Past courses

Here you will find all courses that deal or have dealt with digital/m games in terms of content. The order is chronological from new to old.

Summer semester 2023

Powered by football? Exploring the boundaries between work, sport and play.

"The world's game: Powered by football." This is the slogan EA Sports uses to promote the video game FIFA23 in the official "Launch Trailer". The FIFA series is the world's most successful soccer sports simulation and is also played by active soccer stars, who are themselves characters in the video game. However, as of 2023, FIFA will no longer be called FIFA, but EA Sports FC, due to failed licensing negotiations with the world soccer association that gave the game its name. In this seminar we want to analyze the complex interconnections between games and professional sports from a media studies perspective. With the help of selected texts and materials, as well as our own small empirical studies, we will sound out how the media productions, marketing strategies, license fees and game moments on the pitch and in front of the screen blur the boundaries between work, sport and game and what role the fans or the audience play in this.

Link to course: Powered by football? Exploring the boundaries between work, sport and play.


Gaming with disabilities: development and implementation of an interactive exhibition

At least since Microsoft's introduction of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, accompanied by the corresponding inclusion campaign "When everybody plays we all win", accessibility has been ubiquitous not only in social media but also in production, design and marketing strategies of the video game industry. However, just like adaptive controllers or other 'accessible' gaming devices, the issue of accessibility to digital games is by no means new. Since the introduction of personal computers, arcades, and gaming consoles for home use, gamers have developed strategies, devices, cultural techniques, workarounds, and hacks to circumvent the barriers and biases inscribed in the technology and devices and adapt them to their own needs. The discourse on the development of digital games in the history of culture and media, according to a sobering stocktaking, has so far been severely underrepresented academically.

In this practical seminar, we will develop several interactive exhibits for an exhibition project to be held in July 2023 in the "Turm zur Katz" (Constance). Thematically, the focus will be on the history of "Game Accessibility". On the one hand, the aim of the exhibition is to make various video game dispositives, software hacks, controller modifications or 'Accessible Games' accessible to the public in an interactive and multi-sensory way. On the other hand, it also aims to inform about the history of the difficult relationship between disability and digital gaming since.

Link to course: Playing with Disability: Development and Realization of an Interactive Exhibition


Chance in literature, art and games

The seminar focuses on artistic, literary, medial and playful processes that incorporate coincidences. Techniques and practices are examined that do not eliminate coincidences but 'tame' them or allow and shape fluctuations. Across LKM, the seminar addresses the relationship between control and controlled loss of control. How do coincidences become observable in the context of playful, artistic, media-technical and literary practices? How can coincidences be productively integrated into a design or concept? At what point is the participation of chance sought and allowed? How are the effects of chance contained again? But also: Which theoretical concepts reflect the phenomenon of 'aleatory creativity'? When and under what conditions do chance-oriented procedures acquire significance in the arts, in literature, in games, in film, photography, and digital cultures?
In the field of literature, the question becomes virulent at a moment when the theological notion of a plan of creation is replaced by the principle of contingent creativity. Here we will draw on and analyze texts by Heinrich von Kleist or Friedrich Schiller, among others.

Another focus will be on the random processes of Dadaism and Surrealism, which connect literature, film and art, and which selectively eliminate intentions and provoke coincidences. Experiments with cameraless film and documentary coincidence in photography are at the center of our media studies interest here. But coincidences are also constitutive for the field of games and their openness to the future. This is true for board games as well as for algorithmic digital games. Possible topics are the design of surfaces and markings on dice, the construction of card sets with their colors and ranks, and the integration via actions such as throwing, shuffling, and drawing in game sequences, up to recent developments of the board game genre that combine randomly mixed options with strategic choices in a variety of ways. 

In computer games, the random number generator has a bad reputation (cf. that meme 'RNGesus'), but it provides replay appeal much more often than commonly assumed. On the level of code and algorithms, level structures can be generated in an open combinatorics (e.g. in the case of rogue-like and rogue-lite games), which can also be reflected on a graphical and narrative level.
The seminar will work with example ideas and a number of interdisciplinary secondary texts on which the fundamental question of literary, art and media theory can be discussed in a research-open way. In an open wiki structure, students will search for their own examples and approach the question.

Link to the course: Chance in Literature, Art and Games

EduGaming - Gaming for the classroom

Computer games are a cultural asset. They are a driving force of social transformation processes and have established themselves in the area of leisure activities. Across all age groups, the world of computer games is a very diverse branch of media consumption. The seminar "EduGaming - Zocken für den Unterricht" (Gambling for the classroom) wants to approach this indispensable part of students' lives and ask the question whether educational potential can be discovered in computer games (commercial games as well as educational games)? Can they be made useful for the transmission of knowledge and for the pedagogical mission in the school context?

