INF 190 / ICS 80 Storytelling for Interactive Media

Winter 2021

Theresa (Tess) Tanenbaum


Tuesdays & Thursdays
12:30-1:50pm PST

Remote Learning

Catalog Description

This course introduces students to theory, and practice of interactive storytelling for games and other interactive media. Students will explore the poetics of this emerging form through a combination of theory, play, and design.

Course Overview & Goals

Humans use narrative as a fundamental sense-making strategy to understand the world and communicate that understanding to others. As new media technologies emerge, they are inevitably put to narrative uses by people, expanding on existing strategies for storytelling and innovating new poetics for narrative. This course will focus on the relatively recent emergence of technologically mediated interactive and participatory narrative experiences. Starting with the emergence of electronic literature and hypertext narratives, students will encounter and experience a compressed history of this emergent form through play, analysis, and design.


  • Students will be able to analyze an existing interactive storytelling experience (such as a game, theme park experience, interactive theater piece, or work of electronic literature) in order to position it within its historical context and identify its central design poetics.
  • Students will develop a diverse set of digital narrative literacies through direct play experiences of significant milestones in digital storytelling.
  • Students will be able to differentiate between key concepts in digital narratology, including (but not limited to) diegesis, mimesis, fabula, syuzhet, agency, immersion, transformation, interactivity, ergodic, and ludic.
  • Students will be able to implement their own digital narrative experience using

Course Structure

This class involves significant reading and discussion. Every student is expected to participate in these discussions. We meet twice a week – on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Due to the remote nature of the course, we will conduct the majority of the class business on Discord.


Depending on the schedules and availability of the students, course discussions will either take place synchronously over Zoom, or asynchronously over Discord. This will be determined in the first week of class.

Grading and Deliverables

Students will individually create an interactive storytelling experience in Twine. This experience may explore any theme or idea, but students are encouraged to choose a topic that is personally significant, addresses an issue that they are concerned with, or explores an idea that challenges existing ideas about what games and digital media are typically “about”.  The project has three internal deadlines:

  • Thursday of Week #3: A short proposal for the concept of the game, posted in the appropriate channel on the Discord.
  • Thursday of Week #7: The first prototype of your game
  • Thursday of Finals Week: The final game.

Students will create and playtest their own module and setting for Jason Morningstar’s collaborative storytelling game: Fiasco.

Students will choose one interactive narrative piece from the list that we generate as a class and post a short reflection on the course Discord.

Extra Curricular Activities

In addition to the graded assignments, there are also two extra curricular activities that we will schedule – one in Week 3 and one in Week 5. These are entirely optional activities, but will be a whole lot of fun, and will provide students with a chance to get hands-on-experience with short-form collaborative storytelling games.


Week #3: Fiasco!

We will play an “old school” version of Fiasco in week 3, probably in the evening after class. Using the original ruleset for the game, I will facilitate a small group of students from the class through the game, as a live “performance” for an audience of the rest of the class. The students in the audience will be invited to make suggestions, comments, and contributions as we go – I will periodically open things up for the audience to interact with the game, playing extra characters, and providing details. 


Week #5: You Awaken in A Strange Place

You Awaken in a Strange Place is a collaborative storytelling game by Jacob Andrews for 3 players and a storyteller. It is intended to be played without any preparation, and has incredibly simple mechanics whereby the players collectively create a world and characters very quickly, and then dive into the gameplay. It’s meant to be a short, exciting, experience that must be finished in one session.  As with our Fiasco! game, we will pick three volunteers to play, and will incorporate the rest of the class as an active and participating audience to the game.

Weekly Schedule and Materials

Color Key


Videos to watch

Resources and Tutorials

Extracurricular Activities

Deliverables and Assignments





  • Course introduction
  • Onboarding everyone onto the Discord
  • Review Course Policies



Reading to discuss

Bizzocchi & Tanenbaum: Well Read


Hammond: A total beginner’s guide to Twine





Reading to discuss

Tanenbaum: New Media and Digital Narrative Fundamentals



Videos to discuss

Fiasco: Set-up

Fiasco: Act I

Fiasco: Act II





Reading to discuss

Crawford: The Art of Interactive Design



Reading to discuss

Biswas: Actions, Verbs, and Processes: Games and Being Human


Twine Game Proposals Due






Videos to discuss

Story Structures Overview

Three Act Structure

Dan Harmon Story Circle (introduction)

Dan Harmon Story Circle (exploration)



