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DRAMA 457 A: Creating Drama

Meeting Time: 
MWF 3:30pm - 5:20pm
HUT 154
Adrienne Mackey
Adrienne Mackey

Syllabus Description:

DRAMA 457A Game Design in Live Performance

Spring Quarter 2023

Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays, 3:30pm – 5:20pm


Instructor:  Assistant Professor Adrienne Mackey, School of Drama

Office: Hutchinson 213

Email:  amackey1@uw.edu. This is by far the best way to contact me. Email and I will respond within 48 hours.

Office Hours: By appointment. I’m usually available right after class. I don’t take meetings on Thursday.


For many game players, games exist for entertainment, for passing the time, for fun.

They are a diversionary activity, meant for relaxation or distraction — a “not-work” space where players are free to engage in fantasy narratives, amazing feats, and rewarding tasks. But what if certain games have [the potential to] become something more?

Mary Flanagan, Critical Play: Radical Game Design


Class Description:

The presence of immersive and interactive plays has exploded on the theater landscape in the last decade. Why? Likely because participatory dramas, where audiences are given agency within and impact over the experience, focus on the superpower of LIVENESS: they’re stories that unfold in direct response to what audiences do, requiring them to truly "be there." As theater artists bravely explore this exciting new territory, many of our assumed "rules" about creating and performing plays are changing. How do we get audiences involved without giving over to chaos? What if viewers don’t do what we expect?

This is where GAMES come to the rescue! Game design offers tools and systems to structure participatory storytelling, build compelling relationships between players and the fictional worlds they enter, and activate a sense of play for everyone involved. This course will offer students a basic foundation on game design tools useful to theater makers, study examples of genre-bending game/theater hybrid artworks from current practitioners and give hands-on practice at making works like this yourself. 

We’ll start each week with a lecture topic. Wednesdays will continue the discussion of that topic and explore how to apply it to your own creative work. Fridays will often include a performance experience or playing of a game. Midway through the quarter we’ll start playtesting in class to get feedback on the works YOU create.


Questions I’m excited to explore:

  • What makes a play a play? What makes a game a game? How are they similar and where are they different?
  • What can game design teach theater about making participatory performances?
  • What might theater makers teach gamers about embodied experience?
  • What are the unique opportunities of creating in the interdisciplinary space between these two mediums? What are the “superpowers” of a hybrid artform that supercharges the experience of “liveness”?


Required Materials:

  • Most important: An open mind!
  • Nothing required for purchase! All materials will be shared in class or on Canvas.


Grading and Class Work:

AN IMPORTANT NOTE TO START WITH! One of the MOST important design processes that game makers use is iteration, i.e. taking an idea you have, testing it to see how people respond and then making it better. I have lots of ideas about what I think this class might be but I’m also pretty sure that in our time together we’ll discover new and exciting things I didn’t realize we could pursue. I’m intentionally leaving room for emergent play in this course and, as such, some of what we’ll be doing is still to be decided. Below is my current plan for the quarter but I *HOPE* and *EXPECT* that plan to change as we find out where we want to dive deeper on various subjects and projects.

On the same token, I know that it’s stressful to balance life as a student and that there are times in the quarter everyone will feel themselves under pressure. I don’t want grades to be your dominant focus in this class. I want this space to be something you LOVE coming to, a place we all get to try and gloriously fail, without having to worry about its impact on your long-term educational and life goals. So let me be upfront: I want it to be simple to understand how to do well academically. So long as you show up, consistently submit your responses, and are genuinely game to play you will do fine. I’m more interested in consistent effort over time than perfect first attempts. I’ll do my best to be transparent about evaluation and grading but if you have questions or worry about how you’re doing, HIT ME UP! We’ll figure out together how to make this a learning space that’s both rigorous and fun.


  • PARTICIPATION & WEEKLY REFLECTIONS (10 responses, one per week, 5 points each):

This class includes LOTS of discussion and creative collaboration. This learning is practical in nature – in other words the tools are learned by DOING them. My goal is this group will come to rely on each other to share ideas, inspire each other, and test out each other’s work in live time. In my ideal world, you’re present for every class. Our in-class time will have you playing games and experiencing interactive performances to get a first-hand understanding of how they work. If you aren’t there you can’t make up these events. In addition, expect lots of beta testing of each other’s games and giving (and getting) feedback on that experience.

