Module Guide for Socio-Cultural Contexts

Following last week’s post of my Introduction to Game Studies module, I’m posting the module guide for my third year class. It is probably worth mentioning that this is an award winning module. Students voted it exceptionally well designed, so I suppose that counts for something.

It is also probably worth mentioning that Tanya Kryzwinska orginally designed and ran the module. I feel satisfied that I have sufficiently made it my own enough to not infringe on her intellectual copyright, but if she feels otherwise, let me know and I’ll take it down. 🙂

And just to quickly reiterate- I am posting this publicly to share what I have done, widen participation in higher education, and (of course) strengthen my own teaching. If you have constructive feedback, please let me know.

Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts

Introduction, aims, background

  • To place games within a larger socio-cultural context through reading multi-/inter-disciplinary research.
  • To evaluate the relationships and contexts within which games are made and consumed.
  • To examine demographics of those who play games as well as representation of gender, sexuality, race, age and ability in games.
  • To think about what socio-cultural topics mean within a larger, developer context.

Methods of Teaching

  • Weekly assigned readings provide foundational knowledge to stimulate discussion and thought.
  • An interactive seminar of three hours which includes a blend of short lectures and student participation via activities.
  • Activities provide students with the opportunity to discuss in small groups ideas raised through reading, lectures and personal experience.
  • Seminars provide student with formative, individual feedback on their progress and work. Summative feedback is provided from two assessed essays- one on demographics and representation and one question response based on course themes.
Week 1 Introduction to module and topic

This introductory lecture will go over the course 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 games and society.

Essential Reading:

 Seminar Questions:

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

Week 2 Gender in Games

This week begins the core content of the class by looking at demographics, statistics, and issues of representation of gender in games.

Essential Reading:

  • Taylor, TL. (2006). Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 4.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Entertainment Software Association 2014. Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry: Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data. (particularly page 3 on gender) Accessed at: http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_ef_2014.pdf
  • Fine, G. A., 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. London: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 2, particularly pages 62-71.
  • Corneliussen, H. 2008. ‘World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism’. In Corneliussen, H. and Walker Rettberg, J. (eds.) Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader. MIT Press: Massachusetts. pp.63-86.
  • Gareth R. Schott and Kirsty R. Horrell ’Girl Gamers and their Relationship with the Gaming Culture’. Convergence. Vol 13 no.4 Winter. 2000.
  • Taylor, TL. 2012. Raising the Stakes: E-sports and the Professionalisation of Computer Gaming. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 3. (good commentary on masculinities)
  • Haraway, D. 1985, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge: New York.

Seminar Questions:

  1. In the introduction to the chapter, Taylor states that the stereotypical image of a gamer is a boy or man. Do you agree that this is a stereotype? Why or why not? Do you think the image of the gamer is changing?
  2. How does Taylor counter assertions that women play games primarily because of ‘wanting to talk’ or ‘identity exploration’ (p.95)? What did her participants report?
  3. What does Taylor mean by the term ‘bracket’ (p.110)?
  4. What are ‘pink games’? What’s wrong with them?
  5. How do advertisements of games make them seem exclusively for men?
Week 3 Sex in Games

Western cultures generally accept that sex is a part of life, and that sex can lead to powerful narratives in film and literature, but what about sex in games? This week we will look at the relationship between games, play, and sex and think critically about whether or not gaming is an ‘adult’ enough media to handle a topic as complex as sexuality.

Essential Reading:

  • Brown, Ashley ML. 2015. Sexuality in Role-Playing Games. Routledge: London, Chapter 2 + part of 3. Pages 11-38.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Mia Consalvo ‘Hot Dates and Fairy Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Video Games’ in Wolf and Perron (eds.) (2003) The VideoGame Theory Reader. Routledge.
  • Gallagher, R. 2012. ‘No Sex Please, We are Finite State Machines: On the melancholy sexlessness of the video game’. Games and Culture, 7(6). pp.399-418.
  • Harviainen, J. T. 2012, ‘Sadomasochist Role-Playing as LiveAction Role-Playing: A trait descriptive analysis’. International Journal of Role-Playing. 1(2). pp.59-70.
  • Brown, A. 2012. ‘‘No One-Handed Typing’: An exploration of cheats and spoilsports in an erotic role play community in World of Warcraft’. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, 4(3).
  • Sundén, J. 2012. ‘Desires at Play: On closeness and epistemological uncertainty’. Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, 7(2). pp.164-184. 

Seminar Questions:

  1. Why does the chapter begin by talking about Spin the Bottle?
  2. Which 3 rule types are listed? Why are they important?
  3. Why is the Hot Coffee mod interesting?
  4. What is the difference between Adults Only and Mature ESRB ratings? Why does the ESRB rating matter?
  5. (From the beginning of chapter 3) According to the text, what is the stereotype of an erotic role player? What is the actuality?
  6. What is the motivation to erotic role play?
Week 4 Race and Games

From real-life racial representations to who plays to fantastical depictions of elves and orcs, race is a key cultural and social artefact to be studied when researching games. This week looks not only at the racial composition of players, but also discusses the representation of race in games.

