Games & Culture
The course conveys the necessary tools for analyzing 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 behavior 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 analyzing 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
Formal prerequisitesThere are no formal prerequisites. The course is theoretical in nature, so engaging with the course readings and general openness to theoretical and analytical issues will be essential. You are expected to prepare for and actively participate in the lectures, which are dialogic in form, with ample room for discussion.
Additionally, you need to expand your familiarity with a wide variety of games (both digital and analog). It is suggested to spend some time brushing up on historical game knowledge, i.e. researching and getting first-hand experiences of a wide variety of genres and classics.
While we would not think of formulating a canon of digital games, there are a number of games/game series/genres that you will encounter frequently in research and in your studies. You should therefore have more than heard about (i.e. find them on the internet archive, GOG, abandonware portals, or at least watch videos of) most of the following:
- Early games: Spacewar, Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong
- Text Adventures: Adventure, Zork, Hunt the Wumpus (e.g. http://www.amctv.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/colossal-cave-adventure/landing)
- Genre definers:
- Super Mario Bros.
- Tomb Raider
- Grand Theft Auto III
- The Sims
- Adventures (esp. the LucasArts school: Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, Sam & Max)
- Formative First-Person Shooters: Doom, Quake, Half-Life 1+2
- CRPGs (esp. Final Fantasy, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, KOTOR/Mass Effect/Dragon Age series)
- 'Immersive Simulation' games: System Shock, Deus Ex, Bioshock
- Survival Horror (esp. Resident Evil, Silent Hill series)
- RTS (esp. the Blizzard school: Warcraft, Starcraft)
- MMO (esp. World of Warcraft, EVE online)
Intended learning outcomes
After the course, the student should be able to:
- Discuss games, play and player cultures from various theoretical, cultural and critical perspectives.
- Classify games and playful activities in the form of taxonomies and typologies, and formulate models that expose problems in existing concepts.
- Contextualize games in a historical and generic perspective.
- Analyze games and identify game genres using a variety of analysis methods.
- Assess and discuss game concepts and the use of games in various contexts.
- Problematize game definitions and categorizations.
- Apply new theories and evaluate them critically.
- Argumentatively position yourself towards common cultural biases related to play and games.
- Locate and situate media biases and social media campaigns related to the production and consumption of games.
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 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 predominantly oral forms of engagement with the subject matter are direct preparations for the mandatory hand-ins, which successively test the learning progress through tasks that require the application of core competencies. The final examination takes the form of a term paper in which students will individually engage with a self-chosen topic, building on and critically engaging with research from the course readings and beyond.
Mandatory activitiesStudents will be required to hand in three compulsory exercises which build towards the skills and knowledge required for the term paper. Timely hand-in of exercises will be a prerequisite for the final exam.
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 published in the course page in LearnIT.
Ordinary examExam type:
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.