Reading to discuss

Short: Links and Structures from Michael Joyce to Twine

Fiasco Playsets Due






Reading and video to discuss

Aarseth: Nonlinearity and Literary Theory

The Hero’s Journey to Save the Cat



Reading and video to discuss

The Hero’s Journey of Miles Morales

Short: Conversation as Gameplay

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY: Play You Awaken in a Strange Place (schedule TBD)





Reading to discuss

Gupta & Tanenbaum: Pleasures of Agency in Shiva’s Rangoli



Reading to discuss

Burch: The Illusion of Videogame Interactivity

First Reflection Due






Readings to discuss

Tanenbaum: Reframing Subversive Play in Story-Based Games

Biswas: Rituals, Cheating, and The Dream of Possibility



Reading to discuss

Adams: Three Problems for interactive storytellers

Twine Game Prototype Due






Reading and video to discuss

Gupta et al.: Investigating Roleplaying and Identity Transformation in a VR Narrative Experience

Alder: We’ve Been Stranger Things



Reading to discuss

Beck & Vanek: Let’s Play with Fire! Using Risk and its Power for Personal Transformation







Readings to discuss

Zimmerman: Four Naughty Concepts

Jenkins: Game Design as Narrative Architecture



Reading to discuss

Pearce: Towards a Game Theory of Games

WEEK #10




Readings to discuss

Stark: Nordic Larp for Noobs

Jeepform Dictionary



Reading to discuss

Veyjdemo: Play to Life, not Just to Lose





Twine Game Due


Additional Important Course Policies and Resources

As your professor, 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.

This course is for any interested eligible student who has met the prerequisites and is a community member in good standing at UC Irvine. 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 sister campuses of the University of California have recently been sites of distracting, unhelpful, and sometimes violent conflict related to issues of campus climate. 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.

Pronoun Policy

My name is Tess and I use she/her/hers pronouns. When you introduce yourself you may choose to share your gender pronouns. Always use the correct gender pronouns and names for your classmates. Gender pronouns are words like she/her, he/him, or they/them. If you have a name you would prefer the teaching team and your colleagues to use instead of the one listed on the roster feel free to let us know and we will happily use it. If you have any questions about pronouns in general or have any requests about your own pronouns or other gender-related needs in this space, you are welcome to chat with me.

A Note About My Necronym

I am very open about the fact that I am trans. Some of you may know me by my previous name (also called a “deadname” or a “necronym”), many of you likely do not. Due to the public nature of my work, there is a good chance that you will learn my deadname over the course of the next 24 weeks. I ask, if you happen to learn my old name, to please keep that knowledge to yourself. Do not share my old name, do not use my old name to refer to me, and do not cite my old name in your papers. For more information on how to cite me, see this article: How to Talk about Tess

Conduct Guidelines

Refrain from using derogatory language, such as words with negative connotations that refer to a specific racial or ethnic group, or that are related to gender or sexual identity. Also avoid “ableist” language, words that use references to mental or physical disabilities as slurs.Here is a good resource for identifying ableist language and thinking about alternatives.

Check your privilege. Think about who in the class has had a chance to speak and make space for others to share their ideas. When speaking, consider how your own experiences and background inform your perspective, and extend that consideration to your colleagues. Avoid making blanket or stereotyped statements about any person or group of people.

Climate of Respect

The classroom, your project groups, and our online exchanges should be open and safe spaces for discussion. I encourage you to challenge each other through respectful dialogue. Critiquing each others’ work is an integral part of this course. I expect your critiques to remain constructive and focused on the work at hand.

“UCI is a multicultural community of people from diverse backgrounds. Our activities, programs, classes, workshops, lectures, and everyday interactions are enriched by our acceptance of one another, and we strive to learn from each other in an atmosphere of positive engagement and mutual respect.” (UCI Code of Student Conduct).

As a community, let’s agree to hold ourselves to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and respectful comportment. I am asking for a good faith effort to create a classroom that rewards creativity and honesty. 

In accordance with campus-wide policies, students with documented permanent or temporary disabilities who require individual academic accommodations must contact the Disability Services Center. Students should notify DSC at the start of the quarter so that appropriate accommodations can be arranged and coordinated with the instructor well in advance of course assignments and due dates. Please follow UC Irvine’s procedures in this area to make sure you get the accommodations you need: I am not allowed or qualified to deal with these kinds of requests. 

