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Understanding Video Games

Course Summary

An 11-lesson course teaching a comprehensive overview of analytical theory pertaining to video game media. Topics covered: play and game, emergence versus progression, game mechanics, story, interpretive theory, the culture of games, violence, sex and race in games, and finally, serious games. Estimated workload: 3-5 hrs/wk for non-credit; 7-10 h

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    Course Syllabus

    Lesson 1: IntroductionIn this short lesson, students will learn what to expect from the course, and will be introduced to our avatar creation module.
    Lesson 2: Play and GamesHere, students will gain an appreciation for the differences between play and games. Game taxonomy and a definition of rules will be covered.
    Lesson 3: Emergent and Progressive GameplayThis lesson focuses on the difference between two major gameplay types, and how they impact our experience of video games.
    Lesson 4: Game MechanicsStudents are introduced to the concepts of ludology, structuralism and the mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics approach to game analysis
    Lesson 5: Story and GamesWe explore the concept of games as stories, as well as the importance of narrative in video game presentation. Campbell's monomyth theory is thoroughly explained and applied to game stories.  
    Lesson 6: Interpreting GamesHow can structuralist and post-structuralist analysis lead us to a better understanding of "how games mean?" This lesson will introduce students to a number of theoretical frameworks for analyzing games.
    Lesson 7: Gaming CultureHere students will be introduced to the concept of semiotics and how language is used in inclusionary and exclusionary game community practices. Indie game producers and modding groups are also discussed during this lesson.
    Lesson 8: Violence and GamesDiscussions around violence and games seem to go hand-in-hand. Why is this? What purposes are served by violence and its portrayal in video games? These are some of the questions engaged by this lesson.
    Lesson 9: Sex and GamesIn this lesson, the subjects of sexuality, gender and the portrayal of sex are discussed. In addition, there is a module on women in the game industry.
    Lesson 10: Race and GamesThe subjects of race and racial stereotypes are explored in this lesson. The student will discover that race and racial conflict drive gameplay and narrative in numerous game genres, yet is a subject seldom broached in scholarly discussions.
    Lesson 11: Serious GamesGames can be used for teaching and training, and this genre is called serious games. Here, students will learn about industry's co-opting of game theory and practice as they endeavour to engage their workforce. Methods of player retention are explored in this lesson.

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    Recommended Background

    No background is required; all are welcome. 

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    Course Format

    This class consists of lecture videos from 1-8 minutes in length, interspersed with integrated quiz questions in addition to a unit test after each of the 11 lessons. Students taking the course for credit at the University of Alberta will be required to take a midterm and final exam as well.

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    Suggested Reading

    Each lesson is accompanied with a recommended reading.

Course Fee:

Course Type:


Course Status:



1 - 4 hours / week

This course is listed under Digital Media & Games Community

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