Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)

Module ENGL3841: Reading Games, Playing Books

Department: English Studies

ENGL3841: Reading Games, Playing Books

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap None. Location Durham
Tied to


  • None


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To develop the critical and theoretical frameworks necessary to evaluate video games and ludic forms of literature in terms of their aesthetic, narratological, political, structural etc. qualities.
  • To understand how video games can serve as a creative response to literary texts and literary culture, and reciprocally how literary writers have engaged with and responded to the advent of video games.
  • To consider ways in which video game narratives might question or challenge conventional literary theoretical concepts and definitions, such as authorship, narrative point of view, plot, immersion, rhetoric.
  • To situate video games, and literature influenced by video games, within a wider historical framework.
  • To introduce the basic principles of video game design, and influencing factors such as technical platforms and collaborative processes of development (‘authorship’).


  • This module adopts a two part structure, divided into ‘Reading Games’ and ‘Playing Books’. ‘Reading Games’ focuses on evaluating video games, especially those that have adapted or appropriated literary texts or aspects of literary culture. Examples might include The Hobbit; 80 Days; Animal Farm; Elsinore; Bloodborne; Walden; Never Alone; Bioshock. The structure of this first half is both roughly chronological (starting with early games and progressing to recent AAA titles) and theoretical (covering key approaches such as platforms, plotting, and narrative structure). In ‘Playing Books’ students will concentrate on the ways in which more conventional literary works have been influenced by game culture. Examples might include Coin Opera; House of Leaves; The Powerbook; Luka and the Fire of Life; Ender’s Game; Ready Player One; Pilgrim in the Microworld; Lost in a Good Game. The structure of the second half is broadly genre based, covering a selection from poetry, novels, young adult fiction, game writing as a genre. Students may also have the opportunity to experience a collaborative ‘game jam’, producing an outline of a game based on a literary text of their choice.
  • The module engages with theoretical debates such as how we assess ‘the literary’, narratology, authorship, player / reader response, and thus having studied Theory and Practice of Literary Criticism (or an equivalent) might be helpful, but is not required.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Broad knowledge of the intermedial relationships between games and literature.
  • Broad knowledge of the major theoretical debates in this area.
  • Detailed knowledge of specific games and literary texts that model intermedial relationships.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • critical skills in the close reading and analysis of texts
  • an ability to demonstrate knowledge of a range of texts and critical approaches
  • informed awareness of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature and video games and ability to offer cogent analysis of their workings in specific texts
  • sensitivity to generic conventions and to the shaping effects on communication of historical circumstances, and to the affective power of language
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate an imaginative response to video games and literature
  • an ability to articulate knowledge and understanding of concepts and theories relating to literary studies
  • skills of effective communication and argument, in both visual and written media
  • awareness of conventions of scholarly presentation, and bibliographic skills including accurate citation of sources and consistent use of scholarly conventions of presentation
  • command of a broad range of vocabulary and an appropriate critical terminology
  • awareness of video games and literature as media through which values are affirmed and debated
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • a confident and mature capacity to analyse critically
  • an enhanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in a structured and systematic way involving the use of distinctive interpretative skills derived from the subject
  • enhanced competence in the planning and execution of essays
  • an enhanced capacity for independent thought and judgement, and ability to assess the critical ideas of others
  • skills in critical reasoning
  • an ability to handle information and argument in an informed and critical manner
  • information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access information
  • strong organisation and time-management skills

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Seminars: encourage peer-group discussion, enable students to develop critical skills in the close reading and analysis of texts, and skills of effective communication and presentation; promote awareness of diversity of interpretation and methodology
  • Consultation session: encourages students to reflect critically and independently on their work o Independent but directed reading in preparation for seminars provides opportunity for students to enrich subject-specific knowledge and enhances their ability to develop appropriate subject-specific skills.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.
  • Coursework: tests the student's ability to argue, respond and interpret, and to demonstrate appreciation of the power of imagination in literary and game creation and the close reading and analysis of written, audio-visual, and interactive texts. The first assessed video essay enables students to incorporate evidence from screen recordings of games, and to develop arguments in a format that is increasingly used in game criticism and discourse; the video essay can be produced in various forms (a narrated Powerpoint, a live playthrough, a presentation to camera) and will be accompanied by a transcript (which can be automatically generated) for the purpose of feedback. The second written essay will test students’ ability to argue respecting the conventions of the medium and discipline.
  • Feedback: The written feedback that is provided after the first assessed essay allows students to reflect on examiners' comments, giving students the opportunity to improve their work for the second essay.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 Fortnightly 2 Hours 20
Feedback consultation session 1 15 minutes 0.25
Preparation and Reading 179.75
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assessed Video Essay 1 20 minutes 50%
Assessed Essay 2 3000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

Before the first assessed essay, students have an individual 15 minute consultation session in which they are entitled to show their seminar leader a sheet of points, relevant to the essay and to receive oral comment on these points. Students may also, if they wish, discuss their ideas for the second essay at this meeting.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University