Introduction to Interactive Entertainment


USC School of Cinema-Television, CTIN 309


Instructor: Tracy Fullerton


Contact Info:

(310) 390-5520 main

(310) 985-1167 mobile


Course Description:

Digital games and interactive media are exciting new forms of entertainment that have changed the way that we live, work and play.  By their nature, they are experimental forms that deal with questions of engagement, authorship, narrative and the changing relationship between the makers and consumers of media.  Understanding the nature of interactive entertainment, its history, properties, practices and potential will make us more literate players, more empowered users and consumers, and more articulate designers of future interactive entertainment products.


It is the goal of this class to give students the historical perspective and critical vocabulary by which they can analyze and understand their own experiences with interactive entertainment, as well as imagine and articulate their own ideas for interactive experiences.  The class will consist of a combination of lecture, demonstrations and play of seminal works, in-class exercises, discussions, and critical writing assignments. 


Students will:

·         Be exposed to the history of games and interactive entertainment, game genres, seminal works and significance of various landmarks in the evolution of interactive entertainment.

·         Learn and use an aesthetic vocabulary for understanding and analyzing games and interactive entertainment and their formal, dramatic and dynamic elements.

·         Engage with cultural perspectives on games and their place in human societies and groups, both historical and current.

·         Gain a clear understanding of interactivity and a working vocabulary of interactive principles and techniques.

·         Understand the relationship of interactive entertainment to other forms of art and media such as film and television.

·         Identify the issues that challenge the designers and users of interactive entertainment in terms of technology, art and industry.


Meeting Information:

Interactive Media Lab, G142 Main Room (below the Carson Stage)

Thursdays 10AM – 12:50PM


Required Texts:

  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (available at most bookstores or at
  • A required course reader is available from the Magic Machine in University Village (Gate 1).


Online Syllabus:

A copy of this syllabus and any posted materials will be available at the course website:


Evaluation of student performance:




Design Journal #1


Mid-term Paper


Design Journal #2


Final Paper





Course content (summarized by class meeting)


Week 1: Introduction/Overview

Presentation:  Why study games and interactivity?  Interactive entertainment as technology, business, art & entertainment.  Overview of the course and assignments. 

In-Class Game:  Werewolf

Assignment:  Design journals


Week 2: Origins of Interactive Entertainment

Presentation:  MIT TMRC, Space War, Pong, Arcades & early console games.  PC games, the Crash & rebirth of video games.

In-Class Games:  Spacewar, Colossal Cave Adventure, Zork, Pong (download zip file)


Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet Murray

§         From Additive to Expressive Form

§         Hamlet on the Holodeck?


Week 3:  Playing with Machines

Presentation:  The mysterious relationship between play, rules, software and fun. Procedural thinking, literacy and digital models for interactivity.

In-Class Exercise:  Playing with code; the game loop.


Beginning Game Programming in C++

§         Chapter 1


Week 4: Virtual Spaces

Presentation:  Intro to computer graphics.  Human-computer interfaces, evolution of virtual spaces.  The magic circle.  Designing complex systems and “infinite” possibility spaces.  Virtual reality.

In-Class Games:  Super Mario Bros., Asteroids, Battlezone, Doom


The Ultimate Display, Ivan Sutherland

Allegories of Space, Espen Aarseth


Week 5: Participation and Engagement

Presentation:  The role of the user in interactive entertainment.  Structuring participation for player interaction.  Suspension of disbelief, agency and authorship in interactive entertainment.

In Class Screening:  The Game

Due:  Design Journal #1


Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga

§         Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon

Man, Play and Games, Roger Callois

§         The Definition of Play


Week 6: Characters and Controls

Presentation:  Who am I?  The relationships between avatar and player; character and avatar.  Empathy, action and control.

In-Class Games:  Second Life, World of Warcraft, Halo II, The Sims 2

Assignment:  Paper #1


Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet Murray

§         Eliza’s Daughters

Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades, Richard Bartle

§         Players Who Suit MUDs




Week 7:  Conflict

Presentation:  Competition, challenge, obstacles and opponents and the composition of conflict.  Games as a dramatic medium.  Violence vs. conflict.  Violent games, first person shooters.  Alternate models for conflict and challenge.

In-Class Games:  New Games, Theater Games


The New Games Book

§         It Began with World War IV

The Well-Played Game, Bernie DeKoven

§         Chapter One: Talking about What We’re Looking For

§         Chapter Two:  The Guidelines


Week 8: Uncertainty and Narrative

Presentation:  Games telling stories?  Stories in games?  The paradoxical relationship and ongoing feud between games and narrative.

Due: Paper #1

In-Class Games:  Ironclad, Surrealist Games


Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman

§         Narrative Play

§         Ironclad

A Book of Surrealist Games

§         Exquisite Corpse

§         Instructions for Use


Week 9: Genre in Interactive Entertainment

Presentation:  Introduction to genre theory.  Genre as a double-edged sword for the industry.  Looking at game genres: play mechanics and their relationship to narrative.  Analysis of popular genres and the “message” in their mechanics.

