CTIN 534:  Experiments in Interactivity I


Instructors: Bernie DeKoven and Tracy Fullerton


Contact Info:

Bernie DeKoven

Tracy Fullerton

(310) 792-7227

(310) 390-5520




Course Description:  This course is the first in a two-semester sequence which will introduce students to a variety of concepts in interactivity and teach creative techniques for conceptualizing and producing original interactive projects.  The sequence approaches interactivity as a participatory art form, with the designer’s goal to provide a specific and meaningful experience for the users and to respond quickly and creatively to feedback during the design process.  In the first semester, the exercises focus on low- and non-technical forms of interactivity, experimenting with games, improvisational theater, fine arts, toys, interactive narrative, and real and virtual play spaces.  The second semester will extend these explorations to digital technologies and immersive environments.


Much of an interactive designer’s success lies in their ability to set interesting and original experience goals – and also to adapt their original design concepts in the face of constantly changing criteria for success. Demands for change may come from the audience, the client, the market, or their own artistic process.  All too often, the closer a design is to completion, the more often and drastic the demands for change become. Thus, a successful designer learns to rely on an ability to improvise, to respond playfully and creatively, to work with increasingly narrow limitations and assets, while never losing sight of the overall experience goals.


A central purpose of this course, therefore, is to give students the opportunity to explore and strengthen their abilities to improvise within their own design process, provide them with a wider repertoire of resources upon which to draw, and to help them maintain their focus on the core user experience that anchors the design concept.  After the first two classes, which establish the twin focal points of playfulness and improvisation, students will:


·         experience the fundamentals of improvisation as it applies to both theatrical and interactive development through participation in a variety of exercises

·         explore fundamental principles of the psychology of fun, the sociology of playfulness and the art of improvisation

·         address issues of agency, empathy, control, creativity, collaboration and the natural tension that occurs between artist and audience when the audience has a part in making the art


Meeting Information:

Thursday 6:30 – 9:30PM

Zemeckis Media Lab, on the second floor of the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts


Evaluation of student performance:

a.  Assignments (see full descriptions below):

1.       In-class design exercises

2.       Design projects (3)

3.       Student weblog


b.      Criteria for grading:




In-class design exercises


Mid-term project


Student weblog


Small group game project


Final project





Course content (summarized by class meeting)


Week 1: Overview of the Course and Introduction to Concepts

Lecture: Overview of the course.

Games:  Tic-tac-toe, themed Hopscotch

Discussion of the nature of experimentation, art & invention as it applies to interactivity.  Definitions of interactivity, fun, flow, coliberation.  Uses of improvisation as a design technique.  Purpose of student logs.  Introduction to readings. 


Weeks 2 and 3 Improvisations on the theme of Chance


Lecture: Pachisi

Students will design a simple board game based on Pachisi. The game will require the use of some random number generator (dice, spinners, cards) and movement of pieces across a board. The main criteria for success are how many players find the game fun for how long (essentially, measures of participation.)  During the second week, students will adapt their designs to portray a “life lesson.” Criteria for success will be measured according to the participation criteria already established and the harmony between the play experience and the life lesson.

Week 2 Reading:

DeepFUN website:

·         Coliberation - http://www.deepfun.com/colib.htm

·         Of Fun and Flow - http://www.deepfun.com/funflow.htm

·         A Million Ways to Play Marbles, At Least – http://www.deepfun.com/marbles.html

Week 3 Reading:

DeepFUN website:

·         “Pachisi” - http://www.deepfun.com/games.htm 

·         “Chance and Odds” - http://www.deepfun.com/chance.htm;

·         “Snakes and Ladders” - http://www.tradgames.org.uk/games/Moksha-Patamu.htm - http://gamesmuseum.uwaterloo.ca/vexhibit/Whitehill/snakes/


Week 4: Theater Games

Lecture: Spolin’s “Seven Aspects of Spontaneity.” 

Students will play a variety of theater games that stress responsiveness, creativity, problem-solving, fantasy, and collaboration. Students will discuss their experiences of fun and flow.

