As this course has Narrative in its name, this week we turn to look at the elements of the games we have been discussing and sharing, in particular the role of a story in the creation of a game experience and the story behind games.

The Opener

The Extra Credits YouTube channel is a weekly show that covers a wide range of topics in the design, building, and use of games. We’ll watch from Episode 9, “Plan, Practice, Improvise – Understanding the Three Types of Play in Games” as a way to think about the way games create different kinds of ways of play.

Planned gameplay allows many different solutions but gives players time to review their options, practice gameplay encourages strategic thinking within fixed maps or rules, and improvised gameplay forces players think on the fly to adapt to random elements.

We will discuss what types of play you would assign for the games we have been talking about.

The Elements of Games

As we have seen what we call games covers quite a range. In class we will brainstorm a collective set of components or elements of games from our own observations, experiences.

For reference, the following bits are borrowed from The formal systems of games and game design atoms

To develop a game, it is best to constrain ourselves at the start of our design process to some core elements of games. We begin by brainstorming elements that we find in all games. The results of such a brainstorm from class is shown below.

From “The formal systems of games and game design atoms” by Lennart Nacke.

When you are designing a game, an interesting approach to take is to think about your game’s core first (this would be your core mechanic), the one particular pattern of actions that you want your player to take over and over again. The best way to think about cores, is to look at board games and take some common concepts from there:

  • Territorial Acquisition. These games are often zero-sum games, where the players fight over a limited amount of territory or resources. Think about Risk, for example.
  • Prediction. Often you find this core in party games or gambling games and luck is involved in making a prediction. Roulette is an example of this.
  • Spatial Reasoning. Often you need to consider how your game pieces work together to create a successful winning strategy. An example of this core is Tetris.
  • Survival. This core banks on our natural instincts to survive and is found in many action games. An example is Dark Souls.
  • Destruction. A game with this core allows players to wreck havoc on most things in the game. It is very common in first-person shooters.
  • Building. The building and use of structures is a core of many games. Good examples are Sim City and Minecraft.
  • Collection. The need to collect, own and match things is deeply ingrained in humans. This is a popular core mechanic in many board games and casual games (Match 3).
  • Chasing or Evading. This appeals to our fight-or-flight response and often works as a driving core in games. An example is Pac-Man.
  • Trading. This a very cooperative game core. Sometimes, players want to exchange resources and negotiate the values with one another. The most common example is the board game Settlers of Catan.
  • Race-to-the-end. This core dynamic is very simple to implement and you have already created a Race-to-the-end game in your first homework assignment. It is very common in children’s games.

Lennart Nacke. (September 12, 2014). The formal systems of games and game design atoms. The Acagamic. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from

In class we will brainstorm a slightly different list, drilling down on all of the elements/attributes that make a game feel complete- e.g. character, setting, the quest.

Backstorying a Classic Computer/Arcade/Console Game

In this activity we will dive into some history of old computer games via ones from the Internet Archive made available in your browser via emulators (see below for how to access). As you explore, try to map out how much of Plan, Practice, Improvise is in the game.

These games usually involve characters, in a location, and mostly a lot of action, but unlike modern video games, we don’t know much of the back story. After playing the game, turn on your investigative skills and learn as much as you can about the background of where it came from. Then, use your creative skills to blog a fictional narrative of what the story might behind the game. INclude a GIF or a Meme or some kind of audio/video that can help situate the story.

The two collections you can choose from include the Internet Archive’s Software Library of MS-DOS Games

and the Handheld History

A few notes about these game emulators:

  • Read the instructions! When you load a game, scroll down to see if there are any special instructions on playing or navigation (e.g. keyboard codes for commands). You may find helpful comments too.
  • They might not work! I found it helps to make sure the browser tab is fully loaded when you click a link to a game. And sometimes they will work better in a different web browser. Don’t waste too much time trying to get one to work; switch to a different game
  • Save a screenshot of your game; they will not allow you to save.

In class we want to make sure we cover different games, so once you pick the one you will investigate, tweet it out and claim ownership via #netnarr.

