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DRAMA 480 A: Game Design for Live Performance

Meeting Time: 
MWF 3:30pm - 5:20pm
CDH 309C
Adrienne Mackey
Adrienne Mackey

Syllabus Description:

DRAMA 480A Game Design for Live Performance

Spring Quarter 2024

MWF, 3:30pm – 5:20pm

Condon 309C


Instructor: Assistant Professor Adrienne Mackey, School of Drama

Office: Hutchinson 213 / Condon 532

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.


Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.

–  Abraham Maslow


Class Description:

The presence of immersive and interactive plays has exploded on the theater landscape in the last decade. Participatory dramas activate the superpower of LIVENESS: they’re stories that unfold in response to what audiences do, asking them to truly "be there." As theater artists bravely explore this exciting new territory, questions about how best to offer such experiences quickly arise. 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 in! Game design offers tools to structure interactive storytelling, build compelling relationships between players and the fictional worlds they enter, and activate a sense of play. This course offers students a basic foundation on game design tools that are useful to theater makers, studies examples of genre-bending game/theater hybrid artworks from current theater and game makers in the field and gives hands-on practice at making these kind of artworks yourself. 


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.


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. Midway through the quarter (on Projects 2 & 3) we’ll start playtesting in class to get feedback on the works YOU create.


  • 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: Emergent Play and Synthesis 

The final weeks 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 an approximation and subject to change.


Grading and Class Work:

AN IMPORTANT NOTE TO START WITH! One of the MOST central aspects of the game design process is iteration: taking an idea, testing it to see how audiences respond and making changes to get closer to one’s goals. In our time together I HOPE and EXPECT we’ll discover new and exciting opportunities for learning. Because of that, I’m intentionally leaving room for emergent play to arise throughout the course.

A SECOND IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW! I don’t want grades to be your dominant focus in this class. I want this space to be rigorous and fun, a class where you get to try and fail, a place you LOVE coming to, and where you can wrestle with new and difficult ideas without also having to worry about needing to “win” the game of percentage points. Since grades are a non-negotiable design constraint of the UW system, I choose to award you for consistent effort and NOT the “quality” of the work you make. It is simple to do well in this class academically so long as you show up, submit your responses, and are genuinely game to play. Know that I’m always more interested in present-tense effort than procrastinated perfect attempts down the road.


With this in mind, here’s the structure of the work:

  • PARTICIPATION (29 classes, 1 point each, 29 points total)

This class includes LOTS of discussion and creative collaboration. It is also highly practical in nature – in other words, these 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. Our in-class time will have you playing games and experiencing interactive performances to get a first-hand understanding of how they work. Expect lots of beta testing of each other’s games, giving and getting feedback on that experience. In addition, I’ll post readings, games, videos, etc for you to familiarize yourself with outside of class that we’ll unpack together live. I like to think of this as homeplay rather than homework.  These are generally available two days ahead of the class that will explore the concepts they introduce.

If you aren’t there, there’s no way make up the live experience. Because of that, in my ideal world, you’re present for every class. If you do miss a day, I’ expect you to spend an equivalent amount of time studying the materials posted to Canvas and checking in with fellow learners to get a sense of what we did. I do not offer make-ups of the content. I ask you to do your utmost to come on time, both for yourself and for the focus of those you share the space with. This is not a hard class to do well in, but if you know you need a course with a high degree of flexibility around in-person learning, this one will likely not be a good fit.

That said, knowing that your lives (work, sickness, family) intersect with school, I offer two excused absences per quarter. Unless you’ve set up an adjustment for a documented disability or religious accommodation, any absences beyond this will not be excused, so use them judiciously throughout the term. I ask you to email at least two hours before the class start (ideally a full day) so I can adjust plans for collaborative work.

If you arrive late, that will impact your day’s participation score an equivalent portion of the day. (In other words, if you’re 30 minutes late to our 120-minute class, that will pull your attendance down by 25%). If you accumulate lateness that’s equivalent to a class, I will apply the absence waiver to that collective set of days. (For example, if you arrive halfway through the class on two days, that’s the equivalent of one whole day absent and I’d apply the absence waiver to that “day’s” worth of missed material.)

Another critical skill game designers learn is how to remove unnecessary distractions from the player experience. In this vein, I do not allow phones to be used during class. Upon entering the room, all phones, including mine, will be placed in "Phone Spa" where they will be kept safe until the end of class. If you use a phone during the class period, you will automatically lose your participation point for the day. If you have a medical or family emergency, you must discuss it with me prior to class.  (See below for more on my Phone Policy.)

