Video Games as Visual Culture

Lecturer in History of Art and Visual Culture Department
University of California, Santa Cruz
Winter 2011, Winter 2012

A large-format lecture course (350 students + 5 TA's), Video Games as Visual Culture undertakes the study of video games though their visual, cultural, theoretical and social contexts. Through key readings from the field of video game studies, along with close analysis of game play, students trace the history of video games and learn the major theories used to analyze the medium while addressing contemporary debates surrounding video game culture. Although we consider the technology, aesthetics, and design strategies used by game makers, this course does not teach video game design or programming. Instead focusing on the impact video games have on visual cultures and the people who play games. The course will explore emerging genres including serious games, casual games, political games and art games, along with more popular platform and PC games as a means to closely survey this 21st century juggernaut.

The course provides students with theoretical frameworks to guide their analytical interpretations of games as visual culture production worthy of study, and therefore take a largely cultural/ critical approach. Topics covered include: games and play, the history of video games from the 1950s to the present, the video game industry, game culture, player culture, rules and narrative. In addition, we explore the aesthetics of games, considering both visual and aural aspects, as well as the ways in which games model virtual "place". Race, gender and ethical issues will be addressed through the analysis of popular and alternative games, including the potential for serious and political games to educate players and shape their views.

Students who successfully complete this course will be conversant in the "golden age" of early video games as well as issues surrounding contemporary gaming. They will understand the aesthetic development of games, as well as the ways in which video games have affected visual culture—and culture at large. Those students interested in game design will benefit from a focused consideration of aesthetics, reception and interpretation. Those interested in video games from a visual culture/media perspective will be introduced to existing debates and key concepts that shape this new, timely and shifting area of study.