Module Guide for Introduction to Game Studies

I recently discovered that my module guides remain my intellectual property- meaning I can freely share them. So, I am putting here my week-by-weeks with suggested readings for Game Studies 1: Introduction to Game Studies (1st year Game Design BA module for our degree programme here at Brunel). This module has been designed to introduce first year university students from a variety of backgrounds and interests to Game Studies as part of their overall Game Design undergraduate degree.

This is nearly a copy-paste from this year’s guides, but I have tried to provide context where possible. A quick glance will show that the reading list consists of nearly 100% texts which can be classified as Game Studies, but the lectures themselves draw on other theories and readings from interdisciplinary sources to give a more well-rounded approach to the field.

Please feel free to use as much or as little of these guides as you want. Likewise, I am open to feedback. If any of you reading this teach a similar class, I’d love to have a cup of coffee (or virtual coffee) and a chat to see what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Next week I’ll post Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts (3rd year Game Design BA module).

Game Studies 1: Introduction to Game Studies

Introduction, aims, background

  • Introduce students to foundational concepts, themes and theories from within the field of Games Studies.
  • Study games and play using three perspectives: philosophy; media and cultural studies; and socio-cultural studies.
  • Develop understanding of foundational theories relating to the study of games and develop critical and analytical skills in the application of these theories to specific examples of games.

Methods of Teaching

  • The module will follow the pattern of an interactive seminar (3 hours) which will include short lectures combined with exercises and activities aimed at generating discussion through critical thinking.
  • Students will be required to work in small groups during class time to discuss and critique academic studies of games and apply knowledge learned in class and through reading to specific examples.
  • Formative assessment will take the form of oral feedback given during seminars. Summative assessment will take the form of a presentation and an essay.
Week 1

 

Introduction to module and topic

This introductory lecture will go over the module aims, goals, assessments and expectations. It is an important opportunity to discuss the aim and scope of the class and to situate it within larger contexts of not only the degree programme, but also the importance of studying games as a serious academic endeavour. This class will also cover essential skills needed to do well in the module, such as how to breakdown and read dense academic texts.

Essential Reading:

  • Mäyrä, F. 2008. An Introduction to Game Studies. Sage: London. Chapter 1: Introduction: What is game studies? Pages 1-12.

Seminar Questions:

The seminar this week will be a chance for us to get to know each other better.

Week 3

 

What is a game?

This week begins the core content of the class by looking at precisely what a game is. Although it may seem self-evident, this class will use academic research to breakdown the basic components of what a game is, how it is different than play, and why such definitions matter.

Essential Reading:

  • Juul, J. 2005. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 2.

Secondary Readings:

  • Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. 2006. Rules of Play. MIT Press: Cambridge. Unit One 28-116.
  • Suits, B. 1990. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. Godine/Nonpariel Books. Chapter 3.
  • Atkins, B. 2003. More than a Game. Manchester University Press: Manchester. Chapter 1.

 Seminar Questions:

  1. What is a game? What are the key components of a game?
  2. What are the roles of rules in games?
  3. How does the game industry shape what we might consider a game?
  4. Is Second Life a game? Are The Sims a game? Why or why not?
Week 5

 

Ludology and narratology

Most games have a narrative, but are they something more? Can games be studied like books? Or like films? Are they something else entirely? This week resurrects an old ‘debate’ within the field, but focuses on the importance of epistemology when approaching the study of games.

Essential Reading:

  • Atkins, B. 2003. More Than a Game. University of Manchester Press: Manchester. Chapter 1.

Secondary Readings:

  • Aarseth, E. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Chapter 2.
  • Wolf, M. 2001. ‘Narrative in the videogame’ in Mark JP Wolf (ed.) The Medium of the Videogame. Texas University Press: Austin.
  • Frasca, G. 2003. ‘Ludologists Love Stories Too: Notes from a debate that never took place’. Proceedings of DiGRA 2003. Accessed from:  http://www.ludology.org/articles/frasca_levelUP2003.pdf

Seminar Questions:

  1. In your opinion, which game has the best storyline? Why?
  2. Which game has the worst storyline and why?
  3. Do all games tell stories?
  4. What is the relationship between narrative and play?
  5. Which side would you take in the narratology vs. ludology debate?
Week 7

 

READING WEEK
Week 8

 

Games and art

This week’s primary reading is a short editorial piece from film critic Roger Ebert. He infamously claimed, and received much backlash for, the comment ‘video games can never be art’. Games Studies can answer his editorial with a philosophical debate about the nature of art and media. To engage with this debate, I encourage you to read one or more of the secondary readings in addition to the primary reading.

Essential Reading:

Secondary Readings:

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to Roger Ebert, why aren’t video games art?
  2. Do you agree with his position?
  3. What is art?
  4. What’s an example of a video game you would consider to be art?
Week 10

 

Games and Music

Connecting to the previous discussions of the relationship video games have to other media and the arts, this week focuses on video games and music. We will focus on how the music of games contributes to their overall design and the overall affect felt by players. The role of the industry, and of convergence with other types of popular media, will also be discussed.

