Course Descriptions

Catalog description for ENGL 543: Game-based Fiction Workshop

This course is for students who have completed a creative writing workshop and want to explore how games and rules can be used to produce unique and unpredictable narratives. Projects will include individual writing exercises, collaborative writing practice, and critiques of peer writing. Students will examine how different game mechanics produce different kinds of narratives and may be encouraged to develop their own game-based writing projects. Through the reading and discussion of other narrative media, students will learn the affordances and limitations of game-based storytelling systems. May be taken as a part of the creative writing minor; may also be taken as an elective. Course can be repeated for credit if instructor or topic are different. (Prerequisite: One of ENGL 362, 440, 441, Or 442) Class 3, Credit 3 (S)

Description for this Section

This class blends historical and speculative fiction with the unpredictable and spontaneous narratives of role-playing games. In the first weeks of the course we will learn about the history of Rochester in the 1920s, a period of tremendous social change, both positive and negative. We will also read about the genre of "steampunk," a form of Victorian-era futurism that imagines steam power, rather than electricity or gasoline, as the technology that drives society and its technological innovations. Along with students enrolled in Fine Art 377 Imag(in)ing Rochester, the class will use a wiki and online map to build a sprawling alternate version of Rochester in the 1920s packed with historical and fictional people, places, and things. In the final portion of the course, students will explore the city through the eyes of their own unique characters and write short fiction based on the characters' experiences.

Required Texts

This class has two required texts that students must purchase:
  • The Mammoth Book of Steampunk. Wallace, Sean, ed. ISBN-13: 978-0762444687
  • The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature. Vandermeer, Jeff. ISBN-13: 978-0810989580
  • 80 Days by Inkle Studios (Meg Jayanth & Jon Ingold, writers) for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire

We will also be borrowing some mechanics from the following text for our role-playing sessions:
  • Fate Core System. Balsera, Leonard, Brian Engard, Jeremy Keller, Ryan Macklin, Mike Olson. Available as pay-what-you-like download, with a more than reasonable suggestion of $5.

Other readings and resources will be made available on the MyCourses site for this class.

Class Schedule

See the class schedule page for a tentative calendar for the semester. There is a 99% chance that the schedule will be adjusted as the semester progresses.


Your grade will be determined holistically, based on your enthusiasm, participation, and work you produce in the below units. At the end of each unit, the professor will give you a progress report, both for that unit and your cumulative progress on the following five-point scale: Excellent, Good, Adequate, Needs Improvement, or Unacceptable.

Unit I - The World of Steampunk: Begins Tuesday, August 25th and ends Thursday, September 17 (eight sessions)
This unit involves reading about the science fiction subgenre of steampunk, reading steampunk short stories, and discussing the core components of the steampunk genre. The progress report will be based on your class participation and response to any written assignments.

Unit II - Building Steampunk Rochester: Begins Tuesday, September 22nd and ends Thursday, October 29th (eleven sessions)
In this unit you will work individually, in small groups, and with students from another class as we collaboratively build out the world of Steampunk Rochester by creating wiki entries for factions, people, places, and things. The progress report will be based on class participation, ability to be a good group worker, research accuracy, and quality of wiki entries.

Unit III - Life in Steampunk Rochester: Begins Tuesday, November 3rd and ends Thursday, December 10 (eleven sessions)
The final unit of the course involves the creation of a perspective-character (PC) who will be the protagonist in the role-playing sessions. The progress report will be based on the completeness of your PC profile, the quality of your fiction writing, the quality of your critiques of your peers' fiction, and the timeliness of you completing your work.

The specific tasks and due dates for each unit will be described in detail during that portion of the course.

Anonymous User Names, Notice of Public Writing and Creative Commons Licensing

If you hadn't noticed, this is a wiki site that is open to public viewing.To preserve author anonymity on this public site, you will create a unique username that does not contain your initials, portions of your first or last name, nickname, or any other feature that otherwise allows for easy identification. You will need to disclose your username to the instructor for assessment/grading purposes; you may choose to disclose your username to your classmates, or you may retain (relative) anonymity within the classroom space. I may ask you to choose a new username if I feel you can be easily identified. (My wikispaces username, thergenrader, is an example of what you should not use.)

In the spirit of participatory culture, this site is published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, which allows others to share and adapt the material created here. If you wish to retain the copyright for your work, please discuss this with me at the start of class and we can make an accommodation.

Voluntary Participation in Research

This course is an extension of the instructor's research on using games and role-playing to teach creative writing. Near the end of the semester, you will be asked to complete a survey where you can reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of this methodology. This survey is not required as a part of coursework and will not impact your grade, positively or negatively.

Email Policy

You are required to check your RIT-issued email at least every 48 hours during the course of the semester for assignments and course updates. I will return email with 48 hours, usually much quicker, except in rare cases over weekends and holidays. You will be responsible for information emailed to you pertaining to this class.

Policy on Electronic Devices

In this class, you will usually be strongly encouraged to bring a laptop or notebook computer to use on class projects. However, during discussion and critique sessions, you are expected to have your computers off and participating in discussion. Tablets and mobile phones tend not to play nice with the wiki, where you will do most of your writing, so try to bring a computer. The Wallace Library has loaner laptops you can check out for the duration of class.

Class Conduct

Though it should go without saying, you are expected to treat your classmates with respect. This includes thoughtfully listening, cooperating, and collaborating on problem solving. If you ever feel disrespected or threatened by a classmate, you should contact the instructor immediately. I will handle the situation as quickly and discretely as possible.

On a less serious note, if you bring food or drink to class be courteous; don't slurp and chomp or crinkle wrappers, especially when another student or the instructor is speaking. Don't make a mess, be mindful of crumbs and dropped food, and throw your garbage and recyclables away at the door.

Academic Integrity

As an institution of higher learning, RIT expects students to behave honestly and ethically at all times, especially when submitting work for evaluation in conjunction with any course or degree requirement. The Department of [NAME] encourages all students to become familiar with the RIT Honor Code and with RIT's Academic Integrity Policy.

Statement on Reasonable Accommodations

The Statement on Reasonable Accommodations is required in your syllabus according to this memo. The required text is:
RIT is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. If you would like to request accommodations such as special seating or testing modifications due to a disability, please contact the Disability Services Office. It is located in the Student Alumni Union, Room 1150; the Web site is After you receive accommodation approval, it is imperative that you see me during office hours so that we can work out whatever