Communication and Culture | Topics in Media History (Topic: From MIT to Hollywood: Video Games in American Culture)
C420 | 14252 | Dawson, M.

MW, 1:00 PM-2:15 PM, SY 003
Required film screening: M, 7:00 PM-10:00 P, 800 E. 3rd St. – room

Fulfills College S&H Requirement

Instructor: Max Dawson
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 214
Phone: 856-5367

Video games first appeared in the 1960s on the screens of computer
terminals used in military-sponsored research. Today, the
interactive digital software industry rivals Hollywood in its
revenues and global influence. What happened in between? How did
video gaming go from being an activity practiced mainly within the
hacker community to a multi-billion dollar business? “Video Game
Cultures” examines the roots of our global gaming culture, and
reconsiders core issues within the fields of media and cultural
studies through the lens of video games. The course is divided into
two units. The first unit focuses on the history of video games as
both technologies and cultural forms, and situates the emergence of
computer, arcade, and console gaming within much larger histories of
American technology, politics, and culture. Here we will look at
(and play) games ranging from Spacewar! to Mortal Kombat, and Zork
to The Sims. This unit will introduce students to successive
generations of games, game designers, and gamers, as well as to some
of the controversies and moral panics that video games and gaming
cultures have inspired over the last half century. The second unit
poses a pair of interrelated questions: Can critical approaches to
studying cinema, television, the Internet, and other media help us
gain insight into video games? And how might the study of video
games influence our understanding of these and other old(er) media?
In this unit we will consider questions of authorship, media and
identity, gaming and globalization, and gaming’s role in our
contemporary “convergence culture.”

The culmination of this class will be a final project in which
students will author a proposal for a video game for one of the
gaming platforms we have studied in the class. This project will
test students’ creativity and historical knowledge by limiting them
to a defunct gaming platform – for instance, the Atari VCS or the
Nintendo Entertainment System. The parameters of the games students
design will be limited by the technological properties of the
systems they design it for. However, by drawing on their
understanding of the theoretical issues explored in this class,
students will attempt to creatively transcend these technical limits.

It is recommended that students who enroll in this class have
previously completed C190 (Introduction to Media).