The Matrix; Nordic larp; Social Reality Theory; Selective Perception; Queer Studies; Magic; The Subjunctive Mood; Restorying; Narrative as Reality; Witchcraft; Social Deviance; Emancipatory Bleed; Mage the Ascension; Maya Deren; Activism; Ritual; Trans Studies; Arbitrary Code Execution; Neurodivergence; Avery Alder; Resisting the Oppressive Normative Social Order; Western Esotericism…there is a thread that connects all of these people, stories, theories, and ideas together that we will be unpacking and exploring in this seminar. By the end of this graduate level discussion seminar you should have an understanding of how games might be used as a form of magical practice, which itself is a kind of activism, to produce change intended to transform oppressive normative social orders towards emancipatory outcomes. We will each be reading, writing, watching, and playing our way towards our own theory of social change, drawing on the transformative power of narrative as a fundamental tool for shaping our reality.
The activities of the class will vary from week to week, but in order to succeed in it every student should be prepared to read, discuss, play, and create together. Some days will be entirely focused on disentangling the texts that we are reading. Others will be dedicated to viewing and critiquing media, or to larping, or playing games together, or designing new games and testing them in small groups. This course is about overcoming systems of oppression, so we will be leaving hierarchies at the door, and embracing the parts of ourselves that don’t fit comfortably into the “norm”.
Inevitably, the readings I’ve picked for this course reflect my own subjectivity. This means that this material is unapologetically transgender, queer, neurodivergent, and pagan.
Content Warning: Because we’re dealing with real things – oppression, trauma, pain, isolation – it’s not just possible but likely that many of you may find yourselves facing things that are difficult for you emotionally. You should never feel forced to disclose any personal trauma that you are uncomfortable sharing or discussing within the context of the class. We will be discussing techniques for keeping ourselves and each other safe while dealing with difficult materials, and will employ these techniques in the classroom. Even so, there are limits to what we can anticipate and prepare for, and sometimes trauma can surprise us. There is no guarantee of safety when dealing with these topics, and so it’s important that we all remain committed to caring for each other and ourselves in the classroom. If you need to step away, do so. You don’t need to explain or justify this to anyone, and I will never penalize anyone for taking the steps they need to take to keep themselves safe.
I’m exploring an “ungrading”* model for this seminar. Grading and hierarchical assessments are rooted in a kind of colonialist neoliberal mentality that is inherently unfair, ableist, normative, and contrary to the values that we will see articulated within the course materials. Grades, by their nature, cannot be decolonized it or made to be more inclusive to the degree that I would like. Grading also relies upon the idea that every student is arriving a the course with the same degree of life experience and understanding of the topic, that each student had the same goals for the course, and that every student is able to learn at the same pace from the same activities and materials. It is normative in ways that are fundamentally counter to many of the ideas we will encounter in this class. For these reasons I encourage you to approach your grade in this class with a healthy degree of skepticism, and to focus your efforts instead on setting your own goals for the course and your learning within it.
I will provide feedback on your performance and work in the class individually when feasible, and also within the larger group. An ungrading approach operates on equity and trust. I ask you to trust me to provide you with opportunities to learn and the feedback you need for where you are in your learning process. In return, I will trust you to genuinely and diligently pursue your learning goals, and to be honest in your self-reflections.
To facilitate this process you will do three self-reflections during the class – one at the beginning, one at the midpoint, and one at the end where you will provide your justification for the grade you believe you should receive for the entire class. (Despite my ethical commitments to ungrading, the institution demands that I assign grades at the end of the quarter.)
We’re going to explore the ideas in this course in a variety of different ways. I’ll be updating this section throughout the quarter to reflect the design of these activities as we get to them, but there are a few things that are already set.
Each week a pair of two students will be responsible for leading the in-class discussion of the readings. We will divide up presentation responsibilities during the first week of class. The presenting students should assume that everyone has done all of the readings, and come prepared to lead a conversation that synthesizes and extends the ideas and concepts from the readings into the issues and themes that the class is grappling with.
As the discussion leaders you should be prepared to facilitate a classroom discussion. I strongly encourage you to prepare some visuals in the form of a PowerPoint, Slides, or Keynote presentation to help guide the class. Here are some suggestions for things you might want to prepare to help guide our conversation:
This self-assessment is primarily a tool for you to reflect on how you want to learn in class this term. Please submit your response to the following questions as a PDF. And then save it for yourself! You’ll need to look back on it at the midpoint of the quarter, but hopefully you will revisit this document throughout the quarter to remind yourself what your goals were for the class, and to appreciate how your understandings have grown, developed, and evolved.