If you do miss a day, I’ll expect you to spend an equivalent amount of time studying the material posted to Canvas on your own time. I ask you to do your best to come on time, both for yourself and for the focus and energy of those you share the space with. That said, I also believe in creating a life that consists of more than just work (that’s why I study play for a living). We are living in an unprecedented moment of stress and trauma and there are plenty of ways traditional attendance policies come saddled in cultures of white supremacy and racism. For that reason, I’ll offer two excused absences per quarter. Please email at least two hours before the class start (ideally a full day, but I’m realistic) so I can pivot if I’ve partnered you with someone for an in-class exercise. If you arrive to class later than 5 minutes after its start, that will impact your day’s participation score to an equivalent portion of your lateness. (In other words, if you’re 30 minutes late to our 120-minute class, that will pull your daily attendance down by 25%). Please be proactive in contacting me about how to make this class work for you if things outside of it are getting in the way.

In addition to in-class work, I will email readings, games, videos, etc for you to familiarize yourself with outside of class. I like to think of this as “homeplay” rather than homework. I’ll expect you to have reviewed these by the deadlines listed in the Canvas announcements I send them in, generally two days ahead of the class that will explore the concepts they introduce. I’ll let you know what readings are required and when they are optional.  

Each week I’ll pose an open-ended reflection prompt based on all the material, both in my lectures and in the homeplay. These may be turned in via writing or as an equivalent length audio recording. Your opinions are never on trial, but honest and critical thinking is expected. The points for each week of participation include both the response and in-class attendance.


  • MAKING STUFF! (4 total projects, 1 worth 8 points, 3 worth 12 points):

In addition to merely studying these topics, you’ll create four works of interactive art using the tools we explore. Two of these projects will be presented in class so that you can get hands on experience making something and seeing how people respond. You can undertake these as solo works of art or group efforts, depending on what works best for your idea and schedule. Details on these will be provided later in the term.


  • PEER RESPONSES (2 peer reviews, 3 points each):

For your second and third projects, you’ll be assigned a peer creator to give detailed feedback to. Guidelines for these responses will be shared after the projects are assigned.



Grading Scale:

4.0-3.9: A        3.8-3.5: A-      3.4-3.2: B+     3.1-2.9: B        2.8-2.5: B-       2.4-2.2: C+

2.1-1.9: C        1.8-1.5: C-      1.4-1.2: D+     1.1-0.9: D        0.8-0.7: D-     


Anything below this receives a failing grade. You can email me if you’re unsure about your progress or want feedback about your work.


Conduct In Class:

The following agreements are part of my expectations for this class. If stay in this course, you are expected to follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid distractions. If you take notes on a laptop CLOSE YOUR INTERNET BROWSER. Cell phone interruptions are distracting to the entire class. (Emergency exceptions should be discussed prior to class).
  • Be respectful of other classmates. Making stuff is hard and uneven in its progress. To be creative requires support and mutual trust, so let’s offer each other dignity and kindness to each other as best as we are able in our work together.
  • No discrimination of others on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, nationality, age, etc. This includes “teasing” or “joking,” even if your intention is to be friendly. It will not be tolerated.
  • Please call ME in if you feel like I’m not creating a class in which you can be your full self. As a person who walks through the world with a wealth of privileges, I know I have blind spots. To invoke activist and educator Jay Smooth, I subscribe to the “dental hygiene” model of anti-discrimination: I don’t brush my teeth once and assume they are forever good to go. The same goes for my approach to creating an inclusive educational space. It’s ongoing the practice of learning, listening and making changes towards inclusivity that’s the measure of success. Therefore, if something I do harms you or makes you feel excluded, I very much hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to let me know. I’ll do my best to listen with open ears and THANK YOU for being generous enough to offer that perspective.
  • Approach the work with bravery and curiosity. Exploring new creative territory requires you to dare to go places that are unknown and, hopefully, exciting. I ask that students are willing to try to the best of their ability, even if an exercise seems strange. If you are confused about why we’re doing something, ASK! Chances are your questions are those of others in the room and offer an opportunity to learn together.


Class Structure & Tentative Schedule:

Generally, each week will include a lecture on Monday that introduces a topic to be explored. Wednesdays will be a wild card: completing lecture content, workshopping your in-progress creations or hearing from guest speakers. On Fridays we will generally play a game or watch an interactive performance. For Projects 2 & 3 we’ll devote a good amount of in class time to playing YOUR games and giving each other feedback.


