SYLLABUS: ETCV/INFV 405 - Introduction to Game Design

Syllabus for Spring 2019-20, 1st 7.5 weeks

January 15, 2019 - March 6, 2019

Meeting time Fully online with synchronous online meetings held Mondays at 7:00pm (Arizona local time; link in LMS) via Zoom
People Instructor: Dr. Ryan M. Straight
Office hours Virtual open-door:
Slack @ryanstraight
Twitter @ryanstraight

Course Description

This course focuses on the study and examination of digital games with an emphasis on theoretical and conceptual frameworks for game design. Students will also be exposed to the process of game design using various methods and techniques such as iteration, rapid prototyping, mechanics, dynamics and user interface.

Course Overview

We will cover many topics in this class, we will find ourselves in many places and times, and we will be both historians and futurists. The study of games requires a foray into myriad topics, including psychology, sociology, media studies, gender studies, geo-politics, and more. Be prepared to become both consumers and creators. Bring your passion to this collaborative experience and we will all benefit greatly. This class will be looking at so-called ‘commercial, off-the-shelf’ games, as well as serious/educational games and simulations.

On completing this course, students will understand and will have participated in each step of the game design process. They will be familiar with the vocabulary, tools, and methodologies of a game designer and design team, and know how each member of that team interacts with the rest. Students will understand how narratology, ludology, serious game and simulation design, and creative presentation fits within the larger topic of game design.

This course utilizes a variety of educational activities to deliver and assess understanding of the course content. Students will work solo and collaboratively design a game, participate in frequent activities both in-class and outside class based on weekly readings, complete a number of design challenges, and engage in other activities as assigned.

Course Objectives

Based upon Association for Educational Communications and Technology’s AECT Standards for Professional Education Programs (2012 version):

This course is broken down into modules lasting anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks. Standards listed below cut across all modules.

Identify multiple techniques for using games to teach and learn.

  • Standard 1: Content Knowledge
    • Using
    • Assessing/Evaluating
  • Standard 3: Learning Environments
    • Creating
    • Using
  • Standard 5: Research
    • Theoretical Foundations

Categorize digital games according to criteria including mechanics, genre, platform, and interface.

  • Standard 2: Content Pedagogy
    • Assessing/Evaluating
  • Standard 4: Professional Knowledge and Skills
    • Reflection on Practice

Create a game design document detailing elements including genre, mechanics, narrative structure, features, interface, and play space.

  • Standard 1: Content Knowledge
    • Creating
    • Using
    • Managing
  • Standard 2: Content Pedagogy
    • Creating
    • Using
  • Standard 3: Learning Environments
    • Creating
    • Using
  • Standard 4: Professional Knowledge and Skills
    • Collaborative Practice
    • Leadership

Evaluate and explain the choices made in said design document.

  • Standard 1: Content Knowledge
    • Assessing/Evaluating
  • Standard 2: Content Pedagogy
    • Assessing/Evaluating
  • Standard 4: Professional Knowledge and Skills
    • Collaborative Practice
    • Reflection on Practice

Develop a serious game with fellow students using common techniques including rapid prototyping, playtesting, and iteration.

  • Standard 1: Content Knowledge
    • Creating
  • Standard 3: Learning Environments
    • Creating
  • Standard 4: Professional Knowledge and Skills
    • Collaborative Practice
    • Leadership

Required Readings

Brathwaite, B., & Schreiber, I. (2008). Challenges for Game Designers. Boston: Course Technology.

All consumables (there is much more than simply “required readings”) is provided on a per-module and per-week basis and is available linked through the LMS.


Assessments in this class rely heavily on you (and not in the way you may expect). Read below to find out how.


Game Design Challenges

Design challenges are meant to serve as training wheels for the beginning designer. You are given a very specific constraint and requirement with which to create a game. Sometimes you will need to produce assets that go with it. Other times you will need to playtest and include the results in the assignment. Each is different.


You will be required to write a detailed and comprehensive review of a simulation or game.

Final Project

The final project consists of an extremely detailed design document that could, in theory, be used to develop an entire game. This is broken down into 3 parts:

  1. A draft design document.
  2. Sample asset mock-ups.
  3. A complete, polished Rulebook.

Point values

This class employs ungrading. Point values exist but are there only as a guide. The majority of assessment in this class comes from feedback to your good-faith submissions. You will essentially be grading yourself. Note that bonus items denoted by italic text are not figured into the total point value.