Essential Reading:

  • Monson, M. 2012. ‘Race-based Fantasy Realm: Essentialism in the World of Warcraft’. Games and Culture. 7(1), pp.48-71.

Secondary Readings:

  • Packer, J. 2012. ‘What Makes an Orc? Racial cosmos and emergent narrative in World of Warcraft.’ Games and Culture, 9(2), pp.83-101.
  • Poor, N. 2012. ‘Digital Elves as a Racial Other in Video Games: Acknowledgement and avoidance’. Games and Culture, 7(5), pp. 375-396.
  • Shaw, A. 2012. ‘Do You Identify as a Gamer? Gender, race, sexuality and gamer identity’. New Media and Society, 14(1), pp.28-44.
  • Burgess, M., Dill, K., Stermer, S., Burgess, S., and Brown, B., 2011. ‘Playing with Prejudice: The prevalence and consequences of racial stereotypes in video games.’ Media Psychology, 14, pp.289-311.
  • Kafai, Y., Cook, M., Fields, D. 2010. ‘”Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!”: Design and discussion about diversity and race in a tween virtual world’, Games and Culture, 5(1), pp.43-63.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the article, is race (biologically) real?
  2. How do race-based societies cultivate and perpetuate racism? (Hint: p. 50)
  3. How is race used to demonstrate ‘authenticity’?
  4. How do fantasy and science fiction reinforce the ideology of race-based societies?
  5. How does World of Warcraft reinforce folk-biological views?
Week 5 Age and Games

This week will be spent talking about the age of players and the age of characters in videogames.

Essential Reading:

  • Pearce, C. 2008, ‘The Truth About Baby Boomer Gamers: A study of over-forty computer game players’. Games and Culture, 3(2), pp. 142-174.

Secondary Readings:

  • ESA, 2013. ‘2013 Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data: Essential facts about the computer and video game industry’, accessed at: http://www.isfe.eu/sites/isfe.eu/files/attachments/esa_ef_2013.pdf.
  • De Schutter, B. 2011, ‘Never Too Old to Play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience’. Games and Culture, 6(2), pp. 155-170.
  • Williams, D., Yee, N., and Caplan, S. 2008, ‘Who Plays, How Much, and Why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(4), pp. 993-1018.
  • Ghuman, D. and Griffiths, M. 2012, ‘A Cross-Genre Study of Online Gaming: Player demographics, motivation for play, and social interactions among players’. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 2(1), pp.1-17.
  • Kasriel, D. 2009, ‘Eurogaming: Video gaming transcending traditional demographics in Europe’, Euromonitor International, accessed at: http://blog.euromonitor.com/2009/02/eurogaming-video-gaming-transcending-traditional-demographics-in-europe.html

 Seminar Questions:

  1. Which company took a radical departure from standard practice and made efforts to cater to aging populations? Where is this company based? What are their population statistics like?
  2. What do the statistics on page 144 seem to suggest about gamer demographics in 2005?
  3. What genre of game was the most popular amongst Pearce’s participants?
  4. Did any of this study’s findings surprise you? Did this change your perception of baby boomer gamers?
  5. This article is written from a US context. Do you think this has an effect on the outcomes of the research?
Week 6 Ability and Games

The final class on topics relating to demographics and representation, this week we will discuss the representation of the body and ability in games. We will also discuss the real-world abilities of players and the challenges to the body gaming presents.

Essential Reading:

 Secondary Readings:

  • Ledder, S. (in press 2015) “Evolve today!”: Human Enhancement Technologies in the BioShock universe. In L. Cuddy (ed.) BioShock and Philosophy, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Gibbons, S. (2013) ‘Playing for Transcendence: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Disability’. In First Person Scholar, October 2013.
  • Allan, K. (2013.) Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction. In K. Allan (Ed.), Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (pp 1-18) New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Davis, L. J. (1995) Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. London: Verso.
  • Thomson, R.G. (1997) Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Thomson, R.G (1996) Freakery; Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body New York: New York University Press.
  • Williams, L. (1999) ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess’. In L Braudy and M. Cohen (Eds) Film Theory and Criticism (pp. 701-715). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the literature cited in the article, what are three film genres associated with the body? Why are these of low cultural status?
  2. What type of method does Carr employ in her study?
  3. In the analysis, what do Necromorphs represent? What does Isaac’s suit represent? The clinic?
  4. What concluding messages does Dead Space contain about the body and anxieties around the body?
Week 7 READING WEEK
Week 8 Gamers and Gaming Communities

This week will look at gamers and gaming communities from socio-cultural perspectives. Namely, we will consider whether or not gamers might be considered a sub-culture, fan community, or something else entirely.

