Manual: 15% ; Twine Game: 15% ; Analytical Paper: 20%
A NOTE ON PARTICIPATION: Participation will be calculated by way of writing prompts, reading quizes, and attendance.
A NOTE ON ATTENDANCE: Rutgers University allows students two absences without penalty. For every additional absence you will be penalized 3% of your final grade. If you are absent more than six classes, you will fail for the semester.
LATENESS: Attendance sheets will be passed out at the beginning of every class. They will be collected eight minutes into the class. Remember to sign the sheet for attendance credit. Constant lateness will result in lost participation points.

Power Ups

SECOND CHANCE: If you are unsatisfied with the grade you received on either your INSTRUCTION MANUAL or your TWINE GAME, then you can revise one work and turn it in on the last day of class. You may only revise one of the two assignments. Do not allow revisions to interfere with other work.

PERFECT SCORE: If you have perfect attendance and turn in all your assignments on time, your final grade will round up to the nearest 5%.


Schedule of Classes

The following is a breakdown of meeting times and assignments. Changes to the schedule will be announced in class; however, you are expected to periodically check this page in order to make sure that you don't fall behind. Any additional homework will be announced in class.

Date Reading Due Writing Due
W.09.02 Read First Year Book, Quammen, Ebola (completed)
M.09.07 - Labor Day NO CLASS: Re-familiarize yourself with Quammen, Ebola
T.09.08 TUESDAY CLASS: Re-familiarize yourself with Quammen, Ebola
W.09.09 Read Lunsford, pp 1-40 Writing Prompt 01
M.09.14 Read Doucleff, "Contagion on the Couch"; Play Solve the Outbreak (CDC) Writing Prompt 02
W.09.16 Read Lunsford, pp 229-262; Play Plague Inc. Writing Prompt 03
M.09.21 Play Donkey Kong & Pac-Man Writing Prompt 04
W.09.23 Read Weiss (Excerpts from LWB); Re-Play Donkey Kong & Pac-Man Writing Prompt 05
M.09.28 - Pope Read Lunsford, pp 61-88 & 137-154; Play Splice


Today's meeting is online, and will cover the topic, "What is a videogame?" Please prepare ideas so you can participate in the online discussion.
W.09.30 Read Murray, "From Game-Story to Cyberdrama" Writing Prompt 06
M.10.05 Read Bogost, Persuasive Games (Chapt 01 & 11); Play either Major Mayhem or Kim Kardashian: Hollywood Writing Prompt 07
W.10.07 Read Penny, "Representation, Enaction..." & Frasca, "Videogames ... Oppressed"; Play Points of Entry Writing Prompt 08
M.10.12 Watch this video; read Monopoly (Instruction Booklet); play Monopoly Writing Prompt 09
W.10.14 - WDL Workshop Familiarize yourself with example instruction manuals listed on Sakai. Draft of Instruction Manual
M.10.19 Instruction Manual Due
W.10.21 Read Lunsford, pp 101-127; Play Passage Writing Prompt 10
M.10.26 Play Depression Quest Writing Prompt 11
W.10.28 - Twine Workshop Play Queers in Love at the End of the World ; Familiarize,
M.11.02 Work on your Twine Game
W.11.04 Read Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency (excerpts) Writing Prompt 12
M.11.09 Read Frank, "How to Attack a Woman..." (& two links)
W.11.11 - Twine Workshop
M.11.16 - Library Visit Twine Game Due
W.11.18 Read Irwin, SMB2 (50%); Play SMB2
M.11.23 Finish Irwin, SMB2; Play SMB2 Analytical Paper Ideas
W.11.25 - Thanksgiving
M.11.30 Read Lunsford, pp 269-304; Play OReilly, Mountain Writing Prompt 13 (Outline of Analytical Paper)
W.12.02 Read Lunsford, 305-324; Play Bogost, A Slow Year Rough Draft of Analytical Paper
M.12.07 No Class: Individual Conferences
W.12.09 Watch The King of Kong
M.12.14 Analytical Paper due on Sakai at Midnight


If you have a diagnosed disability and you are on file with the Office of Disability Services, please provide me with a letter of accommodation so that we can work together to make this class accessible and meaningful to you.

Timothy Pure, Ed.M., Assistant Director/Coordinator of Disability Services // 856.225.2717

External Links

  • The online forums, supplemental materials, and instructor contact information can be accessed via our Sakai page.
  • is an excellent dictionary aggregation tool that I recommend to all new writers.
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab for tips and tricks to improve your writing.


Twine Resources

Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.

You don't need to write any code to create a simple story with Twine, but you can extend your stories with variables, conditional logic, images, CSS, and JavaScript when you're ready. Twine publishes directly to HTML, so you can post your work nearly anywhere. Anything you create with it is completely free to use any way you like, including for commercial purposes.

Further reading

Students who are interested in the theme beyond the scope of this course may want to check out the following resources:

  • Ian Bogost is a video game designer, critic and researcher.
  • Boss Fight Books publishes "great books on classic video games."
  • Tabletop: Wil Weaton (of Star Trek) hosts celebrity tabletop gaming.
  • PBS GAME/SHOW looks at the relationship between videogames and modern life.