A new course, Gaming History (IRHU 27010, KNOW 27010, MAAD 17010), is offered by the Knowledge Training Institute in Spring 2022. The course is taught by Brad Bolman and Katherine Buse and is listed for survey and Humanities Research Program and Major in Media Arts and Design.
Buse’s research focuses on how science shapes and is shaped by its cultural environment. She also studies and designs video games. Bolman is a historian specializing in the history of science.
The course teaches students how history is represented in games, how games have influenced history, and what methods are used in video game research.
“We wanted to convey some of these ideas about how to research video games, how to think about video games historically, and how to study video games like novels or movies,” Bolman said. . Both instructors believe that the study of video games is an emerging area of research that deserves more attention.
“It is extremely important to analyze and study them historically and think about their significance,” Bolman said. “People recognize that video games are an important field of study at this point, but I would say that because it’s so nascent and emerging as a field, people haven’t figured out how to do it yet,” said added Nozzle.
By playing and analyzing a variety of games in the course, students reflect on topics such as how games can represent the economy and the role of women in video games. For example, the class discusses Half-earth socialism, in which the player embodies a future head of world government implementing radical policies against climate change. Students also learn how these topics are reflected in the real-world game design industry, such as forced overtime at game studios and inequities in the workforce.
Bolman and Buse faced various challenges when designing the course structure. “How do you introduce enough of a game that people understand it and can talk about it without having to spend six weeks playing just one game?” said Bolman. “A class on one video game is very different from a class on ten video games.”
Bolman explained that they wanted to introduce a game where students can explore randomly generated emergent historical events as part of the “big, expansive story” created by the game. “You could play this game for 600 hours. or something if you wanted it,” Bolman said, “but it’s hard to guarantee they’ll have exactly the experience we want.”
The instructors were impressed with how the students’ game analysis improved throughout the term.
“We want students to be able to think critically about the video games they consume and reflect on what they do and how they communicate about culture and society,” Bolman said. “We’ve seen a real fair development in that ability to engage with a game and think about its context and the choices the developers have made.”
Bolman hopes the younger students in the class can continue to research video games using the methods and topics taught in class. “If we do a really good job,” Bolman said, “we would be training a small future generation of video game researchers.”
Buse and Bolman plan to offer the course again next year and encourage all interested students to enroll in the course.
Rachel Wan contributed reporting.