Courses in Digital Narrative and Interactive Design in the English Department. Read more about the DNID Program.
ENGLIT 0510: Making the Book
Before Twitter was a platform for novel-writing, Gutenberg had an app for that. The history of the book is one of the technological innovations that shape narrative and meaning. Students will gain considerable knowledge regarding the labor of making a book, practices of reading, circulating, and preserving printed matter, and the intersections between literary media; literacy; social class; and national and global communities of shared knowledge. Activities include making woodcuts, examining rare books, archival research, and designing images with our department’s Challenge Printing Press. These activities combined with literary texts and theory give students knowledge of the interplay between books as objects and as texts.
ENGLIT 0512: Narrative and Technology
This course explores the ways in which new technologies impact how we engage with stories. It examines the relationship between traditional literary forms and contemporary media, such ashypertext, web logs, fan fiction, video games, comics, and interactive fiction. As a writing-intensive course, "Narrative and Technology" will ask students to write regularly in response to course texts and class discussions. Students will have opportunities not only to write critically about the relationships among narratives and technologies but also to write creatively, experimenting with interactive, hypermedia, and/or other new media forms.
ENGLIT 0521: Scan Culture: Surveillance & the Digital
One way to characterize the intertwined social and technological milieu of the 21st century is as “scanculture.” From the NSA's wide reaching scanning programs revealed by Edward Snowden to besystematically scanning nearly all of our metadata to Gmail's scanning of our emails to ubiquitous body scanners at airports to the vast digitization efforts by Amazon, Google, and the Internet Archive totransfer our archives and reading practices into the modalities of the digital, our lives are largelystructured by scanning techniques that are simultaneously technological and social. This course,offered alongside the launch of a larger initiative to investigate the cultural aspects of scanning, willtake a multi-media approach to scan culture. We'll analyze novels, stories, films, video games, websites, and technological systems in order to develop a critical vocabulary and conceptual framework formaking sense of scanning as a form of culture. In addition, students will have the opportunity to join in the building of a book scanning system, to investigate “from the inside” the protocols, possibilities, andlimitations of digitization.
ENGLIT 0620: The Graphic Novel
This course examines how graphic novels use the comics medium to tell stories, convey information, andcreate meaning. We will read a range of authors and artists, considering works in their historical, cultural, and literary contexts. We will study various approaches to comics and graphic novels, developing and applying a critical vocabulary and tools forthe analysis of the medium. We will pay particular attention to how individual texts use the comics form, represent various genres, and demonstrate stylistic innovations. By the end of the semester, you should be able to closely read and analyze graphic novels and other examples of the comics medium, and clearly articulate your observations in writing, using the critical concepts and vocabulary we will develop and apply throughout the semester.
ENGLIT 0702: Introduction to Game Studies
This course will offer an introduction to the critical study of games and gaming. From a theoretical overview of the roles that games play—enrolling us in certain logics and methodologies, structuring play and competition, opening up narrative possibilities and reinforcing particular ideologies—to an in-depth look at particular games, this course seeks to investigate the uses and potentials of gaming as a cultural form that combines elements of literature, cinema, and computation. We'll study and play many video games, from simple simulations to vast 3D open world games, from mainstream to indie, from contemporary titles back to text adventure games and the home consoles of the 1970s. We will also look at other forms of games: board games, literary games, etc. Major thematic “streams” of the class will include games as narrative, narrative as game, games and ideology, games and time, narrative tropes in games, simulation and story generation, and more. This course will emphasize the medial differences between literature and game narrative, while also exploring literature's influence on games and games' influence on literature. A core component of the course will be a focus on game design. All students will conceptually design a board game, video game, or role playing game (on paper only; you do not need to actually create the game). You will also have the option to create your own game as your final project.
ENGLIT 0712: Critical Making
The Maker movement is an emerging social and media form that is at once highly networked and post-digital. Making is situated at the intersection of social media, the online gift economy, and a participatory, interventionist engagement with one's physical environment. Drawing on open source ideals and innovation structures—the free sharing of code to enable collaborative development—making has become an attempt to democratize material culture through networked access to tools. MakerSpaces and MakerHubs have become critical nodes in efforts to materialize the virtual gift economy of the Internet. In this course we will engage the intellectual and practical roots of this new medial and social form and engage in our own critical making projects, utilizing scanning, modeling, and 3D printing technologies. We will begin by looking at the history and philosophy of open source software development, and then the political, social, cultural, and technological developments that have together given rise to critical maker culture. We will then learn some of the basic tools of scanning, modeling, and 3D printing. After initial modeling and printing assignments, students will form groups and develop collaborative final projects that involve materializing complex conceptual relationships from a topic of your choice. The aim of this course is to “close the circuit” between creative conceptual production, social networking, and materialized object relationships. Critical making is about critically engaging and creatively remaking the world around us. By the end of the semester, you will become a criticalmaker!
ENGLIT 0730: Archival Research Methods
This course surveys archival research in the information age, with emphasis on two interconnected focal areas: (1) hands-on methods most frequently employed when visiting a special collections library or department; and (2) the digital tools and approaches that today’s researchers most frequently employ when investigating an area of humanities inquiry. Over the course of the semester, students will look closely at the kinds of archival materials that book historians and literary studies scholars most commonly consult, and think critically about the diverse ways humanities scholars think about those materials.