There are no wrong answers to these questions.
We’re halfway through the class, and already covered a LOT of different ideas and materials! This is a good time to take stock of how you’re performing, and the progress you’re making towards your goals in the class.
First, go back and re-read your responses to Self-Reflection #1.
Now, with those initial goals you set for yourself fresh in your mind, respond to the following questions:
Finally, please state what grade you think you would earn in this course if the course were to end today. Why do you think you’ve earned that grade? There is no wrong answer, and there is neither a penalty nor a reward for answering it however you wish.
*Note that for this course I will be employing a grade scale similar to the one that was used at my graduate institution where most grades fall between A+ and A-. A+ is reserved for exceptional achievement, and A- is reserved for students who struggle significantly but ultimately still pass. I typically don’t give B’s or lower to graduate students unless something goes really off the rails. Please assess yourself with this in mind.
Our journey together is at its end! This is your final opportunity to reflect on your experience.
First, re-visit your answers for first and second self-assessments. Then, respond to the following prompts:
Remember that I will be employing a grade scale where most grades fall between A+ and A-. A+ is reserved for exceptional achievement, and A- is reserved for students who struggle significantly but ultimately still pass. I typically don’t give B’s or lower to graduate students unless something goes really off the rails. Please assess yourself with this in mind.
Individually or in pairs, you will create something that is part game, part ritual, and part protest. You will play it or have others play it. You will document that play experience. You will reflect upon it and write up your reflections. If you have others play it you should collect their reflections on the experience.
What to submit:
Deadline: Wednesday, March 22, 2023 before the witching hour.
*We will adapt and adjust this schedule as needed, depending on how things proceed during the course.
Week 1 (01/11): Overview, Business, and Safety
Week 2 (01/18): Narrative as Reality, Selective Perception, Restorying
Due Before Class: Self Reflection #1
Discussion Leaders: TBD
Week 3 (01/25): Larp and Magic
Week 4 (02/01): Bleed, Design, Ritual, Transformation
Week 5 (02/08): Magic and Witches
Week 6 (02/15): Case Studies: Mage The Ascension & Transformative Experiences
Due before class: Self-Reflection #2
Week 7 (02/22): Trauma, Oppression, and Exploitation
Discussion Leaders: TBD
Week 8 (03/01): Social Constructs, Power, Technology, and Political Action
Discussion Leaders: TBD
Week 9 (03/08): Queer, Trans, and Neurodivergent Perspectives
Discussion Leaders: TBD
Finals Week: (03/22):
Due before class: Self-Reflection #3
Due before midnight: Final Projects
As your instructor, I am committed to ensuring equality and valuing diversity throughout our course. Our individual differences can deepen our understanding of one another and the world around us, rather than divide us. In this class, people of all ethnicities, genders and gender identities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, regions, and nationalities are strongly encouraged to share their rich array of perspectives and experiences. If you feel your differences may in some way isolate you from UCI’s community or if you have a need for any specific accommodations, please speak with me early in the quarter about your concerns and what we can do together to help you become an active and engaged member of our class and community.
Every kind of student is welcome in this class and can do well. Every student has a right to a productive learning environment — again, in person or online, in our weekly lectures or via email, anywhere on campus or at any sanctioned school event.
This implies a corresponding responsibility that we all protect and maintain this space as one that promotes a specific function: learning to develop games. This class welcomes students of any gender identity, any sexual orientation, any national origin, any disability status, any racial identity, any political persuasion, any major, any marital status, any military/veteran status, any documentation status, any class, caste, or clade. It should go without saying that as a university classroom we respect intellectual disagreements and diversity in our community, but we cannot guarantee everyone’s chance to learn without mutual respect.
We are a diverse and interdisciplinary group, and we may not always agree with each other in this classroom. I am committed to ensuring a collaborative environment where everyone is empowered to contribute fully. Central to any effective design practice is the ability to give and receive critical feedback in a manner that supports the goals of the project, builds up the abilities of your colleagues, and generates new creative opportunities. Certain behaviors undermine this process and have no place in our community. We expect all participants in the class to abide by these guidelines for maintaining a constructive and inclusive environment.