UALR to offer video game writing this fall

Joseph Williams

In 1983, 12-year-old Joe Williams loved to write codes for computer games on his friend’s TRS-80, one of the earliest mass-produced personal computers on the market.

“Back in the old days, you could go to the local library and check out magazines that would give you the full programming code for games,” said Williams, an associate professor in the UALR Department of Rhetoric and Writing. “I remember trying to hack the codes and make the games different.”

And so began a long-term love affair with not only computer game programming, but also a desire to learn what makes games fun, interesting, and meaningful.

Williams will explore these topics and more this fall in his Writing Video Games course, held 10-10:50 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

This will be the third time the course has been offered since Williams started it in 2012. The class usually attracts students from the computer science, information science, rhetoric and writing, and art departments, but it is open to all majors.

The students usually create games for entertainment and educational purposes. One student created a game called “Dwarf Toss,” where players launched dwarfs from catapults as ammunition. Another student designed a game to help novice gardeners plant personal and community gardens.

In the course, students will learn about the principles of game design, so they can understand what it takes to design a good game. Next, students will create three paper prototypes of games that will be evaluated by fellow students. Last, students will learn how to use Unity, a free game design program, so they can begin the process of creating a digital game out of one of their prototypes.

From an academic perspective, Williams thinks it is important for students to understand games the same way people study film and literature.

“Making games has become a popular form of entertainment and communication,” Williams said. “Like movies in the 20th century and novels in the 19th century, games are becoming the 21st century medium. Students need to have a critical understanding of what is the most important media form of the 21st century.”

Williams has been teaching at UALR since 2004. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and theater from Lehigh University, a master’s degree in English from West Chester University, and a doctorate in composition and cultural rhetoric from Syracuse University.

Along with Brad Sims, an instructional technology specialist for the UALR Department of Counseling, Adult and Rehabilitation Education, Williams is a co-founder of the Little Rock Game Designers Roundup. The organization meets twice a month to discuss game design for tabletop and digital games.

For more information about the course, email Dr. Williams at jjwilliams@ualr.edu.

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