ENGLIT 0732: Post-Digital Gaming
The current moment is frequently referred to as the “golden age of tabletop games” (a category that encompasses board games, card games, and role playing games), marked by significant innovation in the form, an explosion of tabletop game popularity, and a significant online culture devoted to this most offline of media. Why are analog games flourishing as never before in a culture supposedly saturated by and enamored with the digital? How do these games function as emergent narrative structures? How do they respond to digital modalities, either by implicitly opposing their aesthetics and informatics or incorporating various digital dynamics and remediating them into offline, tactile form?
This course will examine the narrative, social, and material dynamics of games that have emerged within the era of ubiquitous digital media, yet employ analog elements as either a rejection of the digital, a critical response to it, or an exploration of the hybrid potentials of analog-digital systems. We will also examine hybrid games that incorporate both digital and analog elements, such as early video games that promiscuously combined the two, or more recent digital games that “spill into” analog space and incorporate analog dynamics into their hybrid simulations. How do these games frame the relationship between the analog and the digital, the body and code, open systems and closed worlds? In the course of this adventure through narrative, emergent social dynamics, and simulated worlds, we’ll play innovative tabletop games from recent years, some older games that have been remediated in various ways, early video games, and recent innovations in hybrid analog-digital games. We’ll consider how the narrative architectures and gameplay mechanics employed by these games enable emergent storytelling and critical simulation at the same time, reflecting on and probing identity, social dynamics, traumatic histories, and ethics in an era of digital media. Game design will play a significant role in a series of assignments.
ENGLIT 0812: Media/Ecology
From the late twentieth century to the present, ecology as a scientific discipline and set of cultural narratives has risen to the forefront of knowledge production as a way to study and understand complex biological systems and their internal dynamics. During the same period, media systems have grown exponentially in complexity until they too have begun to exhibit some of the behaviors of biological systems, including self-organization, feedback, evolution, and emergent properties. The term “media ecology” captures both this new, nonlinear systems approach to understanding media itself as well as the intersection between natural ecosystems and the technological assemblages with which they are intertwined. This course will explore both media that simulate or otherwise interface with natural ecosystems and works that self-reflexively engage contemporary medial and informatic systems at different scales. The secret life of information, contagious media, and the post-natural ecologies of our present and future will challenge us to conceive of Media and Ecology as a single coupled system: the emblem of our contemporary milieu. Students will have the option to produce collaborative media projects that explore the themes of the course. These can take the form of simulations, games, network graphing, film or video projects, local ecosystem analysis and/or visualization, or the mapping and analysis of a media ecosystem that interfaces with the environment.
ENGLIT 1002: Critical Game Studies: Game, Story, Play
This course will offer an introduction to the critical study of game narrative. From a theoretical overview of the roles that games play—enrolling us in certain logics and methodologies, structuring play and competition, opening up narrative possibilities and reinforcing particular ideologies—to an in depth look at particular games, this course seeks to investigate the uses and potentials of gaming as a cultural form that combines elements of literature, cinema, and computation. We'll study and play many video games, from simple simulations to vast 3D open world games, from mainstream to indie, from contemporary titles back to text adventure games and the home consoles of the 1970s. We will also, however, look at other forms of games: board games, word games, etc. We will read literature that has been influenced by games and gaming as well as examine the literary influences on many games. Major thematic “streams” of the class will include games as narrative, narrative as game, body and environment, games and ideology, and gaming publics. No particular gaming experience or skill is required or expected. Just come ready to play!
ENGLIT 1011: Milton to Minecraft: Art, Nature, and Technology
In this course, we will examine literature pertaining to the long history of relations among humans, technical devices, and the natural world, situating changing views of nature within larger cosmic and socioeconomic contexts.
ENGLIT 1355: Virtual Reality
Can there be more than one reality? Is there even one? What relationship do the senses and the mind bear to the physical environment? From the dawn of human society, no topic has been more fiercely debated than the nature of reality. In narrative, philosophy, and media, virtual reality has always been with us. This course dives deep into the rabbit hole of the real and the virtual, an adventure that includes philosophy, literature, film, and, of course, VR headsets aplenty! In addition to exploring the history of the realand the virtual, we will consider the relationship of virtual reality to the body, to space, to human gesture and communication, and to code. We will also explore the role of the imagination and creativity in the generation of new worlds. You will learn to think historically, theoretically, and critically about VR. You will have the option of either writing critical papers or creating your own virtual environment or game as your final project. This course assumes no prior experience with VR or coding, but those skills can optionally be put to use in final projects. Come prepared to question your reality!
ENGLIT 1412: Secret Pittsburgh
How much do you know about the city outside Pitt? Have you explored a hillside neighborhood using stairways instead of streets? Visited the church with the largest collection of relics outside Europe? Eaten a macaroon prepared by a transplanted French baker? Pittsburgh has a rich cultural history, from labor disputes to a vibrant arts scene. It's also a city with secrets. Students in this course will explore Pittsburgh's most unusual sites and locales; learn about the city's history and the literature it has inspired; and research and write entries for a public guide to secret Pittsburgh.