In-Class Games:  Pole position, Madden, Myst, Warcraft II


The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, Bernard Suits

§         Death of the Grasshopper

§         Disciples

§         Construction of a Definition


Week 10: Designers vs. Directors

Presentation:  Overview of the careers of several important designers:  Shigeru Miyamoto, Richard Garriott, John Carmack and John Romero, Will Wright.  Relationship of game designers to creative thinkers in other fields:  writers, directors, architects and engineers.

In-Class Games:  Ultima IV, SimCity, Zelda Windwaker, Quake


Game Over, David Sheff

§         I, Mario

Dungeons and Dreamers, Brad King and John Borland

§         Together

§         Machines at Play


Week 11: Alternatives:  Games without Boundaries

Presentation:  Internet games, handheld devices, mobile games, alternate reality games, games that never end.

In-Class Games:  Geocaching


Ender’s Game

§         Chapters 1-8


Week 12: Alternatives:  Serious Games

Presentation:  Games with a message:  documentary games, advergaming, games for learning & training, political games.

In-Class Games:  September 12, Darfur is Dying, A Force More Powerful.

Due:  Design Journal #2


Ender’s Game

§         Chapters 9-15


Week 13: Alternatives:  Location-based Interactivity

Presentation:  Theme parks as an emerging venue for interactivity.

Class Field Trip:  time/date tbd

Assignment:  Paper #2


Designing Interactive Theme Park Rides: Lessons from Disney's
Battle for the Buccaneer Gold, Jesse Schell and Joe Shochet


Week 14: Thanksgiving Holiday – No Class Meeting


Week 15: Alternatives:  Experimental and Independent Games

Presentation:  Games outside the mainstreams of distribution and expectation.  Gamelab, Indy Game Jam, Game Innovation Lab.  Wrap-up discussion and course evaluation

In-Class Games:  Game Jam Games, Cloud, Flow.

Due:  Paper #2


Death to the Games Industry: Long Live Games, parts 1 & 2, Greg Costikyan


In-class Games & Exercises:

Each meeting of the class will consist of a combination of lecture, discussion and in-class games and exercises.  The lecture topics for each night are noted above.   The in-class games and exercises are seminal or significant works that have been chosen to give students hands-on understanding of the historical and theoretical topics covered in the lecture and discussions.  Participation in these in-class play sessions is an important part of the class and should be treated as such.  Students are expected to write about their experiences with these works in their design journals (see below) and should plan on making up the play session on their own should they miss a class.


Design Journals:

The Design Journal is an ongoing assignment which will be turned in “in-progress” twice during the semester for review and grading.  Students are expected to write about their experiences with both in-class games and out-of-class experiences.  The goal of this journal is to become experienced at articulating your own experience with interactive media, so that you can apply that knowledge to both design and critical efforts.  Journals will be graded on number of projects analyzed and the quality of insight regarding those projects rather than length of entries.  Please do not get behind in writing your journal – entries are best made on a daily basis in order to capture the nuances of your experience!



During the semester, students will be assigned two papers dealing with critical and theoretical issues discussed in the lectures.  Topics will be given out in class and will require students to play one or more games outside of class.  Papers will be graded on the insight and clarity of the analysis, without regard to playing ability.  Late papers will be excused only in those cases of documented illness or family emergency. Late papers will drop one letter grade per week late. 


Missing an Assignment, Incompletes:

The only acceptable excuses for missing an assignment or taking an incomplete in the course are personal illness or a family emergency.  Students must inform the professor before the assignment due date and present verifiable evidence in order for a make-up to be scheduled.  Students who wish to take incompletes must also present documentation of the problem to the instructor or teaching assistant before final grades are due.


Note for students with disabilities:

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to us as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301, and is open 8:30am5:00pm Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.


Academic Integrity:

The School of Cinema-Television expects the highest standards of academic excellence and ethical performance from USC students.  It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, submitting a paper to more than one instructor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone other than yourself.  Violations of this policy will result in a failing grade band be reported to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs.  If you have any doubts or questions about these policies, consult “SCAMPUS” and/or confer with the instructor.


Instructor Bio:

Tracy Fullerton is a game designer, educator and writer with over a decade of professional experience.  She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Interactive Media Division of the USC School of Cinema-Television where she serves as Co-Director of the new Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab. Tracy is also the author of Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping and Playtesting Games, a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide. 


Prior to joining the USC faculty, she was President of the interactive television game developer, Spiderdance, Inc.  Spiderdance’s games included NBC’s Weakest Link, MTV’s webRIOT, The WB’s No Boundaries, History Channel’s History IQ, Sony Game Show Network’s Inquizition and TBS’s Cyber Bond.  Before starting Spiderdance, Tracy was a founding member of the New York design firm R/GA Interactive.  As a producer and creative director she created games and interactive products for clients including Sony, Intel, Microsoft, AdAge, Ticketmaster, Compaq, and Warner Bros. among many others.  Notable projects include Sony’s Multiplayer Jeopardy! and Multiplayer Wheel of Fortune and MSN’s NetWits, the first multiplayer online game show


Tracy’s work has received numerous industry honors including best Family/Board Game from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, ID Magazine’s Interactive Design Review, Communication Arts Interactive Design Annual, several New Media Invision awards, iMix Best of Show, the Digital Coast Innovation Award, IBC’s Nombre D’Or, and Time Magazine’s Best of the Web.  In December 2001, she was featured in the Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” issue.