Understanding Video Games

Take the EPL version for free

A non-credit, preliminary exploration of the program is available through the Edmonton Public Library.

Take for credit as STS 351

For UAlberta students:

Fall 2016 - Students can sign up for STS 351 for credit in Bear Tracks & access the course through eClass.

About the Course

Understanding Video Games is an 11-lesson course teaching a comprehensive overview of analytical theory pertaining to video game media. 

Video games are a globally entrenched entertainment medium that entertains, informs and challenges us. These games are defined by, and define our modern culture. 

In this course, students will learn how to study games and engage in informed discussions about them. Ultimately, this course is about understanding the literacy of video games.  

Understanding Video Games was created with the help of world renowned video game developer, BioWare Corp, located in Edmonton, Alberta.
 

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: 7-10 hours/week

There are two versions of the course:

  • through the Edmonton Public Library for free (no exams); and
  • to University of Alberta students for UAlberta credit (STS 351)

Course material is delivered in a student-friendly short-form fashion, with numerous formative feedback sections. Students will gain access to a number of special interactive modules designed specifically for this course. These modules will give users the opportunity to design their own video game avatar, as well as explore the short but fascinating history of video game releases. 

This course's unique lesson delivery, combined with classic quiz structure, will enable students to quickly gain a solid foundational understanding of video games within the context of modern culture. 

Understanding Video Games is part of an ongoing program of research into digital learning conducted by the University of Alberta, and therefore anonymized data and survey information can be made accessible to researchers.

Course Preview

Watch a brief preview with presenters Sean Gouglas and Leah Hackman.

Instructors

Sean Gouglas, PhD Associate Professor 
Humanities Computing - Faculty of Arts

Sean Gouglas is an Associate Professor in Humanities Computing and Senior Director of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Faculty of Arts. Dr. Gouglas' research focuses on the relationship between universities and the computer game industry in Canada, especially as it relates to curriculum development and intellectual property; and on the role of women in computer games as characters, players and developers.
 

Leah Hackman (BSc, MSc. U of A), PhD student
Computing Science - Faculty of Science

Leah Hackman works on machine learning and artificial intelligence as a PhD student in computing science at the University of Alberta. Along with her studies, Leah also helps to teach Cmput 274 and 275, the Tangible Computing introductory classes in the department. She helps out with the board-game design course that is part of the video game certificate program. She is also dedicated to mentoring women in computing science.

 

More Course Information


Lesson 1: Introduction
In 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 Games
Here, 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 Gameplay
This lesson focuses on the difference between two major gameplay types, and how they impact our experience of video games. 
Lesson 4: Game Mechanics
Students are introduced to the concepts of ludology, structuralism and the mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics approach to game analysis 
Lesson 5: Story and Games
We 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 Games
How 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 Culture
Here 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 Games
Discussions 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 Games
In 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 Games
The 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 Games
Games 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.

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome! 

Suggested Readings

Each lesson is accompanied with a recommended reading.

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.

The three main parts of the course are: 

  1. developing the terminology that enables us to talk about video games; 
  2. exploring how these terms are used in theoretical frameworks to interpret games, and; 
  3. turning these theories toward cultural aspects of games in order to understand how the medium has impacted society. One of the most important insights students will gain from the course will be an understanding of the interplay between video game designers, players and the games themselves. 

Course material is delivered in a student-friendly short-form fashion, with numerous formative feedback sections. Students will gain access to a number of special interactive modules designed specifically for this course. These modules will give users the opportunity to design their own video game avatar, as well as explore the short but fascinating history of video game releases. This course's unique lesson delivery, combined with classic quiz structure, will enable students to quickly gain a solid foundational understanding of video games within the context of modern culture. 

What resources will I need for this class?
An internet connection and a sense of adventure. 

Can I receive credit for UVG?
Through the Edmonton Public Library, the not for credit version of Understanding Video Games is available for free to everyone in Edmonton and the surrounding area; however, credit for the course is only available to University of Alberta students as STS 351.