Critical Videogame Culture
The following is an excerpt from a proposed course.
Videogames are often written off as toys facilitating escapist fantasies. Yet videogames are the products of defense research and have trained soldiers for war, they generate billions of dollars in yearly revenue, and, through Facebook and mobile platforms, they are quickly becoming one of the dominant media forms of the 21st century. As McKenzie Wark argues, videogames are no longer poor representations of the world; rather, the world is now looking to the videogame as its ideal.
This course takes videogame play seriously. To this end, critical cultural theory will be deployed to analyze videogame design and discourse. Students will develop an understanding of the history of videogames as cultural artifacts as well as prominent theories of videogame form, and how they function as computational machines of meaning. Using this base of knowledge, students will play, interpret, and design videogames with a focus on how videogames are political and can be leveraged to change the world for the better.
Online Course Reader (free)
The Orange Box (PC or Mac) available for download for $30 from Steam store.
The course is organized into eight units, each of which contains three interpretive objects: game(s), reading(s), and an example of community discussion/discourse. Readings are to be completed in full. Games will be demoed in class and are optional. Do not worry about finishing any of the games.
Throughout the quarter you’re also expected to be playing games contained within The Orange Box according to schedule. Unlike the other games listed on the schedule these games are required.
- UNIT 1 HISTORY
Reading: Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter “Immaterial Labor”
Game: Space Invaders and Doom
Discussion: “10 most important video games of all time” post on Joystiq and comments
Orange Box: Half Life 2
- UNIT 2 FORM
Reading: Markku Eskelinen and Ragnhild Tronstad “Video Games and Configurative Performances”
Game: Any game by Messhoff
Discussion: Henry Jenkins “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” and responses
Orange Box: Half Life 2
- UNIT 3 LITERACY
- UNIT 4 RACE
Reading: David Leonard “Virtual Gangstas, Coming to a Suburban House Near You”
Game: Street Fighter II
Discussion: Border House “BioWare on Racial Diversity in Dragon Age 2” and comments
Orange Box: Team Fortress 2
- UNIT 5 GENDER
Reading: Helen Kennedy “Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo?”
Game: Tomb Raider
Discussion: Tanner Higgin “What Bayonetta Can Learn From Lady Gaga” and Amanda Phillips “Castrating the Straight Male Gaze”
Orange Box: Portal
- UNIT 6 SEXUALITY
Reading: Mia Consalvo “Hot Dates and Fairy-Tale Romances”
Game: Mass Effect 2
Discussion: Matt Peckham “Sounds of Silence” and sidebar comments
Orange Box: Portal
- UNIT 7 POWER
- UNIT 8 ETHICS AND DESIGN
Throughout the quarter students will be tasked with developing a portfolio of work displayed on a website that will serve as a public display of knowledge, learning community, and archive of work. The key components of this site will be:
1. Blog: features short but thoughtful perspectives on artifacts and events that intersect with class material.
2. Closeplay video: a five to ten minute video of captured footage of gameplay and your critical commentary of that gameplay.
3. Progressive game concept: a detailed “pitch” of a videogame concept that demonstrates an understanding of the form of videogames and how to employ that form, through design, to more effectively model culture in an ethical way.
4. Multi-modal critical game analysis: a 1500-2000 word critical analysis of race, gender, sexuality, or power in a videogame we’ve played this quarter. This analysis should use links, sound, graphics, and video as necessary to extend the argument.
5. Historical context: alongside the critical game analysis you’ll need to curate a group of four games that you see as intersecting historically with your primary object of analysis. As a curator you need to explain the relationships the games.
We will all be maintaining a running discussion on Twitter. Twitter will be used for course announcements and updates, but, more importantly, it will serve as a platform to post brief reflections, provocations, questions, snark, and other kinds of ephemera for general class interest. Your active participation on Twitter will be required for success in the course.