Essential Reading:

  • Shaw, A. 2010. ‘What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies’. Games and Culture, 5(4), pp.403-424.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture.  New York University Press, Chapter 2.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Consalvo, M. 2012. ‘Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Games Studies Scholars’. A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. Issue 1. http://adanewmedia.org/2012/11/issue1-consalvo/

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to Shaw, what is video game culture?
  2. What are cultural studies? (Hint: p.405)
  3. On page 406, how does Shaw describe the difference in how video game scholars and video game journalists write about game culture?
  4. According to Shaw, how has gamer identity been defined as male?
  5. According to the article, is video game culture truly distinct from popular/mass culture?
Week 9 Games Rating and Review Boards

This week will be spent looking at the regulation of games, both in terms of legislation and government action and in terms of consumer watchdog groups.

Essential Reading:

  • Felini, D. 2015. ‘Beyond Today’s Video Game Rating Systems: A critical approach to PEGI and ESRB, and proposed improvements’, Games and Culture, 10(1), pp. 106-122.

Secondary Readings:

  • Tocci, J. 2008. ‘Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings: Content considerations for media regulations’, International Journal of Communication, 2, pp. 561-586.
  • Walsh, D. and Gentile, D. 2001. ‘A Validity Test of Movie, Television, and Video-Game Ratings’. Pediatrics, 107(6), pp.1302-1308.
  • Yousafzai, S., Hussain, Z. and Griffiths, M. 2014. ‘Social Responsibility in Online Videogaming: What should the videogame industry do?’. Addiction Research and Theory 22(3), pp. 181-5.
  • Burns, R. C. and Lau, T. Y. ‘Censorship, Government and the Computer Game Industry. In Zotto, C.D. 2005. Growth and Dynamics of Maturing New Media Companies. Jönköping International Business School.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the reading, what are the two most popular/used rating/classification boards for video games? How are they funded?
  2. How many classification categories does PEGI have? What about the ESRB?
  3. According to the article, who does PEGI/ESRB target?
  4. What is the promoted image of childhood? Is it accurate?
  5. Are the current classification systems successful in protecting children? What problems are there? How might we improve classification systems?
Week 10 Games and Economics

This week will consider the business of making games. We know that games are big business, but what about the economies of virtual worlds? The lecture and seminar this week looks at virtual and real economies and how they overlap. A discussion will centre on how virtual economies develop cultures of scarcity in and out of games.

Essential Reading:

  • Kerr, A. The Business and Culture of Digital Games: Gamework/Gameplay. Sage: London, chapter 3.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Castronova, E. 2006, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: Chicago University Press, chapter 8.
  • Nakamura, L. 2009, ‘Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The racialization of labour in World of Warcraft’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(2), pp.128-144.
  • Heeks, R. 2009, ‘Understanding ‘Gold Farming’ and Real-Money Trading as the Intersection of Real and Virtual Economies’, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(4), accessed at: http://journals.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/viewArticle/868
  • Alvisi, A. 2006, ‘The Economics of Digital Games’ in Understanding Digital Games. London: Sage.
  • Kerr, A. 2006, ‘The business of making digital games’ in Understanding Digital Games London: Sage.
  • Debeauvais, T., Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N. 2011, ‘If You Build It They Might Stay: Retention mechanisms in World of Warcraft’, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games, pp. 180-187. Accessed from: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2159390
  • Lehdonvirta, V. and Virtanen, P. 2012, ‘A New Frontier in Digital Content Policy: Case studies in the regulation of virtual goods and artificial scarcity’, Policy and Internet, 2(3), pp. 7-29.

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is political economy? How does it differ from orthodox economic theory?
  2. Why are companies interested in reaching the widest possible audience?
  3. What is horizontal integration? What is vertical integration?
  4. Look at table 3.2 on page 56. Did anything about the software production process there surprise you?
  5. What are the three types of development companies?
  6. What is an ‘economy of scope’?
Week 11 Serious Games

The final content session will look at games which specifically invoke or engage with real-world social issues. As the key reading hints at, we will think particularly about how games might convey a particular type of rhetoric when it comes to serious issues.

Essential Reading:

  • Bogost, I. Persuasive Games. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 1: Procedural Rhetoric.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Lavender, T. 2006. ‘Games Just Wanna Have Fun… Or Do They? Measuring the effectiveness of persuasive games’. Loading… 1(1). Accessed from: http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/13/17
  • Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, James Noble, Ronald Fischer, and Robert Biddle. 2007. Fine tuning the persuasion in persuasive games. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Persuasive technology (PERSUASIVE’07), Yvonne De Kort, Wijnand IJsselsteijn, Cees Midden, Berry Eggen, and B. J. Fogg (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 36-47.
  • Garite, M. ‘The Ideology of Interactivity (or, Video Games and the Taylorisation of Leisure’. DiGRA 2003 Proceedings. Accessed at: http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/05150.15436.pdf

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is procedurality according to Bogost?
  2. What is rhetoric?
  3. How might procedural rhetoric be used to develop games?
Week 12 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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