Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG480H1F L0101

ENG480H1F L0101 MW 2-4
Video Games and Narrative
Instructor: L. Switzky

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Office Location:
Jackman Humanities Building, Room 813

Brief Description of Course: Video games can contain or present stories. But thinking of games as narratives like short stories, novels or plays might distract us from the expressive possibilities of gaming that are not shared by other media: the creation of a rule-bound world that responds dynamically to a player’s actions, for instance. The first half of this seminar will consider how some novels and plays work like games; how games have evolved complex and often non-verbal means of conveying narratives; and whether narrative in fiction, theatre and film can or should be a model for storytelling in games. Our discussions in the second half of the course will focus on the recent preoccupation with moral choice as a form of player agency in narrative games and on the extent to which games can—and should—influence our practices and beliefs (about gender, empathy, and violence in particular). Do video games provide us with innovative ways of testing our values or do they desensitize us to real-world moral dilemmas? By asking us to make difficult, often painful choices that foreclose other options in a game, are we no longer “playing” in any traditional sense?

Required Reading: Essays and short stories available in a course reader; Dennis Cooper, God Jr.; Jennifer Haley, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom; Jesper Juul, The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. 

Required Playing: Many short Flash and Twine games; Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone; Blendo Games, Thirty Flights of Loving; Jonathan Blow, Braid; 
Fullbright Games, Gone Home;
Galactic Café, The Stanley Parable; 
Kanaga and Key, Proteus; 
Lucas Pope, Papers, Please;
 Telltale Games, The Walking Dead: Season 1; Davey Wreden, The Beginner’s Guide.

First Three Authors/Texts: Espen Aarseth, “The Book and the Labyrinth” from Cyber-Text; Steven Johnson, “Games” from Everything Bad is Good for You; Tadhg Kelly, “Video Game Writing and the Sense of Story”; Mollindustria, “Every Day the Same Dream”; Davey Wreden, The Beginner’s Guide.

Method of Instruction: Short lectures, discussions, in-class playing, short presentations.

Method of Evaluation: Participation (10%); oral presentation of a critical essay (15%); blog posts (30%); final paper prospectus (10%); final paper (35%).

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