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 Videogame Theory and Analysis  posted by  duggu   on 12/11/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Robison, Alice, CMS.998 Videogame Theory and Analysis, Fall 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 08 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Photo of three students working on a handheld videogame.


Class TA Kristina Drzaic (center) and students Kenny Peng (left) and Clara Rhee (right) examine a game for the Nintendo DS system. (Photo by Dr. Alice Robison.)

Highlights of this Course

This course features a comprehensive list of readings.

Course Description

This course is an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of commercial videogames as texts, examining their cultural, educational, and social functions in contemporary settings. Students play and analyze videogames while examining debates surrounding how games function within socially situated contexts. Readings include contemporary game theory (Gee, Squire, Steinkuehler, Jenkins, Klopfer, Zimmerman and Salen, Juul, Bartle, Taylor, Aarseth) and the completion of a contemporary commercial videogame chosen in consultation with the instructor.

Technical Requirements

Special software is required to use some of the files in this course: .rm, .mp3, and .mpeg.




This page presents an overview of the class, including a schedule of topics per session.

Course Description

This course will serve as an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of commercial videogames as texts, examining their cultural, educational, and social functions in contemporary settings. By playing, analyzing, and reading and writing about videogames, we will examine debates surrounding how they function within socially situated contexts in order to better understand games' influence on and reflections of society. Readings will include contemporary game theory and the completion of a contemporary commercial videogame chosen in consultation with the instructor.

Writing, reading, and playing will be heavy, but students will also be required to present game analyses at each class meeting, providing other students with the opportunity to observe a wide variety of game genres, play styles, and designed rule systems. By examining games together in class, we will discuss how various theories of game design and play are applied to games as texts. Students will be invited to present out-of-game learning and literacy activities as data that show how games are used and played in their organic settings; we will study the implications of these data as well.

While this game serves as an introduction to the emerging field of game studies, students are free to bring their own disciplinary expertise to the classroom setting. Perspectives from computer science, architecture, media studies, literature, engineering, physics, etc. are all welcome and will add a healthy intellectual rigor to the course. Likewise, students without experience playing or observing videogames are highly encouraged to enroll, as their perspectives and points of view help others see what they're missing, so to speak.

n.b.: Though the course subject matter is videogame theory and analysis, we will not be producing games in this class. Instead, we will analyze games as interactive media, as rule-based systems, as cultural and social texts, and as designed learning spaces. We will concentrate heavily on games' potential impact on society, their cultural influence, and their phenomenology and ontology. Students will not be expected to create, design, or produce games or simulations for this course.

Course Goals

  • To introduce students to contemporary commercial videogames from a variety of genres, rule systems, strategies, and contexts.
  • To explore videogames' impact as contemporary social texts, each with their own social communities, cultures, and significance as media.
  • To examine the emerging field of scholarly game studies as it exists across the globe and in various interdisciplinary formats.
  • To connect and compare videogames to other contemporary digital (and nondigital) media.

Student Requirements

  • Complete all assigned readings for the course by Tuesday class meeting time. Participation in class is required and evaluated.
  • Complete all in- and out-of-class writing assignments as they are issued by the instructor. Expect daily informal, ungraded writing assignments, occasional take-home writing assignments meant to scaffold longer midterm and final papers.
  • Complete (or play, at minimum, 50 hours of) a single contemporary videogame and present a minimum of three analyses of your game in-progress during weekly labs.
  • Complete a mid-term essay analysis of your game and its connections to course readings.
  • Complete a final paper or project.



Salen, K., and E. Zimmerman, eds. The Game Design Reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. ISBN: 0262195364.

Gee, J. P. Why Videogames Are Good For Your Soul. New York, NY: Common Ground, 2005. ISBN: 186335574X.

Readings in these texts will be supplemented by other reading assignments for each class session. In addition, you should keep up with readings associated with your game: magazine/online reviews, bulletin board discussions and forums, fan-produced media and texts, online chats, etc.


