Syllabus: Documentary and Activist Games (CTIN-499)


Filmmaker John Grierson famously described documentary cinema as “the creative treatment of actuality.” Documentary films can illuminate unseen processes, broaden our awareness of the past and present, and challenge us to make a better future. How might games achieve similar ends? What can interactive media do in the realms of non-fiction, documentary, and activism that other kinds of media cannot? How can we use games and interaction design to not only document the Real, but also to intervene on it, and to shape the world to come?

This course explores the past, present, and future of documentary and activist interactive media and games. Students will approach the topic from a variety of perspectives, drawing on contemporary art practice, cultural studies, game studies, cinema studies, and more. Informed by these historical and theoretical contexts, students will workshop documentary and activist games of their own.

CTIN-499_ActivistGames_Spring2015_Syllabus_rev2 (.pdf)

# Jan 6, 2015

“The poetics of the oppressed is essentially the poetics of liberation: the spectator no longer delegates power to the characters either to think or to act in his place. The spectator frees himself; he thinks and acts for himself! Theatre is action!”

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed

# Dec 20, 2014

“Let’s step back for a moment—or rather, float upward a bit, and imagine a bird’s-eye view of this society, one in which harried workers are sent to and fro by way of commands conveyed to them through personal computing devices. They don’t know why they are doing these things, nor what sort of calculus informs all their data-charged activity. But still they follow the commands, which come with the computer’s imprimatur of mathematical precision and authority. They move between tasks with all the attention and care of worker bees; accomplishing the job without hesitation is all that matters. They live and work in conditions of closely choreographed banality.”

Jacob Silverman, The Crowdsourcing Scam

# Dec 12, 2014

“In this great Celestial Creation, the Catastrophy of a World, such as ours, or even the total Dissolution of a System of Worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common Accident in Life with us, and in all Probability such final and general DoomsDays may be as frequent there, as even Birth-Days or Mortality with us upon this Earth.”

Thomas Wright, An Original Theory Or New Hypothesis of the Universe

The IndieCade Award

The IndieCade Award is a peer-to-peer award-giving game played at the IndieCade International Festival of Independent Games. Designer/game director/all-around-genius Gabe Smedresman describes the game as follows:

The Indiecade Award is a recognition that festival attendees can award to each other for a supportive word in a time of need, a critical donation or piece of advice, or for having created a personally meaningful game or written work.

Volunteers will solicit tweet-length awards and recipient info from attendees each day. During the awards ceremony and festival afternoons, we’ll engrave the awards onto acrylic cubes, locate the recipients, and deliver the awards.

On Sunday, those who have received and given the most awards will be recognized for their positivity and supportiveness.

It was an honor to be a part of pulling together a project like this. Based on the reactions of people who gave or received the awards, I think it accomplished it what it set out to do — that is, “encourage the kind of behavior we want to see [in the games community]: positivity, encouragement, and mutual support” — and then some.

Special thanks to Gabe, Mattie Brice, Crash Space LA, Christina Orcutt, Jessica Escobedo, Chelsea Howe, Laird Melamed, Tracy Fullerton, Peter Brinson, Rob Manuel, Jesse Vigil, Richard Lemarchand, Funomena, Indiecade, Elizabeth Sampat, and all the IndieCade volunteers for making this happen. Looking forward to doing it again next year!

# Oct 12, 2014

“I think that Luther Blissett was an experiment in practical philosophy. Luther faced the belief in the Author as an individual genius with telling a moral fable on how creativity really works. We believe that any author is a collective author.”

Wu Ming 1, Confessions of an Aca/Fan

# Oct 7, 2014

“It’s funny. Not everyone loves humanity. Either explicitly or implicitly, some people seem to think that humans are a blight on the Earth’s surface. They say things like, ‘Nature is so wonderful; things are always better in the countryside where there are no people around.’ They imply that humanity and civilisation are less good than their absence. But I’m not in that school . . . I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.”

Elon Musk, Aeon Magazine