Once you have played the game enough to get a sense of how it works, and what happens, start learning as much about the background and history as possible. Yes, you will likely land first in Wikipedia, but follow it’s external links elsewhere. Look for info on YouTube. See if you can find out about any music that was created for the game. Look for images.

Gather as much as possible in class, so you can write a blog post later about your experience.

For example, I might have have chosen to play the Coleco Donkey Kong Game

Barely got up to the third platform!

It was arrow keys to navigate and the ctrl button to jump. I found it awkward and a but sluggish to respond. But now, why is my little Mario man dodging the bombs the ape is dropping? Why there is a princess to rescue! I might start some background at the Wikipedia article, but there are plenty of links I can use to add to my research, maybe even using one of the TV commercials for the game.

Now my story might be about where this construction place is, and how Mario came to be put in this position. Or maybe I want to turn it around, and tell a story from the ape’s perspective, maybe Mario is more of a their and villain.

You have free reign to imagine any story that you feel works to situate the game.

Audio Interviews with Digital Guardians Egypt Student Game Designers

Last week you were asked sign up via a google doc select a draft game idea blog post from American University Cairo students, and give them feedback.

Most of the students have written a second followup post with a refinement of their idea. Read the posts thoroughly, and think of 2-4 questions you might ask them in an audio interview. Rather than doing it in real time, you will post your questions as audio. Once the AUC students respond, you can download all audio, edit together, and publish it as if you were in the same place having a conversation.

We will use a Padlet as a place you can record your questions- see It is like a media bulletin board where you can attach text, links, media.

The top left part has information about the Narrative games, our hello videos, and a description of what to do for the audio interviews.

As an example, if you scroll to the right, you will see, surrounding a link to the Narrative Game assignment, a few audio clips of questions I posted for their instructor, Maha Bali to answer:

You can listen to any audio and also download it, and you may notice we used arrows to connect pieces together.

Your first task is to find the student blog posts you are working with. Scroll back to the left and downward (it takes a bit of practice to do the padlet scrolling) and look for the blog posts you will want to add questions to.

Finding the student blog posts to post my questions

Double click anywhere adjacent to the posts to create your first question. Give it a title and perhaps put below it your twitter name. Then hover over the box, and look for the ... (more actions) menu button

Creating a new node for my first question

While editing, click the ... menu (adjacent to the camera icon) to access the option for Voice Record:

Use the microphone to record your audio, then be sure to use Replay and Save when done.

Audio recording in padlet

Once done, click outside your recording… it’s now part of the padlet. We want to do one more thing, connect it to the blog post. Now hover over your audio, and click the ... menu at the top

From the menu, select Connect to Post:

And then click the red button for the post you are connecting your audio to:

We want to make sure that by the end of class today, you have at 2-4 questions posted for the AUC students. Hopefully, by the end of the week, they will have time to respond (if you do not see any responses, please contact me).

Your final assignment is to download all of the audio files for the questions and responses, and turn into a single audio interview. You should look for some background sound to add (coffee shop, office, park) to create a setting. Start with your own recorded introduction. Then import all the questions and answers, and make it into a audio project that sounds like you are talking together. Add another recording of a closing at the end. Your final audio should be about 3-7 minutes long.

Update: March 31, 2018 To give AUC students time to respond, this assignment is 2 weeks long, and is not due until April 10. For this week, you must record your questions in padlet.

If you do not get responses by audio you will have to do the best you can to create an audio report on the game idea that explains it to someone not familiar with it, as if this was a podcast story. If you recorded your questions, you can use, them, and then record what you think might be the answers based on the students’ blog posts. If not, you will have to get creative on how you narrate your story. Try to add background sound, music, sound effects to make it come alive.

Export your recording as mp3 or WAV, and upload to your SoundCloud account. When it is published, leave a comment and a link to it on the AUC student’s post.

Checklist? Mario Has One for You

“Time for your checklist!” says Mario

Week 10 Checklist

Minecraft: Story Mode Coming to Wii U This Week flickr photo by BagoGames shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person. A 1990s pioneer on the web and early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet.


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