Week 4 Reading:

Improvisation in the Theater, Viola Spolin

·         “Seven Aspects of Spontaneity”

Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

·         Politics of Enjoyment


Week 5: Club Games, Nonsense, Make Believe and Festivals

Lecture:  We will play a variety of “club games” (the non-alcoholic variations of drinking games) to build a repertoire of games that are based not on competition, but on silliness. Also, we will explore nonsense and gibberish exercises, creating costumes out of toilet paper and found objects and develop nonsense festivities (the “coronation”, the “wedding”, the “funeral”)

Week 5 Reading:

            Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Augusto Boal:

·         Section IV

Drinking games

·         http://www.webtender.com/handbook/games/

The Well-Played Game, Bernie DeKoven

·         Chapters 3, 10

DeepFUN website:

·         “Pointless Games” – http://www.deepfun.com/pointless.htm

The Well-Played Game, Bernie DeKoven

·         Chapters 5, 9


Weeks 6 and 7: Improvisations on the theme of Narrative

Lecture: Life in the Garden, Once Upon a Time, Yes/And, Verbal Photoshop, Exquisite Corpse

Examination of how narrative and interactive moments collide in designed experiences.  Examples of story “construction” in card, board and social games addressing the essential tensions between narrative and interactivity, agency and empathy, and essential narrative elements such as character, conflict, theme and point of view.  During the in-class exercise, students will begin designing their own participatory narrative systems based on the examples shown in class.

Week 6 Reading:

            Rules of Play, Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen

·         Narrative Play

A Book of Surrealist Games:

·         The Exquisite Corpse

·         Directions for Use

Week 7 Reading:

            Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet Murray

·         Harbingers of the Holodeck

·         The Cyberbard and the Multiform Plot


Design Project 1:  A Million Ways to Play ________.”  Using a format similar to that described in the Week 2 reading on the game of marbles, students are invited (all right, required) to choose a game of their liking – either one we have played in class or one that the rest of us would be familiar with – and develop a “small universe” of new ways to play that game.  Each variation should be described briefly, but in enough detail so that readers can interpret the gist of the new concept.  Assignments will be graded on both the quantity and quality of the design variations, but remember, a Universe is vast …

Assigned Week 7, Due Week 9


Weeks 8 and 9: Improvisations on the theme of Space

Demonstration: During Week 8, students will re-think the notion of a “golf course” using available space and found/recycled objects. They will break in teams and each team will be responsible for creating one hole. After teams have developed and tested their holes, they will play each other’s holes and then have one additional opportunity to refine their holes further. Before the next session, teams will develop written scenarios describing how this game would be played in a variety of different media, with different audiences.  During Week 9, students will take three different field games and then redesign them for different spatial environments and conditions. For example, a game of football that can be played on a tabletop or in a 40-acre wooded lot or in the snow; or, a game of Twister played in a virtual environment.

Week 8 Reading:

Junkyard Sports, Bernie DeKoven

·         Chapters 1-2

Week 9 Reading:

Junkyard Sports, Bernie DeKoven

·         “Junkyard Golf”


Week 10: Improvisations on the theme of Society

Lecture:  Massively multiplayer offline games.  A look at playing non- and low-tech games in and around “real-world” social settings such as cities, conferences, communities and corporations.  Students will design and prototype concepts for their own group games to be playtested in small groups over the following week outside of class.  Groups will prepare a playtesting report on their games due in class Week 11.

            Week 10 Reading:

“A Real Little Game”, Jane McGonigal

·         The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play

Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Johann Huizinga

·         Chapter 1 – Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon

            Rules of Play, Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen

·         Chapter 30 – Games as Cultural Rhetoric


Week 11: Playtesting Reports and Design Project 2

Playtesting reports: Design groups will deliver a presentation describing the outcome of their small playtests for their group games.  Reports need to stress an attention to specific moments of play, surprises good and bad that created interesting interactions during the test.


Together, the class will decide on one group game project to implement a large-scale playtest of for Design Project 2 and produce all the elements necessary to run that game project.


Design Project 2: 

Students will design, produce and run a massively multiplayer offline game to be played within the boundaries of the USC campus.  All students in the class must participate in the playtest in some way – specific roles to be determined by the game design, of course.  The design of the game should take into account the space and mindset of the potential on-campus players; striving for a sense of relevance to both location and people involved, and inclusion for players and non-players alike.


