ENGL3600W: Advanced Composition (49607)

King, Joshua

TR 11:10 AM

Park Hall 61


I. Introduction

FromSoftware knows how to write a sentence. In the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, the player will see a single sentence more than probably any other: the simple declarative “You Died.” And given these games’ notorious difficulty, most players see that sentence a lot

But this two-word sentence expands into a kaleidoscope of internal meanings for different players at different moments: “[Haha] You Died [loser],” or “You Died [Again.],” or “You Died [to that monster? Really?!].” In fact, a turning point in my experience of the games--and the moment I stopped hating them--was when I managed to read the sentence only for what it was: a neutral acknowledgment without judgment or admonition. 

“You Died.” 

I did. 

Okay. Let’s try again.* 

Games rely on writing: the literal writing of code or instruction manuals, the informative and flavorful writing of stories and characters, and players’ critical writing about their experiences in reviews or recommendations. In fact, the whole ecosystem of games--their design, production, marketing, consumption, and critique--all rely on writing. In this course, we’re going to study and learn from all that writing.


II. Course Description

This is a course about writing. We’ll study writing processes, written style, rhetorical appeals, and advanced revision techniques. You’ll work on sustained pieces of writing across multiple drafts and receive regular feedback from me and your peers helping you develop your ideas, structures, and stylistic choices. You’ll learn new techniques for brainstorming, drafting, and proofreading, and you’ll find helpful resources on writing and the research process.

This is also a course about games. We’ll study writing and rhetoric through the lens of games and game design: after all, games’ player-centered interactivity can show us a lot about crafting our writing for specific audiences. And the iterative process of designing a game--making a prototype, testing it with players, adjusting it around players’ frustrations, then testing it again--is a lot like the writing process. In this class, you’ll study how games use writing and interactivity to engage their players, you’ll use game-inspired iteration and revision to produce a work of sustained research on a topic of your choosing, and you’ll prototype, test, and finalize a full game of your own.


III. What You’ll Do

Along the way, we’ll read texts on rhetoric like Richard Lanham’s Economics of Attention, texts on game design like Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design, and practical texts on writing and design drawn from textbooks and scholarly journals. And of course we’ll play games, watch streams, and study how game designers, streamers, and players create, perform, and transform these complex interactive texts.

This course counts toward the certificate program in Digital Humanities, and as such, we'll be using tools like Voyant to perform deep textual analysis, we'll study the cultural impacts of a variety of digital texts, and we'll collaborate to create our own interactive, user-aware digital projects.


IV. Footnote:

* Of course, we could write for many more pages about the comforting self-contradiction of the sentence “You Died.” We could write about the possibility that, by reading “You Died” over and over, I’m actually being reminded of my distance from any serious threat to my body. We could write about how the sentence entices me to continue playing, comfortably insulated from the painful awareness of real death. We could even write about how the sentence’s directness and brevity contrasts with the mannered opacity of much of the rest of the games’ scripts. There’s a lot to say about this sentence, is what I’m getting at here.


V. Sources

Image Source: https://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/backlog-dark-souls/