In our seminar by students for students, we work together to develop basic competencies in the application and use of computer games in the classroom. This is done by examining media pedagogical concepts and by actively playing computer games with subsequent discussion. In addition, the seminar offers a framework for exchange with teachers who have experience with the didactic use of video games in the classroom, as well as guest lectures on media studies. This takes the form of an exchange with teachers in the form of a guest lecture on the use of video games in the classroom and on the medium of Let's Plays, as well as media science input by Prof. Dr. Isabell Otto.

Link to course: EduGaming - Gaming for the classroom

Winter semester 2022/2023

Close Playing 'Outer Wilds'

Computer games can only be fully experienced in the process of playing them. Game mechanics, logics, and a multitude of possible interpretations are already inherent in the game design and program code. The latter is read out during gameplay, partly presented audiovisually and (re-)configured. In this computer game analytic seminar we juxtapose theoretical perspectives on computer games with the practical act of playing, without which computer games are inconceivable.

Using the computer game 'Outer Wilds' (Mobius Digital 2019) as an example, we will combine theoretical considerations from the interdisciplinary field of game studies with our practical experiences and observations of playing the game, based on several playthroughs.

In doing so, we apply an exploratory gameplay - in the sense of 'close playing' - that allows us to focus on individual topics. With the help of written notes and screen capturing, our gameplay is made analytically tangible. Among the topics that will be covered in the seminar are: Game mechanics, player*guidance, genre/historical classification, controls, graphics/sound, structures of repetition, and specific gameplay styles themselves.

In preparation for the October block session, literature for each topic block will be made available on Ilias. For each topic block, there will be up to two students who will go beyond the literature provided in advance to serve as experts in the seminar to guide the corresponding topic block.

The goal of the seminar is to teach and establish an explorative way of playing computer games. At the same time, the connection between theory and research object is practiced in a practice-oriented teaching setting. The critical and reflective handling of literature is as much a part of the learning objectives of the seminar as the scientific handling of the reception of computer games.

Course Link: Close Playing 'Outer Wilds'


GameLab Colloquium: Research Practices/Game Practices

How can games be researched from a media and cultural studies perspective? The GameLab now has its own space as a Core Facility within the university. With this new beginning, we are establishing a regular colloquium series that will bring together teachers, students, and doctoral candidates and address this overarching question in a wide variety of forms in different medial game arrangements. The event consists of workshop discussions in which doctoral students present their own approaches and provide insights into the possibilities of researching games. On the basis of relevant texts, students will prepare commentaries for the conversations with the doctoral students. Based on the impulses gained in the sessions, the seminar participants will develop their own research questions and approaches to digital games, which can be implemented in term papers or module theses.

The event will take place hybrid in room C202. All lecturers and commentators are asked to attend the respective session in person. The other sessions can also be attended online.

Course Link: GameLab-Kolloquium


Flight and migration in digital games

The seminar will explore how cultural and political problems can be perceived in digital games on smartphone, television or computer screens, experienced through playful immersion and interactively developed in game scenarios. Using the example of the thematic complex of flight and migration, the media translation processes in digitally coded game scenarios will be discussed and the conflict situations will be elaborated that result from the confrontation of the moral, socio-cultural and political dimensions on the level of representation and narrative forms with the binary and time-critical logics of the computer. A focus is placed on the design aesthetics and game mechanics of decision-making situations and the observation of game practices in light of un/possible choice.

Analytical access to digital games is via (auto)ethnographic, exploratory play in mutual observation or self-observation. In working groups, the students each develop a selected game (which is 'Free To Play'-available) and document their practices and impressions in game diaries. These are supplemented by annotated screencasts (oriented towards the 'Let's Play' format), which are shown in the seminar and put up for discussion. In addition to the game aesthetics and game mechanics, the working groups will tap into forums, journalistic contributions and platforms in order to tap into the development and reception of the respective game in the context of migration discourses. In the seminar sessions, the media ethnographic and discourse analytical approaches will be reflected and thematically focused by reading relevant texts from the fields of game studies, media theory and migration research.

Course Link: Flucht und Migration in digitalen Spielen

Writing for Casual Mobile Games

With their easy and addictive gameplay designed to appeal to a wide audience, casual mobile games are currently considered to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the gaming industry. In this course, we will focus on narrative-driven casual mobile games and learn the fundamentals of writing for this particular type of games.

We will develop a theoretical grounding in Ludology and Narratology that will allow us to understand the inner workings of a casual mobile game both from the perspective of a researcher and that of a narrative designer/scriptwriter. Starting with the earliest examples of narrative-driven casual mobile games, we will familiarize ourselves with a rich variety of (un)successful narrative strategies and explore the world of (im)possibilities of narrative design and scriptwriting.