Raessens, J., and J. Goldstein, eds. The Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. ISBN: 0262182408.

Wardrip - Fruin, N., and P. Harrigan. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. ISBN: 0262232324.

Weekly Details

Tuesdays and Thursdays will be spent examining the readings, organized by theme (see the schedule). Students are expected to have completed all readings by the start of class on Tuesday. Because there will be occasional in-class writing assignments, completing these reading assignments is essential and required. Participation grades will suffer if students have not completed weekly reading assignments (see attached participation rubric). On Thursdays, graduate students will be assigned specific readings and will be expected to lead seminar-like discussions around them.

Monday night labs will be spent examining and playing various students' games. On Thursdays of each week the teaching assistant will arrange for three volunteers to present their games the following Monday. Students will be required to complete at least 3 of these assignments throughout the semester and will be formally evaluated according to a rubric provided by the instructor.

Midterm and final projects will be assigned and arranged in consultation with the instructor. Graduate students may choose to organize these projects in connection with their theses; undergraduate students will be given a choice of assignments to be provided during week three of the semester.


I will not take daily attendance in class, but I will notice if you're not there. I promise. If you know in advance you'll miss a class, do send me and/or the TA an email and let us know. Please don't ask whether you missed something. Of course you did. Stop by my office during office hours and we'll talk about it. The same goes for lab! And don't forget that we've got spontaneous writing assignments and participation evaluations going on, so missing class will be detrimental to your grade in one way or another. And no, missing class because you couldn't stop playing your game isn't a good excuse, even for this class.

Class Participation

I value oral participation and your development as an oral contributor just as much as I do your written work. Each class period, I will ask you to self-evaluate based on the following criteria.

Evaluation Sheet and Guidelines (PDF)

You are welcome to provide a few details (i.e., you asked a discussion - generating question, you made a significant point, you cited details from the class readings) to help support your self-evaluation. Evaluations will be handed in at the end of each class period to the TA. She will reflect on your evaluation and provide a final score for that class period.


In-class Participation and Writing Assignments (Spontaneously issued and collected.) 20%
Three Lab Analyses (10% each) (Lab assignment will be distributed during first lab.) 30%
Midterm (Individual projects allowed but essay prompts will be available as well.) 15%
Final (In-class presentations of projects will be scheduled for the last weeks of class.) 35%

About Grading

I am a writing teacher by training, so I will work hard to help you beef up your writing skills in this course by providing plenty of opportunity for revision and one-on-one support. If at any time you're feeling unsure of my expectations, please don't hesitate to ask. I'm here to help. I will also do my best to provide a clear assessment rubric for each major assignment so that you can get a good sense of what I'm looking for in a final draft of a project or paper. Students can expect about a 1-week turnaround, longer for the midterm.

If you get behind in your work because of gaming, I will be slightly sympathetic but will not necessarily excuse that behavior. Keep up with your work, do the readings, come to class, and you'll be fine. If at any time you'd like to talk about your grade, you will need to schedule a short meeting with me in my office and we'll chat. I won't talk about grades via email, however.


The calendar below provides information on the courses lectures (L) and lab (Lab) sessions.

L1 Introduction to the Course, Brainstorm Game Ideas, Introduce Key Concepts

Looking at a Few Sample Games, Start to Talk About What Games to Play for Class

L2-L3 Histories and Definitions
Lab2 Lab
L4-L5 Narratology and Ludology
Lab3 Lab
L8 Space and Place
  Midterms Due
Lab4 Lab
L9-L10 Player Perspectives
Lab5 Lab
L11-L12 Designer Perspectives
Lab6 Lab
L13-L14 Games and Learning
Lab7 Lab
L15-L16 Gender
Lab8 Lab
L17-L18 Race and Representation
Lab9 Lab
L19 Game Cultures and Identities
Lab10 Lab
L20-L21 Videogame Criticism
Lab11 Lab
L22-L23 Student Presentations
Lab12 Lab
L24 Student Presentations (cont.)


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