The game should also have a specific end date/time in order to allow the group to meet and prepare a post-mortem report on the experience.  The post-mortem must include player feedback, non-player feedback, designer insights, unique experiences and moments of play, and documentation (such as photos or video).  While the entire post-mortem is a group effort, each student will be responsible for at least one element of the report, to be assigned. 

            Post-mortem report due Week 15.


Weeks 12 and 13:  Support and response to Design Project 2

Depending on the nature of the game design for Design Project 2, the class may either use this as design time, to respond to issues with the game test, or to support for players.  If no support issues arise, the class will do a final in-class exercise:  A Million Ways to Play Marbles, At Least.”


Week 14:  Thanksgiving Holiday, no class meeting


Week 15:  Final Presentations and Post-mortem

The class will present their post-mortem during the final exam time.  The rest of the CNTV community and outside guests will be invited to attend, so the post-mortem needs to include an explanation of the concept for those who were not able to play as well as reports on the effects and outcome of the experience.


In-Class Design Exercises:

The In-Class Design exercises will consist of short, focused assignments that can be completed, playtested, and discussed during class time.  These exercises will give students hands-on experience with issues that face most designers, requiring students to adapt their design to various exigencies such as abilities of target population, changes or limitations of technology, and changes in objective. For example, they might be asked to adapt their design for blind adults, or for five-year-olds, or for a large group, or to stress a particular cognitive skill (mathematical or logical).


Course Weblog:

Students will be required to post to the course weblog describing their experiences with the various games and exercises played in and out of class.  The purpose of this log is to gain a clearer understanding of fun, flow, and coliberation as it applies to their personal experiences with interactivity. They should also use this weblog to discuss their own developing ideas about fun, playfulness, and participatory design – noting specific games and activities and the pleasures they found inherent to them.


Weblog Address:


To post to the course weblog, simply add a post as usual and tag it with the course number – 534.  The post will show up under the course aggregator.


Course Website Address:


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


Reading Requirements:

A Course Reader that includes all of the articles and book excerpts mentioned above is available for purchase from the IMS Copy House at 3399 Hoover Avenue.


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 late assignment to be accepted.  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.


Additional Suggested Bibliography and Game List:

Books & Websites

Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations, Bell, R. C. – especially chapters 1 and 3

Deepfun.com, DeKoven, Bernie

Game Design Workshop, Fullerton, Tracy, Steven Hoffman and Chris Swain

Game Over, Sheff, David

Hackers, Levy, Stephen

The Grasshopper:  Games, Life and Utopia, Suits, Bernard

The Well-Played Game, DeKoven, Bernie – especially chapters 3, 5, 9 and 10


Board Games

Carcassonne, by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede

Settlers of Catan, by Klaus Teuber

Scotland Yard, by Ravensburger

El Grande, by Wolfgang Kramer & Richard Ulrich

Modern Art, by Reiner Knizia

Illuminati, by Steve Jackson

Puerto Rico, Andreas Seyfarth

Acquire, by Sid Sackson

Cosmic Encounter, by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Bill Norton

Apples to Apples, by Out of the Box


Instructor Bios:


Bernie DeKoven

Bernie's lifelong belief that things can be made more fun led him to develop and implement new ways of playing, new games groups of all ages and sizes, from singles, couples and families to schools, communities and cities. With the 2004 publication of Junkyard Sports, Bernie framed a recreational program that addresses all of these groups. His 1971 Interplay Curriculum, a comprehensive program in self-esteem and social skills based on over 1000 children's games, was used in classrooms and playgrounds throughout the city of Philadelphia. For the 1976 Bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia, he designed and orchestrated Playday on the Parkway, a community games event involving hundreds of thousands of celebrants. He established The Games Preserve in 1971, a retreat center in Eastern Pennsylvania where teachers, therapists and recreators could conduct in-depth investigations of games and play. In his 1978 book, The Well Played Game, he voiced a philosophy of "healthy competition" that formed the core teachings of the New Games Foundation. He became co-director of the foundation, and has developed internationally successful programs in facilitating collaborative games, community events and business meetings.


Bernie has designed award-winning games for Ideal Toy Company, Children's Television Workshop, CBS Software and Mattel Toys.


Tracy Fullerton

Tracy 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. She is also the author of a recently released textbook, Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping and Playtesting Games, which is in use at a number of top game design institutions 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.