As a practice-oriented and project-based course, it will provide you with an opportunity to write your own script for a casual mobile game.

Lead Instructor:
Dr. phil. Nataliya Gorbina is an Assistant Professor at the Department of American Studies at the University of Konstanz. She received her PhD in English and American Studies from TU Dortmund University. Having worked as a narrative designer/scriptwriter in mobile game development, Nataliya is currently working on a postdoctoral project in the area of Video Game Studies.

Link zur Lehrveranstaltung: Writing for Casual Mobile Games

Summer Semester 2022

Gender Gaming – Playing Gender

Computer games often offer the possibility of role-playing. As a player, I can slip into a wide variety of roles and explore them with my actions. Just as often, however, I have to take on very specific characters and follow specific instructions for action. Or a supposedly open 'building block principle' for character creation provides only limited possibilities and thus often repeats the heteronormative role models beyond the computer game worlds. Regardless of the specifications, possibilities and limitations, computer games open up scope for identities due to their performative mediality. The question here is always to what extent attributions, demands, or conditioning can be subverted or not. Based on gender concepts, the seminar wants to examine the interrelationships of medial game spaces and performative game modes, which affect the areas of subjectification of players.

The seminar is planned as a block event. In a first part, basic texts will be discussed. In a second part, the focus will be on exemplary investigations in computer games and specific ways of playing.

Course Link: Gender Gaming

Winter semester 2019/2020

Computer game AI (PS) by Philip Hauser

Artificial intelligence (AI) is currently experiencing a new, hard-to-miss 'springtime' in the hype cycle. In contrast to the constant ups and downs of public, academic and economic interest, the role AI plays in the field of computer games appears to be relatively stable: even early computer games such as Pong or Pac-Man have rudimentary co-players and opponents controlled by the computer program, which make a game against the computer possible in the first place. It should be noted that computer game AI often has less to do with machine learning and more to do with simulating 'intelligent' or 'authentic' behavior or generating a balanced game experience. In other words, computer game AI seems at first glance to be a different phenomenon than the one currently being discussed under the buzzword 'artificial intelligence'. At the same time, however, board games like chess or Go, but also complex computer games like Dota 2 or StarCraft II, are becoming experimental fields for AI research. The sensation here is not so much that AI can beat its human counterparts, but rather that the playful juxtaposition of humans and computer programs helps to create the human/computer opposition in the first place.
The seminar aims to trace the manifold interconnections between computers, games and artificial intelligence. On the one hand, the various functions and tasks of AI in computer games will be traced, which go beyond a mere opposition to human players. On the other hand, the question of what AI is at all - from a game-theoretical perspective - or, more precisely, which positions it is assigned and denied in the game process, will be discussed. This, in turn, concerns not only the discursive negotiation of AI, but also of human players.

Course Link: Computer Spiel KI


Computer game analysis: The Outer Wilds - Exploring a Dying Universe (PS) by Benjamin Schäfer

Computer games unfold their full potential only in the process of playing. Game mechanics, logics and ultimately meanings are contained in the program code, which is read out, partly audiovisually presented and (re-)configured while playing. In this computer game analytic seminar, we juxtapose theoretical perspectives on computer games with the practical act of playing.
Using the indie game The Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital 2019) as an example, we will combine theoretical considerations from media studies and game studies with our practical experiences and observations of playing games on the basis of several playthroughs.
In doing so, we develop an academic gameplay style that allows us to focus on individual thematic areas and make them analytically tangible with the help of written notes, screen capturing, and screengrabbing. Among the topics that will be covered in the seminar are: Game mechanics, player guidance, controls, historical classification/genre, narrative structures, graphics/sound, game world, and media studies perspectives.
In preparation for the block session at the end of March, literature for each topic block will be made available on Ilias. For each topic block there will be up to two students who will inform themselves in advance about the provided literature in order to guide the corresponding topic block as experts in the block session. In addition to active participation, each student will write short essays (1-2 pages) on each topic block as an examination during the seminar.
The goal of the seminar is to convey and establish an academic approach to computer games. At the same time, the connection between theory and research object is practiced in a practice-oriented teaching setting. The critical and reflective handling of literature is as much a part of the learning goals of the seminar as the academic handling of the reception of computer games.