Essential Reading:

 Secondary Readings:

  • Collins, K. 2008. Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 1.
  • Whalen, Z. 2004. ‘Play Along: An approach to videogame music’. The International Journal of Computer Game Research. 4(1). Accessed from: http://www.gamestudies.org/0401/whalen/

Seminar Questions:

  1. What does music contribute to the design of video games?
  2. What about sound effects?
  3. What role does convergence play in the incorporation of popular music into video games?
  4.  How might we study music in games?
  5. How might we explain real-world symphonies playing video game theme songs?
Week 12 Presentations

We will spend the full day on presentations, so be sure to attend and be sure to support your peers! The presentations are worth 40% of total mark and are described in depth at the end of this document.

Weeks 14-16 Christmas Break
Week 18 Games and fandom

This class will serve as an introduction to studies of player communities by looking at the most visible groups of players- fans. Although there are many ways to define, categorise, and talk about players, looking at groups of fans and fan cultures is useful in thinking about games as a participatory culture in multiple ways.

Essential Reading:

  • Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture.  New York University Press, Chapter 2.

Secondary Readings:

  • Lamerichs, N. (2011). Stranger than Fiction: Fan Identity in Cosplay. Transformative Work and Cultures, 7. http://journal.transformativeworks.com/index.php/twc/article/view/246/230
  • Lamerichs, N. 2015. ‘Express Yourself: An affective analysis of game cosplayers’. Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection. MacFarland: Jefferson, North Carolina.
  • Burn, A. 2006. ‘Reworking the Text: Online Fandom’ in Carr, D.; Buckingham, D.; Burn, A.; Schott, G. (eds) Computer Games: Texts, Narrative, and Play. Polity Press.

Seminar Questions:

1.       What does it mean to be a ‘textual poacher’?

2.       What fan practices does Jenkins discuss in the chapter?

3.       Why should we study fans of games?

4.       Have you ever been to a fan convention? Have you ever cosplayed?

Week 20 Military and games

This week will be spent looking at the history of videogames and their (often close) ties to the military. From strategic war board games to the use of military technology to develop games, this week will highlight the close relationship between the military and games and raise questions about possible effects this might have on their design (and resulting controversies!).

Essential Reading:

  • Lukas, S. 2010. ‘Behind the Barrel’: Reading the Video Game Gun’, In Huntemann, N. and Payne, T. (eds.) Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games. Routledge: New York. Pp. 75-103.

Secondary Readings:

  • Martino, J. 2012. ‘Video Games and the Militarisation of Society: Towards a Theoretical and Conceptual Framework’, International Federation for Information Processing, 386. Pp.264-273.
  • Gagnon, F. 2010. ‘Invading Your Hearts and Minds: Call of Duty and the (Re)Writing of Militarism in US Digital Games and Popular Culture’, European Journal of American Studies, 5(3).
  • Cornell, TJ and Allen, TB 2002. War and Games. Boydell Press: Rochester, NY. Chapter 1.

Seminar Questions:

  1. How does Lukas compare Windows 95 Halloween party with the Columbine shooting?
  2. According to the chapter, what do guns symbolise?
  3. How is the culture of online competitive and team gaming like the military?
  4. How are videogames themed and why does this matter?
  5. How do games like America’s Army blur the line between games and reality?
Week 22 READING WEEK
Week 23 Identity and avatars

A guest lecture from Dr. Kelly Boudreau.

Essential Reading:

  • Waggoner, Z. 2009. Videogames, Avatars, and Identity: A brief history (pp. 3-20). In My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.

Secondary Readings:

  • Gee, J.P. 2003. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave: Basingstoke. Chapter 3.
  • Tronstad, R. (2008). Character identification in World of Warcraft: The relationship between capacity and appearance. In Hilde G. Corneliussen & Jill Walker Rettberg (Eds.), Digital culture, play, and identity: A World of Warcraft reader (pp 249-264). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Seminar Questions:

  1. What are the different types of identity discussed in the readings?
  2. How does freedom of avatar creation affect gameplay?
  3. What type(s) of identity can occur in single-player games (narrative driven)?
  4. What possible issues arise when thinking about avatars and identity in video games?
Week 25 Violence and games

This is our last session with new content, but there is a review session in week 30. To round out the course, we will look at controversies about content in games- namely the violence debate. We consider both sides of the debate and think critically about the impact moral and media panics have on the industry.

Essential Reading:

  • Faltin, K. 2015. ‘Analysing Game Controversies: A Historical Approach to Moral Panics and Digital Games’ in Mortensen, T., Linderoth, J. and Brown, AML 2015. The Dark Side of Gameplay. Routledge: London.

Secondary Readings:

  • Bryce, J. and Rutter, J. 2006, ‘Digital Games and the Violence Debate’ in Understanding Digital Games, London: Sage.
  • Ferguson, C. 2013, ‘Violent Video Games and the Supreme Court: Lessons for the scientific community in the wake of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association’, American Psychological Association, 68(2), pp. 57-74.
  • Barker, M. and Petley, J. (eds.) 2001, Ill Effects: the media/violence debate, New York: Routledge.
  • Karlsen, F. 2014. ‘Analysing the History of Game Controversies’, Conference Proceedings of Digital Game Research Association Conference 2014. Accessed here: http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/digra2014_submission_97.pdf

Seminar Questions:

  1. How do debates about violent videogames effect the regulation of games?
  2. What role do moral panics play in such controversies?
  3. How have violent games affected statistics of violent crimes, according to the reading?
  4. Is violence still a controversial topic in videogames?
Week 30 Review

 

All the material covered this term will be reviewed in our final week. This is a good opportunity to ask questions and clarify understandings before the essay is due.

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