If you have a life circumstance that inhibits your ability to study, there are many resources available to you. Please reach out! Don’t worry if you don’t know the appropriate office to contact: any decent teacher, faculty, or staff person in the University will at least try to point you in the right direction. A good place to start if you are dealing with a difficult life circumstance is the UC Irvine Counseling Center. The food pantry at FRESH provides emergency food and toiletries to UCI students experiencing basic needs insecurities. Many student services offer help on a confidential basis. 

It is common for university students to experience periods of emotional distress, such as depression and anxiety, especially around periods of stress or change–for example, the transition to college from high school, beginning graduate school, or in the case of an unprecedented global pandemic. At times, these emotional challenges can interfere with schoolwork, making it difficult to attend class or complete assignments. If you are experiencing emotional distress, we strongly recommend contacting the UCI Counseling Center, which offers many forms of resources and support.

While I sympathize with the challenges you may be facing, I am not a mental health professional. Therefore, I cannot grant you special accommodations due to emotional distress (such as a deadline on an assignment) unless you have sought assistance from the UCI Counseling Center or an outside mental health professional and can provide relevant documentation. Please do not share the details of your mental health crisis with me or my TAs. This is for your privacy and allows us to maintain appropriate professional boundaries in our interactions.

If you are concerned about how your emotional health is affecting your overall quarter grade, seek assistance from the UCI Counseling Center immediately. Students whose grades suffer considerably are sometimes able to withdraw from the course after the drop/add deadline. However, they may only do so if their ongoing mental health issues have been documented by the UCI Counseling Center.

To the extent that I am able, I will try to help you if you experience something that interferes with your studies. Please note: I am legally obligated to report some kinds of harassment, domestic violence, or potential Title IX violations. If you are system-impacted or otherwise concerned about law enforcement, tell me those concerns up front and I’ll do my best to accommodate you. 

Any student who faces challenges securing sufficient food or housing and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Please also notify me if you are comfortable doing so. This will enable me to provide any resources that I’m able. 

Plagiarism, whether intended or not, is academic fraud. You plagiarize when, without proper attribution, you do any of the following: copy verbatim from a book, an article, or other media; download documents from the Internet; purchase documents; report from other’s oral work; paraphrase or restate someone else’s facts, analysis, and/or conclusions; or copy directly from a classmate or allow a classmate to copy from you. I cannot and will not tolerate academic dishonesty. For more information, refer to the UCI Student Handbook. The UCI campus policy on academic honesty resides here:

Here is an excellent resource to help you determine if you have plagiarized or not?

Any instances of academic dishonesty will result in an F for the course and a letter that will go into your academic file at UCI.

When you are developing a game for school there are lots of pitfalls around licensing, copyright infringement, and open/closed source software to be on guard for. There are plenty of resources out there for game developers including asset packs of sprites, sounds, and animations. There is also a lot of open source code that can be used to solve problems that others have already solved so that you can focus on your designs. I’m generally comfortable with you using these resources in moderation, but you need to be extremely disciplined about maintaining records of where you are sourcing materials and be confident that you are not violating any copyrights or other intellectual property agreements by including 3rd party materials in your game.

Please be aware that this only applies to open source and freely available assets. Any libraries, asset packs, or assistance that costs money is not permitted in capstone game projects. If you are found to have paid for assets or libraries, you will be considered to have plagiarized and your entire team will receive an F in the course.

This class is covered by all official notices from UCI’s Academic Senate Policy on Academic Integrity. Students are subject to all policies with regard to academic integrity whether or not these rules are reviewed in class or individually. Of particular note, the section on “Students’ Responsibilities” states,

 “All students are expected to complete a course in compliance with the Instructor’s standards. No student shall engage in any activity involving any Academic Integrity Policy Violations. No student shall engage in any activity that involves attempting to receive a grade by means other than honest effort, and shall not aid another student who is attempting to do so. All students are encouraged to notify instructors, but may also notify the AIAO, about observed incidents of Academic Integrity Policy Violations. Instructors should take reasonable steps to preserve the confidentiality of students making such reports.”

Instructors have responsibilities too. These include reviewing class policies and grading expectations in writing. I am also required to report all suspected incidents of academic dishonesty to the appropriate school authorities.  Please consult the official statement at

Please keep these obligations in mind when you interact with your classmates in any capacity

For some of you, the following resources may be helpful:

Avoiding Ableist Language:

Diversity and Awareness at UCI:

Disability Services Center:; 949.824.7494

Dean of Students:; 949-824-5181

UCI LGBT Resource Center:

Undocumented Student Support:

UCI Counseling Center: ; 949.824.6457

Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR):

SOAR Food Pantry: