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This is the introductory course to Computational Media, a degree program at Georgia Tech jointly administered by the School of Literature Communication and Culture and the College of Computing. The degree intends to convey the history and potential of computers as a medium from the perspective of computing and the liberal arts.

I have taught this course for the past several years, and each time I revise it slightly. In the near future, I plan to make a complete revision and write a textbook for the class.

This class produces much unusual work that will be hard to imagine from the syllabus alone, including works in interactive fiction, many new games for the Atari VCS (2600), and collectively 99% of the world’s Chef programs. I plan to add the IF work shortly, but I have collected the Atari games in one convenient location.

The syllabus is reproduced below.

Syllabus

LCC 2700 – Introduction to Computational Media

Prof. Ian Bogost

(404) 894-1160

ibogost at gatech dot edu

Introductory course for the Computational Media degree. Students read, discuss, and write analytically about key developments in history of digital media and the work of important theorists/inventors. They critique exemplary digital artifacts from classic programs like Zork, Weizenbaum’s Eliza (an automated therapist) to the latest videogames. They also create projects within key representational traditions of computational media.

It is not often that human culture invents a new medium of representation. The computer is a powerful form of representation that is quickly assimilating older representational forms including spoken language, printed text, drawings, photographs, moving images. But the computer is not just a transmitter of old formats: it brings its own representational powers and its own new genres such as videogames, web sites, animated robots, and interactive televison programs.

This course approaches the computer as an evolving medium of expression, connected to the history of media while it is evolving its own characteristic forms. We will be exploring the unique representational properties of the computer and surveying key advances in expressive power, such as the first virtual spaces and interactive characters.

Assignments & Grading

Grades will be given based on completeness and excellence, described as follows.

Projects: 50%

Written assignments: 20%

Quizzes on readings: 10%

Final examination on readings and lectures: 10%

Critique and class project presentations: 10%

Projects & Writing Assignments

Students whose projects meet all the requirements of the assignment and are executed adequately (i.e., it works) will receive a “C.” Students whose projects meet all the requirements of the assginment and are executed with additional care, creativity, and coherence will receive a “B.” To receive an “A” on the assignments (and therefore, in the course), students must go above and beyond the basic requirements of the assignments, showing exceptional care, creativity, and coherence. Students who fail to meet the requirements of the assignment or whose execution is incomplete or inadequate will receive a “D” or below.

In the case of projects, I will be looking for clear and convincing statements of intentions in your project write-ups, and effective executions of those intentions in the project. Attention to detail in execution is appreciated, but rougher-edged well-conceived work will win out over very polished, unimaginative work.

In the case of written assignments, I will be looking for well-written and well-reasoned arguments that address the question posed. Mere descriptions of the function of a particular software artifact are not what I’m looking for; you will be asked to analyze, evaluate, and then make and support arguments about such artifacts. This is a formal written assignment, not a note or a blog post.

Proofread and cite sources. Well-reasoned, persuasive writing is what I’m looking for, whether or not I agree with your position is irrelevant.

In both cases, going beyond the letter of the assignment and integrating it with your own ideas, questions, and interests is encouraged, and indeed will help you improve your performance.

Quizzes

These short answer written tests will be graded to confirm the student’s complete and fluent understanding of the key principles of the material. Quizzes will be comprised of very short answer questions with clearly correct and incorrect answers, based on class readings. Quizzes may occur at any time reading is assigned, so please be sure to read the assignments for each week. Clarification on which reading assignments are required for the next meeting will be provided at the end of each class meeting.

Final Exam

The final exam will consist of short answer and essay questions on the content of the readings and lectures. Students can expect to be prepared for the final exam if they attend lecture, do the readings, and peform well on the quizzes.

Critiques and Presentations

Students will be asked to make in-class presentations to their colleagues twice, once for one of the projects, once for the final group project (presentation in groups). The first will be short, the second longer. I am looking for clear and concise explanations of your intentions and how you implemented them, as well as challenges and how you overcame them. Your oratory abilities will be a factor in these grades.

Note that to receive an “A” in the course, students must go above and beyond the basic requirements of the assignments. This is a course about expressive computing; the best work will articulate and deliver on clear expressive goals.

Attendance Requirements

Students are expected to attend all classes. Three excused absences are permitted, any more will result in a reduction in the the student’s final grade by one letter grade for every two additional unexcused absenses. Tardiness over 10 minutes will be considered an unexcused absence. Attendance will be taken every class, starting the second week of class to allow for new students/churn. If you anticipate having a problem attending class for whatever reason, you are urged to see the professor in advance of your expected absense.

