Easing my way into summer often comes with a return to PC gaming. Been spending a lot of hours messing around with various games, graphics settings, and improving my machine here and there to make everything work the way I want.
There's also a bit of thought or a suggestion that perhaps we should offer a gaming course in our department. There are a bunch of them out there, and they look pretty good.
There are a few different ways to think about gaming from an academic point of view. The most obvious (that is the ones that don't need a lot of articulation in the defenses) are for computer science departments, graphic design, programming, and the like. The other would be to use games for economic or sociological/anthropological work. For example, studying the "gold farmers" in World of Warcraft has been done many times and intersects this video games and their transformative impact on society bit. Psychology would fit into this as well.
But there are some other perspectives that we are just now starting to articulate and take in which sound to me like good course orientations:
1. Video games as literature
2. Video games as culture
3. Video games as argument
The first one I don't have a lot of interest in, and I wonder if English departments will take on. I know there are a couple of books out there that try to develop the video games as literature point of view, while bending a lot of the assumptions about what literature is/can be. They take inspiration and some approaches from the move to "film as literature" that most English departments have accepted. I think the burn is slow on this one.
The second and third are the rhetorical perspective. If culture is considered to be a worldview that is sustained through performances and practices, articulated and re-articulated by the participants, then I think you have a nice rhetoric course. The rhetoric of video games would investigate how games present themselves, how players present themselves to one another and themselves, and how games function to hold up a certain approach to other worldviews (such as when a game is blamed for inspiring a violent act in the world).
The third interests me the most and I think that very little has been said or investigated on how games function as arguments or at least as persuasion. Not totally distinct from the second approach, but distinct enough to warrant some comparison and contrast with the argumentation literature out there. Argumentation studies is far too formal in their approach to be a total buy-in from me, but it might open up a lot of different ways of thinking about games as more than consumer entertainment objects.
As far as what would be covered, there are a lot of readings that could be assigned. There are a couple of documentaries on video games that would be good to watch, pointing out to the students how the films define or "place" video games by how they treat them in the film. Then there's playtime. I feel like it wouldn't be out of the question to have students open Steam accounts and have to buy and play through a few games as coursework. Playing through the games and experiencing them seem necessary. Not sure how you would get around it. Science needs a lab, literature needs texts, and we'd need to have games. The sum total of games that need to be bought would be under the cost of most textbooks for a typical course, so I don't feel too bad about such a requirement. The question is which ones should we take on?
This course might be fun to design, but this summer I'm working on another course project as well, actually perhaps two courses, so this is just starting to incubate. I think that as video games become more and more a part of daily life their inclusion in the curriculum will be a certainty. What won't be certain is the amount of thought or consideration teachers have put into such courses.