  • Week 1: Introductions, Defining Games and Theatre – Week 1

In the first week we’ll create community guidelines, talk about class structure and student goals and, finally, look at the definitions of game and theater as art forms.  


  • Weeks 2-3: Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics in Interactive Design

Our first major topic of exploration will be learning about the MDA theory of game design and how it applies to immersive and interactive theater. We’ll define the concept of “mechanics” and explore how rules structure the overall mission and experience for audiences in participatory performances. Using this newly acquired info, we’ll create our first game.

    • Project 1 – Life Hack


  • Weeks 4 – 5: Embodiment, Interaction and Structuring Narrative

This section of the class will look at what kinds of stories a second-person art form uniquely serves. We’ll talk about how audiences experience performances that ask viewers to be a part of the story. Last, we’ll look at the structure of narratives in this realm and how we might imagine them differently than the traditional script.

    • Project 2 – Traversing a Narrative Landscape OR “Escape” “Room”

      • Includes a Peer Review!


  • Weeks 6 – 8: Agency, Participation and Creating Characters for Role Play

Having explored how we shape stories of game/theater, we’ll move onto the concept of audience agency and choice. We’ll look at how to build rules that teach people to play most effectively and what ethical concerns we need to consider when designing their journey. This will culminate in an exploration of role-play and creating characters in performance.  

    • Project 3 – Casting the Audience

      • Includes a Peer Review!


  • Week 9 – 10: Synthesis and Defining a Creative Mission

The final week of the course will focus on elements of the work that are most exciting to this group. You’ll consider your personal interest in using the material we’ve covered in your future (both within the artistic realm and beyond). We’ll also potentially do a deeper dive into a topic that the group finds exciting. The final project of the quarter is one that allows you to either re-work a previous game with the context of all you’ve learned since you created it OR make something entirely from scratch with whatever focus you like.

    • Project 4 – Do What You Feel


Note: This schedule is subject to change and is only an approximation.


Land Acknowledgement:

The University of Washington sits on the territories of the Coast Salish, a land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Duwamish, Puyallup, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations. Please take a to honor the original caretakers of this land, recognize the histories of land theft, violence, erasure, and oppression that has brought our institution and ourselves to this place, and also celebrate their stewardship, since time immemorial and into the present day, as critical. To learn more please visit https://native-land.ca/ 


Respect for Diversity Statement:

The diversity students bring to this class (including gender identity, sexuality, dis/ability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, and culture) should be honored as a resource, strength and benefit. I will do my best to create an online environment in which each class member is able to hear and respect others. If something is said or done in the virtual classroom, in a discussion, or in the group project process, by myself as instructor or by other students, that is troubling or causes discomfort or offense, the impact of that experience is something important, deserving of attention and I would like to know about its occurrence. The School of Drama has developed the following resource that can help you navigate how to proceed if you would like to voice a concern beyond one of us as your instructor:



Academic Accommodations and Wellbeing:

Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at disability.uw.edu.


Similarly, if you are experiencing mental health issues, please alert me to discuss how to move forward in the best fashion. The university has resources or health and wellness, please take advantage of them if you want or need to. https://wellbeing.uw.edu/ 


The UW Food Pantry:

A student should never have to make the choice between buying food or textbooks. The UW Food Pantry helps mitigate the social and academic effects of campus food insecurity. We aim to lessen the financial burden of purchasing food by providing students with access to food and hygiene products at no-cost. Students can expect to receive 4 to 5 days’ worth of supplemental food support when they visit the Pantry. For information including operating hours, location, and additional food support resources visit https://www.washington.edu/anyhungryhusky/the-uw-food-pantry/


Academic Honesty:

Students at the University of Washington are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic conduct. Cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are considered serious offenses and could result in a variety of disciplinary actions, including suspension or permanent dismissal from the University.


For more information on Academic Honesty (Cheating and Plagiarism) see:




For information on Student Standards of Conduct see:




Religious Accommodations:

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodation.... Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/.


Disability Resource Services:

The process of artistic creation should be equally available to every student regardless of disability! If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.



Safe Campus:  https://www.washington.edu/safecampus/

Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime – no matter where you work or study – to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.

Catalog Description: 
Covers learning and application of creative methodologies for the theatre artist. Students study established systems of creative development, the use non-dramatic source texts as a foundation for adaptation into dramatic theatre pieces. Emphasizes artistic entrpreneurship, group collaboration, and applied narrative theories.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
March 10, 2023 - 8:57pm