Assignment Point value
Game Design Challenges (5) 28 (total)
Game or simulation review 5
Final - Draft Design Document 5
Final - Sample Asset Mockup 3
Final - Design Packet 6
Bonus: 100% reviews 1
Total: 47

Example Score Breakdown

Again, as this course evaluation is based on ungrading, the point values are essentially checklists that, when you acknowledge each item, tells me that you have faithfully completed each target area to the best of your ability. Technically, however, this is the point breakdown:

Grade Percentage Points: Low High
A 90% - 100% 42.3 47
B 80% - 89% 37.6 42.3
C 70% - 79% 32.9 37.5
D 60% - 69% We need to talk. Now.
E 0% - 59% We need to talk. Now.


You’ll notice this course does something a bit different with project grades: it is your responsibility to explain how you achieve the targets listed, not to simply state that you did. Each project comes with a grading declaration quiz. For each list of targets (ie, rubric), you will be required to complete the project’s associated quiz to, again, explain how you feel you fulfilled that portion of the assignment. Once the declaration is submitted, the assignment submission folder will open and you will submit your assignment files there.

You cannot submit an assignment without first completing its associated grading declaration!

Gateway Requirements

Also be aware that there are gateway requirements prior to reaching the assessment rubric. For example, if a project requires you to submit an 8-10 page paper and your submission is only 6 pages (ie, does not meet the gateway requirements) I will simply not grade it. These gateway requirements are made clear in each assignment document.

Your grading declaration is a gateway requirement. If it is missing or incomplete, again, the assignment will not–cannot!–be evaluated!

Course Schedule

The general course schedule is maintained in detail in the LMS. Recorded class sessions are available through Slack. Attending class sessions (or watching the recorded session if you missed class) is absolutely necessary and vital to your success in this class.

For the purposes of this class, weeks begin on MONDAY.


I am nearly always available through electronic means. My policy is that I will respond usually immediately, mostly within 24 hours, and at the latest to questions within 48 hours (or by Monday morning if sent during the weekend, during which I do not work). If I do not respond in this windows do not hesitate to bug me. All questions that are class-related and not personal in nature should be posted in Slack to the class channel so everyone can benefit from the response (or chime in). Personal issues may be sent via direct message (DM). All emails sent to me should have subjects beginning with INFV ### or ETCV ###. All emails I send (that are not automatically created by the LMS) will have the same. This makes finding things considerably easier. Still, I reiterate: Slack is the better way to contact me.

Also note that I do not respond to communications about making up missed work or improving grades during the end of the semester. It is your responsibility to keep an eye on your grade throughout the semester and contact me with your concerns before the course is nearly ended. If you missed some points in week 2 you should not be petitioning me in week 7 to make them up.

Course Technology

This is a technology-driven course. As such, you are required to have ready access to a relatively modern computer and an account that allows you to install software on that computer. You should also be excited to try and use new technologies. We do a lot of that.

The course website can be found on D2L at Log in with your NetID. Note that course content lives primarily within D2L but usually as Google Documents that require you to use your UA account to access. Keep this in mind if you use multiple Gmail accounts.

We will have a full-class chatroom/discussion board/forum on Slack. You will be able to log into Slack via your Google Apps for Education account (it will use WebAuth). Having the Slack application installed on your phone is required (if possible).

Updating your profiles in both D2L and Slack is required. We’re spending a lot of time together, so no excuse to just be a NetID for 8 weeks. Picture, likes and dislikes, job title, degree, home campus, the works.

You may be asked to use software that requires more processing power than your computer has. Contact the instructor if you feel this will prevent you from participating.

Class meetings are hosted via Zoom. It is REQUIRED that you have a microphone and headphones for the class meetings. (A cheap set of earbuds will work if your laptop has a mic and you will be from a relatively quiet place.) You will be expected to use them. Should we have a class activity that requires a microphone and you do not have one you will not receive credit for that assignment. Having working headphones and a microphone is not negotiable.

You will need to install the latest edition of the Chrome browser for this class. Tech support is vastly simpler if everyone uses the same browser.

Document submissions are required to be in PDF format unless otherwise noted. Assignments should also be in APA 6th ed. formatting, which is best achieved using Microsoft Word (free for students) or Google Documents (free for all).

Class Policies

These policies run across all of my classes. Take the time to read them if this is your first class with me (go ahead and read them again, even if it’s not). The following are in addition to or in concert with all policies found in the University Catalog:

The 7.5 Week Semester

The material covered and assignments required in a shortened 7.5 week semester are equal to those in a full 16 week semester with half the time allotted. Time management and “working ahead” are practical necessities in an accelerated semester. Do not fall behind. “I didn’t have time” is not an acceptable excuse for missing assignments or readings.