Reading List

These books are available at the Engineers Bookstore or from your favorite online bookseller.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, The New Media Reader (MIT Press 2003)

Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (MIT Press, 1998)

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (Basic Books, 2002)

Schedule

Week 1: INTRODUCTION

TOPIC

Introduction

Computation as a medium

Marshall McLuhan

READ

NMR Preface, Intros

NMR McLuhan (13)

DO

Course Survey

Week 2: PROPERTIES OF THE MEDIUM, SPATIAL PROPERTY

TOPIC

Properties of the Medium

Spatial Property

Getting Lost in Virtual Spaces

READ

HoH, Chapter 3NMR: Nelson (21)

HoH, Chapter 4

NMR, Borges (1)

(in class) ADVENT,

Adventure,

The Legend of Zelda

DO

Play Zork, Book & Volume

Start Written Assignment 1

Week 3: PARTICIPATORY PROPERTY

TOPIC

Labor Day

Programming in Inform

Participatory Property

READ

HoH: Chapter 5

DO

Start Project 1 (Inform Interactive Fiction)

Written Assignment 1 Due

Week 4: ENCYCLOPEDIC PROPERTY, PART I

TOPIC

Participation and Affordances

Managing Data

Peer Critique

READ

Norman: Chapter 1

NMR: Bush (2)

DO

Start Written Assignment 2

Week 5: ENCYCLOPEDIC PROPERTY, PART II

TOPIC

Data Networks

The World Wide Web

The Free Software Movement

READ

NMR: Nelson (30)

NMR: Berners-Lee (54)

NMR: Stallman (36)

DO

Written Assignment 2 Due

Project 1 Due

Week 6: ENCYCLOPEDIC PROPERTY, PART III

TOPIC

Programming Switchboard

The Semantic Web

Web 2.0

READ

Berners-Lee, Hendler and Lassila, The Semantic Web: A new form of Web content that is meaningful to computers will unleash a revolution of new possibilities

O’Reilly, What is Web 2.0?, The Machine is Us/ing Us, O’Reilly, Web 2.0 Compact Definition: Trying Again, Anderson, Tim Berners-Lee on Web 2.0: “nobody even knows what it means”

DO

Start Project 2

Start Written Assignment 3

Week 7: PROCEDURAL PROPERTY, PART I

TOPIC

Peer Critique

Modern Computation

Procedurality

READ

NMR: Turing (3)

Chris Crawford, Process IntensityGreg Costikyan, Designing Games for Process Intensity

DO

Written Assignment 3 Due

Project 2 Due

Week 8: PROCEDURAL PROPERTY, PART II

TOPIC

Fall Break

Programming Processing Behavior

Eliza

READ

Eliza Online

NMR: Weizenbaum (24)

DO

Start Project 3

Week 9: PROCEDURAL CHARACTERS

TOPIC

Peer Critique

Procedural Characters

Behavior and Improv

READ

HoH: Chapter 8

Fast-Food Stanislavsky (handout)

DO

Start Written Assignment 4

Project 3 Due

Week 10: ORIGINS OF PROCEDURALITY

TOPIC

Visual Programming

Dada and the Beats

The Oulipo

READ

NMR: Burroughs (7)

NMR: Oulipo (12)

DO

Written Assignment 4 DueStart Project 4

Week 11: PROCEDURAL AUTHORSHIP

TOPIC

Peer Critique

Surrealist Games

Procedural Literacy

READ

N/A

DO

Project 4 Due

Week 12: HISTORY OF PROCEDURAL MEDIA, PART I

TOPIC

Programming in Chef

READ

NMR: Weiner (4)

NMR: Engelbart (8)

DO

Start Written Assignment

Start Project 5

Week 13: HISTORY OF PROCEDURAL MEDIA, PART II

TOPIC

Peer Critique

Personal Dynamic Media

Affordances and Efficiency

READ

NMR: Kaye & Goldberg (26)

DO

Written Assignment 5 Due

Norman: Chapters 4, 5, 7

Project 5 Due

Week 14: THE POETICS OF CODE

TOPIC

Programming in Batari BASIC

The Poetics of Code

Thanksgiving

READ

Mateas and Montfort, A Box, Darkly

DO

Start Written Assignment 6Start Final Project (Atari)

Week 15: PROCEDURAL CONSTRAINT

TOPIC

Platforms

Peer Critique

Homebrew

READ

Bogost and Montfort, from Platform Studies

DO

Written Assignment 6 Due

Camper, Reveling in Restrictions

Week 16: FINAL PRESENTATIONS

Final Project Presentations

Finals

Week: Final Exam