2) WEEKLY REFLECTIONS (10 responses, 1 per week, 3 points each, 30 points total):

Each week I’ll pose you an open-ended reflection prompt based on the material from my lectures and the homeplay. These may be turned in as written response or an equivalent length audio recording. Your opinions are not on trial, but honest and critical thinking is expected. I’ll expect you to keep on top of the deadlines listed in Canvas for when these are due.

3) MAKING STUFF! (4 projects, 1 worth 5 points, 3 worth 10 points, 35 points total):

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.

4) PEER RESPONSES (2 peer reviews, 3 points each, 6 points total):

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:

  • Phone Policy. No one needs to be told that cell phones are distracting. As much as they are designed to make us feel otherwise, we're all capable of spending two hours without them. As mentioned above, it is a requirement of this class to store phones away upon entering class. Don’t worry about them getting lonely! I’ve made a safe and luxurious Phone Spaä where they can go and take a needed rest. A visible phone during class results in an automatic loss of participation points. Even if you have a medical or family emergency, you must discuss it with me prior to class and leave your phone in "Phone Spa" before and after the call.
  • Avoid distractions. If you take notes on a laptop CLOSE YOUR INTERNET BROWSER.
  • 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.


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.

Please note that submitting material produced by AI essay generating apps as your own work, without explicitly naming it as such, also counts as academic dishonesty. If AI is used to generate some or all of an essay, it must be explicitly stated and not violate to the core principle that my reflection writing is aimed at assessment YOUR understanding of the course material.


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


For information on Student Standards of Conduct see:





Statement on Consent, Power Dynamics and Exploration of Sensitive Material:

Theater and Game-making is, by nature, an act that asks great vulnerability from its audiences. Participatory art asks people to engage in affective and emotional storytelling in live time, actively using our bodies and minds. It’s important to engage in care and responsibility when making choices about how we ask others to take part in our works. Similarly, as a teacher I’m a firm believer that our greatest growth comes not when we’re scared or untrusting of our environment, but when we feel centered, empowered, and supported in taking big risks we understand the parameters of and have enthusiastically agreed to. Later in this course we will talk a LOT about how designers ethically make choices about consent and agency. For now, the mantra for our work together is:




And with all this said, it’s also likely people will make mistakes along the way. In art (and life) we won’t always be perfect and often in-progress designers won’t know what will feel weird until it happens. It’s simply a fact of life that we will sometimes cause discomfort we don’t mean to. Though it’s not the job of someone on the receiving end of a mistake to fix it, I also know from my own journey as an artist that it can be MASSIVELY helpful to get feedback that lets one know how their actions are impacting others. (Providing, obviously, that the person receiving feedback does the critical work of listening with openness and curiosity.)

If something happens, it absolutely can be possible to back up, repair, rebuild trust to come back stronger than before. I think the key to long term trust and consent isn’t proposing that no one will ever make a mistake, but instead that we commit to building a robust collaborative space where when smaller issues arise, we have instilled the practice of talking about and addressing them so we avoid ongoing or systemic problems of mistrust and abuse.

Above all:

  • If you’re not sure about something that’s happened in class or need a gut check about whether something is ok or not, know that I am always here to listen and help.
  • It can be uncomfortable or feel weird to share your needs in groups, especially when you’re just getting to know each other. Resist the temptation to minimize or dismiss your experience! Take the daring creative step to name these complex dynamics and learn to solve them together!
  • Reframe telling someone when something bothers you not as awkward but as a gift that allows them a chance to fix and adjust something they may not be aware of!
  • If someone from within the School of Drama (fellow undergrad, graduate student, staff or faculty member) is making you feel sexualized, that is unequivocally not ok and is a violation of the program’s philosophy.
  • I am here to be a support and advocate. If you need especially timeline assistance with something related to consent, rehearsal process, etc email me with the phrase “TIME SENSITIVE ASAP” in the subject line and I will respond as soon as I can.


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/ 


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.


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/



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.


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/ 


Catalog Description: 
Provides a basic foundation on game design tools useful to theater makers, studies examples of genre-bending game/theater hybrid artworks from current practitioners, and gives hands-on practice at making works in this vein. Game design offers tools to structure participatory storytelling, build compelling relationships between players and fictional worlds, and activate a sense of play for everyone involved. Recommended: DRAMA 101. Offered: AWSpS.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
January 17, 2024 - 3:26am