Course link: Computerspielanalyse: The Outer Wilds – Erkundung eines sterbenden Universums

GameLab Wiki Project (HS) with Isabell Otto and Philip Hauser

For two years now, the GameLab has been networking the various research interests in computer games at the University of Konstanz. In order to make the teaching of and with computer games accessible to students, a wiki is to be created that depicts the various research approaches and central concepts of computer game research. In addition, an exemplary selection of games will be presented, which will illustrate an approach to computer game science close to the subject matter.
The seminar is dedicated to the structural and content-related development of the Wiki. In the respective sessions, different research directions will first be discussed together and games will be discussed. In group work, the results will then be translated into wiki entries as well as continuously edited. The revision functions of the wiki format allow for a pragmatic and dynamic discussion that not only documents current research approaches, but also - through direct work on the wiki - helps to shape research.

Course link: GameLab Wiki-Projekt


Introduction to Computer Game Research - On the Scientific Approach to Digital Games (PS) by Julia Kohushölter and Markus Spöhrer

The seminar introduces the basic concepts, theories, and methods of computer game research, focusing primarily on the development of questions and theses as well as the use of media studies approaches. Students work with a selection of digital games between the 1970s and the present. As a reading and research seminar, the focus is on independent work with texts and games. To this end, a selection of one case study and one basic text each will be worked on weekly and tested in smaller assignments using a selected game. The goal is the final preparation of a proseminar paper with examples from the seminar.

Course link: Einführung in die Computerspielforschung – Zum wissenschaftlichen Umgang mit digitalen Spielen


Labourious play or playful work? Between play(s) and work(s) (HS) by Beate Ochsner

In the seminar we want to deal with the interconnections of two currently discussed digital movements of dissolution of boundaries; on the one hand the "dissolution of boundaries of play", on the other hand the "dissolution of boundaries of work", which has been frequently discussed especially in recent years. The inherent power of these dynamics makes visible the mutual dependence of concepts such as play and seriousness - "serious games" - but also an increasing relation between work and play that is saddled to this interdependence. The latter now refers not only to the fact that work is increasingly "gamed," for example, in the context of so-called immaterial labor in the context of digitalization, but at the same time points to a neoliberal work-performance and (self-)optimization trend that seems to pervade all areas of life.
The connection between games, computers and the world of work is not new. However, while experts warned a few years ago against the loss of reality associated with computer games (some of them still do so today), other discourses are currently being heard: Steven Johnson, for example, draws attention to the optimization potential inherent in computer games and to the positive effect that the structure of video games has on the reward centers of our brain. Similar statements can also be found in management guidebooks, e.g. by Don Tapscott, who describes the "playful mentality" of representatives of the new Net generation. And if Al Gore had already claimed a few years earlier that "Games are the New Normal" (Tsai 2001), then we are now experiencing a (normalized and normalizing) expansion of the play zone, with which the ludic seems to be inscribing itself in all areas of society. Thus, the above-mentioned movements of dissolution of boundaries occurring in the context of digitalization are understood as an expansion of the zone of play and work, which at the same time shifts everything that was previously understood as play in demarcation from work and vice versa. In the seminar we want to investigate these movements of dissolution of boundaries, which can be described by terms such as gamification and, more recently, also workification, on the basis of the phenomenon of serious games. Special attention will be paid to games that explore the tension between digital forms of play(s) and work(s), playful (self-)management and management of play(s).

Course link: Labourious play oder playful work? Zwischen Spiel(en) und Arbeit(en)


Approaches to the Academic Study of Digital Game bei Markus Spöhrer und Harald Waldrich

The course addresses students of diverse faculties. It provides an introduction to gaming research. Distinct approaches will be introduced, discussed and put to the test, in order for the students to acquire critical, analytical and academic skills in the subject of digital games, as well as the methods and theory of Game Studies. To guarantee a heterogeneity of academic approaches, international guest lecturers will teach the course. By gathering students and lecturers from different departments, we offer the possibility for an interdisciplinary exchange.

Course link: Approaches to the Academic Study of Digital Game


Summer Semester 2019

Spoilsports - Logics of the game in interdisciplinary perspective (lecture series) by Isabell Otto and Sascha Pöhlmann

Game spoilers are by no means only characters who destroy the game. Rather, they encompass various practices of boundary transgression that can be productively directed at the game world. Spoilers bring the game itself into play, they put it ontologically to the test, they test and tease it out. They thus cultivate a close relationship with the rulebook: through the activities of spoilers, rules are not simply exposed, but questioned and re-examined. At the same time, the indignant call 'Spielverderber!' always remains an attribution that is observer-dependent.

The lecture series deals with the ambivalent scenarios of game spoiling in an interdisciplinary comparative perspective. The individual lectures will focus on computer games as well as aesthetic breaches of illusion in art and literature. Philosophical perspectives on rule violations and abrogations will be contrasted with political and economic observations on playful resistance. Overall, it is thus a question of the extent to which the game spoiler makes different logics of the game recognizable, for what purpose this happens, and what consequences this has.