Use of Student Work

Assignments completed for this course may be used as examples of student work in an instructor portfolio. Names and other identifying elements will be removed before inclusion. Students who do not wish their work to be used must inform the instructor in writing before the start of the second week of classes.

Student Workload

According to UA policy, at least 15 contact hours of recitation, lecture, discussion, seminar, or colloquium, as well as a minimum of 30 hours of student homework are required for each unit of student credit. A contact hour is the equivalent of 50 minutes of class time or 60 minutes of independent-study work. For an online course this equates to 45 hours of work per credit; 135 hours total for the semester in a 3-credit class (9 hours per week). The hour requirements specified above represent minimums for average students, and considerable deviation (more or less) of these requirements may occur. In shortened, accelerated 7.5 week classes this workload is doubled. You should expect to spend 18 hours per week on this class. Budget your time wisely and always look ahead.


UA South provides free tutoring for writing and math, and various other related subjects, at multiple locations and fully online. Students can access free tutoring in- person at our Cochise and Yuma County locations, at the UA Think Tank in Tucson, as well as fully online from the UA Think Tank.

To find tutoring hours and availability near you, please select your location below to find the tutoring available at your learning center.

Academic Dishonesty

Cheating and plagiarism are unethical. Students are expected to do their own work. Plagiarism includes copying or cutting and pasting from online sources, taking information from a book or article, copying someone else’s paper, or having someone else do your work for you. Research sources must be properly documented. Students found cheating or intentionally plagiarizing will receive a zero for the assignment and may be dismissed from the class with a failing grade, required to attend workshops, have a permanent note included on his or her transcript, or any combination thereof to the instructor’s discretion.

I take this very seriously and, as professional academics in this field, I expect you to, as well. When in doubt, cite! See our program website for a primer on APA style, citation, and avoiding plagiarism and cheating.

In a development course like this it is likely you will come across much in the way of inspiration, be it in class or through your own research. Keep a constant log of all assets you either use in your work (free vectors or audio clips, for example) or note down what the inspiration was for a particular development choice. Being inspired by something you love is perfectly fine; simply using it is not.

Plagiarism and Cheating

Integrity and ethical behavior are expected of every student in all academic work. This Academic Integrity principle stands for honesty in all class work, and ethical conduct in all labs and clinical assignments. This principle is furthered by the student Code of Conduct and disciplinary procedures established by ABOR Policies 5-308 through 5-404, all provisions of which apply to all University of Arizona students. This Code of Academic Integrity is intended to fulfill the requirement imposed by ABOR Policy 5-403.A.4 and otherwise to supplement the Student Code of Conduct as permitted by ABOR Policy 5-308.C.1.

As a matter of policy, I submit all instances of academic dishonesty, plagiarism, and cheating to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action. I trust you but I do not take this lightly!

Threatening Behavior

The University seeks to promote a safe environment where students and employees may participate in the educational process without compromising their health, safety or welfare. The Arizona Board of Regents’ Student Code of Conduct, ABOR Policy 5-308, prohibits threats of physical harm to any member of the University community, including to one’s self. Threatening behavior can harm and disrupt the University, its community and its families.

There will always be times when electronic communication will be necessary between students and between instructor and students. Please treat each other kindly and professionally!

Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy

The University is committed to creating and maintaining an environment free of discrimination. Our classroom is a place where everyone is encouraged to express well-formed opinions and their reasons for those opinions. We also want to create a tolerant and open environment where such opinions can be expressed without resorting to bullying or discrimination of others.


You’re an adult – be responsible for your attendance. If you miss a class you are to watch the recording and participate in any relevant discussion. There are also a number of things that you are expected to complete within the first week of class, namely reading this syllabus in full, reading the FAQ, understanding grading declarations and gateway requirements, and completing the Introduction Video assignment. Failure to do these can result in being administratively dropped from the class. Likewise, no/poor attendance throughout the beginning of the class can result in being administratively dropped from the class. Note: instructors are not obligated to administratively drop students for failure to participate. If a student is administratively dropped in the first half of the class a “W” will be administered if s/he has maintained a passing grade (60% or higher). An “E” will be administered for anything lower unless extenuating circumstances dictate otherwise as deemed appropriate by the instructor. See the class attendance policy in the General Catalog:

Paper/Assignment Submission

All assignments, papers, projects should be submitted in the specified method based on the system time in the class website. Due to the frantic nature of game development projects, no late work will be accepted for partial points. Keep in mind, however, that much work is iterative and you are still expected to complete it as later assignments/work are predicated on earlier assignments/work. Be aware that instructors are not obligated to accept late work at all. Students are responsible for ensuring proper delivery of their assignments/papers/projects. If an agreement has been made with the instructor to accept work after the due date or in a unique format it is the student’s responsibility to let the instructor know when this is done. Submissions of this nature may not necessarily be graded and returned along the same schedule as others. This policy may change for individual assignments. Do not wait until the last minute to submit. Your router going down or your computer’s clock being different from that of the LMS are not valid reasons for being late. It is also highly suggested you keep your ‘working’ folder in Google Drive or some other cloud-copy backup location like Your University of Arizona Google Apps for Education account comes with free, unlimited storage. Use it.

All written assignments submitted should be properly formatted and stylized. I require that APA format be followed when appropriate. Period. You may omit the cover page for small assignments.

Grading Turn-Around Time

Please note that I generally do not begin to grade an assignment until on or after the due date since it is my preference to grade all students’ submissions at one time, as well as return grades and feedback simultaneously. I will do my best to provide grades and useful feedback expediently.

However, some submissions require me to spend a significant time working through the materials. This may cause me to be delayed in grading that project. Additionally, if I am traveling I may be delayed in grading your submission. If this happens I will let everyone know.

You are expected to retain an electronic copy of all work submitted. If transmission of the work fails, you are expected to “resend” the document or message (in the case of online discussions). This is entirely your responsibility.

Social Media Policy

Should this course require participation in social media you have the option of using “burner” accounts should you feel uncomfortable with using a personal account for academic work. You may even choose to use a unique, unrelated email account to sign up for various platforms. You are in no way required to follow, friend, etc., your instructor, only to provide information about the account you decided to use.

The reason for this policy is as follows: if you are active on social media already and want to combine your personal and professional/academic activities, you may; if you are active on social media and do not want to mingle your personal and professional/academic activities, you have that option (this method is preferred for students); if you are not active on social media and have no intention of maintaining a presence after this course, simply abandon or delete your burner account. It is your instructor’s wish to reap the benefits of developing personal learning networks and getting global perspectives while maintaining a safe, secure environment for you.

That said, I will, at times, share interesting and related content via Twitter using a class hashtag, such as #infv405. You are not required to pay attention to this though it is encouraged. Twitter is also a haven for game designers and developers, so jumping in is highly encouraged.

Office Hours and Scheduling Meetings

I have a virtual open-door policy. That is to say, feel free to send me a DM and see if I’m available to chat any time. I like to think of it as dropping by the department’s building and peeking your head in my door. Just as it is in person, I’m not always available right that second, so you’re welcome to ‘wait in the hall’ (until I’ve finished doing whatever I was doing) or schedule an appointment with me. I’m happy to do a video conference via Slack (preferably), Zoom meet in person on Main Campus or in my office on the Pima East campus, as I live in Tucson.

Accessibility and Accommodations

If you have special needs as addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and need course materials in alternative formats or need any special accommodations, please notify your course instructor(s) and contact the Disability Resource Center immediately at 520-621-3268 or get information from DRC web site

Basic Securities

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable them to provide any resources that they may possess. (Adapted from Sara Goldrick-Rab.)

What to Expect

Given the nature of our field, it is entirely possible that materials considered adult, controversial, or objectionable in nature will crop up from time to time. We will be spending the majority of our time on the Internet and we should not only understand but respect the fact that it is a free and open place. As responsible adults, I encourage and expect everyone to be safe, smart, and secure when engaged online. Should you have any questions or concerns about content, please email me to discuss an alternative assignment.

Non-Endorsement Policy

In the course of accessing the online resources available in this course you will encounter a number of advertisements. We can not remove them from the material so it is your choice if you explore any of the advertising you encounter. However, the University does not endorse any of these advertisements.

A Personal Note

We live in a digital age. We communicate through digital means. While I fully expect your submitted assignments to employ proper spelling, grammar, construction, and styling, I not only allow but expect and encourage you to express yourself using whatever communicative means you like. I will use emoticons; I will type in the text chat without using proper capitalization and punctuation; I will use ‘reaction gifs’ and make references to memes in casual situations; I will share entertaining but relevant media. If I can do it, so can you. Just remember: a place and time for everything, just as the way you speak with friends on a Friday night out is not the same as when you’re giving a conference presentation. Context is everything.

The contents of this syllabus are subject to on-going change over the course of the semester as needed to accommodate students’ progress. Always link to this document instead of downloading a local copy.

Syllabus dated: 2020 January 07.