For those of you who are interested in better understanding what goes into making the games we love, it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. Yes, there’s the technical aspects of game creation which you can brush up on during game jams, books on theory like Zimmerman and Tekinbas’ Rules of Play that you can read, online videos like the excellent Extra Credits series you can watch, and more classes on game development, game design, game art and more than one can shake a stick at, but…

…where you do even begin?

That’s not a question with an easy answer, because it depends on what you think games fundamentally are. If you think games are just mindless fun and have no desire to look into the nuts and bolts of how they’re put together, well, you can stop reading, since the “AFKer Game Dev 101” column is all about looking at what goes into games. Every week, we’ll feature a different learning opportunity, whether its an online course through edx or Coursera, one of the IGDA’s monthly webinars, an online conference, or more.

This week, our recommendation is Coursera’s “Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative“, taught by Jay Clayton from Vanderbilt University, which looks at how games tell stories, and how in being made into interactive narratives, familiar stories can be transformed into something fresh and new.

The course is designed as a university-level English literature class, “a multi-genre, multimedia tour of how literature, film, and games engage in the basic human activity of storytelling,” to quote the course description, with the Lord of the Rings trilogy being used as an example.

(Yes, your homework will include reading part of the LOTR trilogy, watching scenes from the movies, and perhaps even playing Lord of the Rings Online, the MMO take on the world of J.R.R. Tolkien).

Tolkien’s work has influenced pretty much the entire genre of western fantasy games today, from the original pencil and paper RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, to titles like the Dragon Age series and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. So if you ever wanted to learn more about how these sorts of games came about, and the influences that shaped the worlds and characters of these games, this is a great opportunity to do so.

But even if that genre doesn’t influence you, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative is a good foundation for learning how stories are remixed across different media, as they’re not told in the same ways. They can’t be, because each medium is consumed in different environments and in different ways. The experience of reading a long book is not the same as that of watching a movie or playing a game, and its important to be aware of this.

The course is free to join and begins on Feb 13, 2017.