Communication and Culture | New Media: Cultures of Videogaming
C337 | 11117 | Bob Rehak

New Media
Topic: Cultures of Videogaming

M-F 10:20 AM-11:35 AM (Rm TBA)

Instructor: Bob Rehak

In the early 1960s, a group of train-club nerds at MIT wrote the
first videogame, Spacewar. In the early 1990s, John Carmack and John
Romero, barely out of their teens, invented the first-person
shooters Doom and Quake, creating a culture of networked deathmatch
competition and growing rich in the process. Today, millions of
people lead alternate lives in the massively-multiplayer online
games EverQuest and World of Warcraft, following a utopian dream of
cyberspatial community with historical roots in text-based MUDs, the
Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL), and Usenet discussion groups.
Meanwhile, hardcore hackers amuse themselves by vandalizing
websites, spreading cell-phone viruses, and stealing Paris Hilton’s
address book, even as mainstream consumers line up for the release
of Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Since their creation more than forty years ago, videogames have
played a significant role in global popular culture. Yet the people
who make and play videogames have received less attention. The world
of programmers and players represents a subculture defined by the
construction and performance of identity, technological prowess,
hard-hitting competition, and the construction of shared online
worlds. This course introduces undergraduate students to key works
and themes in the field of videogame culture, taking an ethnographic
approach to understanding the ways in which our lives and beliefs
are entangled with recreational technologies. In an intensive
reading and discussion format, we will explore questions such as:

•	Why are most videogame players in the U.S. white males? What
spaces, both onscreen and off, exist for women and people of color?
•	Can we consider videogames apart from their multimedia
context (TV and movie franchises, sports tie-ins, and the music
industry)? How do these surrounding media reframe the videogame
experience for players and programmers?
•	How do videogames work upon subjectivity? Do we live through
our avatars? What role does the “branding” of identity serve in
consumer ideology?
•	What is the relationship between videogames and violent
behavior? What have existing media-effects studies missed that an
ethnographic approach might illuminate?
•	Where does gaming end and destruction begin? Is the coding
of computer viruses just another form of play? What does it mean
to “cheat” in a virtual world?

Assignments and Readings

The first half of the course is intended to give students a
grounding in videogame history as well as basic ethnographic
principles and practices. During this time, students will develop
and present individual research projects investigating specific
formations of videogame culture. In the second half, we move on to
problematics of contemporary videogame culture, concluding with
presentations of team ethnographies. Course content includes written
responses to readings, in-class activities, daily discussions, and
excerpts from movies. Readings feature Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes
of the Computer Revolution, David Kushner’s Masters of Doom, and Jon
Katz’s Geeks, as well as articles by Brenda Laurel, Sherry Turkle,
Henry Jenkins, Julian Dibbell, and Stewart Brand. We’ll also look at
the writings of Clifford Geertz, Renato Rosaldo, Erving Goffman, and
Dick Hebdige.