Games & Culture
AbstractThe course conveys the necessary tools for analysing games and player cultures from a comprehensive variety of angles, ranging from classic play theories and semiotics to transmedia and gender studies. It engages with games and play from a historical perspective, establishing a common ground for communication about games and player cultures among students from different backgrounds.
Games and Play are fundamental phenomena found in every society throughout history. They are forms of entertainment, and also part of many cultural discourses, as well as modes of behaviour and communication. Lately they have evolved, through computer technology, into the most prominent form of digital culture and expression.
Students will learn how to analyse games and their relation to culture at large in order to discuss games from various theoretical, cultural and critical perspectives, classify them according to taxonomies and assess their use in various contexts.
This course offers a broad overview of the fundamental concepts, theories and approaches to games and play. We will discuss a selection of the main critical and research approaches.
The main topics of the course are as follows:
- Defining and analysing games and play
- Games as sign-systems and rule-systems
- Quest games, narrative, and fiction
- Space and time in games
- Avatars, Characters, and Agency
- Representation in and of games and their players
- Games as transmedia and cross media artefacts
- Players and fans
- Materialities of games
- Doing games research and applying it to practices
- The politics and ideologies of games, player cultures, edutainment and gamification
There are no formal prerequisites.
The course deals with theories, abstract concepts, and philosophical as well as sociological and aesthetic questions. Engaging with the course readings and general openness to theoretical and analytical issues will therefore be essential. You are expected to prepare for and actively participate in the lectures, which are dialogic in form, with ample room for discussion. Through the lectures, discussions, and exercises, the course builds your ability to analyze games and player cultures, two of the important competencies for any game developer, game designer, and game scholar.
You will also need to study a broad range of games in a systematic manner. We don't think that there is (or should be) a canon of digital games. All of us have, however, only first-hand experience with a limited number of examples, and there are games/game series/genres that you will encounter frequently in research and in your studies. To save you from unpleasant surprises and the frustration of feeling like there is a 'secret list of games one should know', we have prepared below an itemized overview of genres (with some examples each) that will come up in the lectures.
It will help you engage with lectures and readings better (and, needless to say, expand your vocabulary of digital games) if you look up (i.e. watch videos of or get some casual play experience with) games from the following genres:
- Early games: Spacewar, Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong
- Text Adventures (e.g. Adventure, Zork, Hunt the Wumpus)
- Genre definers:
- Super Mario Bros.
- Tomb Raider
- Grand Theft Auto III
- Graphic Adventures (e.g. Day of the Tentacle or Monkey Island)
- Early First-Person Shooters (e.g. Doom, Half-Life 1+2)
- CRPGs (e.g. Final Fantasy-, Fallout-, Elder Scrolls-series)
- 'Immersive Simulation' games (e.g. System Shock, Deus Ex, Bioshock)
- Survival Horror (e.g. Resident Evil, Silent Hill)
- RTS (e.g. Warcraft, Starcraft)
- MMO (e.g. World of Warcraft, EVE online)
- 'Walking Simulators' (e.g. Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch)
- Open World Games (e.g. Assassin's Creed, Horizon: Zero Dawn)
- Roguelikes & Rogue-lites (Spelunky, Binding of Isaac, FTL)
- Metroidvanias (Metroid, Castlevania, Dead Cells, Hollow Knight)
- Casual Games (e.g. Flappy Bird, Candy Crush Saga)
- Autobiographical Games (e.g. Depression Quest, Dys4ia)
- Care Games (e.g. The Sims, Animal Crossing)
Needless to say, this list is constantly evolving and incomplete. We will e.g. also touch on non-digital forms, from board games to Pen-and-Paper RPGs and LARPs. The important thing is that you remain curious about all kinds of games and expand your horizon, so you can put games and their players into perspective even better.
Intended learning outcomes
After the course, the student should be able to:
- Discuss games, play and player cultures from a variety of theoretical, cultural and critical perspectives (e.g. semiotics, procedurality, representation).
- Systematically classify games and playful activities.
- Contextualize games in a historical and generic perspective.
- Analyse and interpret games using established or adapted analysis methods.
- Develop coherent arguments that engage critically with theories, definitions, and categorizations.
- Independently examine the state of the art in specific game studies topics by doing a bibliography and presenting the results in a standardized format.
- Reflect on cultural biases, stereotypes, and discrimination within the domain of play and games.
- Examine game culture as a part of a larger media ecology of fandom, transmedia franchises, social media etc.
Lectures give an overview of theories, discourses, and historical developments. They contextualize the readings in the course syllabus and thus facilitate critical engagement. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss concepts, definitions, and categorizations in the lectures.
This analytic approach to existing research is deepened and applied in the exercises through e.g. discussions of examples, formulations and evaluations of alternative concepts. These oral exercises will be supplemented with several hand-ins that build towards the final examination, which takes the form of a term paper. In the term paper, students will individually engage with a self-chosen topic, building on and critically engaging with research from the course readings and beyond.
Mandatory activitiesThere are no mandatory activities.
The student will receive the grade NA (not approved) at the ordinary exam, if the mandatory activities are not approved and the student will use an exam attempt.
The course literature is distributed by topic. The readings for each topic are divided into mandatory and additional texts. Course participants are expected to have read all mandatory readings by the end of the semester. Additional readings are recommended texts, especially for participants who want to write their term paper on the respective topic. For the term paper, it is expected that authors find additional literature for their particular topic.
Student Activity BudgetEstimated distribution of learning activities for the typical student
- Preparation for lectures and exercises: 20%
- Lectures: 15%
- Exercises: 15%
- Assignments: 15%
- Project work, supervision included: 35%
Ordinary examExam type:
C: Submission of written work, External (7-point scale)
C11: Submission of written work
The course will be assessed and graded based on a term paper. As the paper is the sole basis for grading, it cannot be done in groups.
The topic is chosen by the student (in consultation with course manager and TAs) based on the course content, i.e. it must relate thematically to at least one of the topics covered in class and incorporate at least one of the texts on the reading list, and at least 8 research sources in total.
The term paper has to be academic in style, approach, and execution, and include both a bibliography and a ludography (preferably in APA style).
The length should be roughly (+/-10%) 11 standard pages or 28.000 characters including spaces.