Ludology: Critical Study of Games, Game Design, and Culture


2 units

Course Description

This course takes a critical approach to the study of games, game design, and gaming culture. Throughout history, humans have learned and expressed themselves through play. Thus, it is in our interest to better understand the socio-technical aspects of games and their role in our societies. The scope of this course includes principles and theories from social psychology, behavioral economics, information science, user interface design, as well as the art and science of game design. The course will explore questions such as: What makes a game? What are the mechanics and rules of compelling games? What is the social role of gaming in society? Why do people play? How are games used as part of storytelling? How do games build (or hinder) the development of community? How is game design different in virtual reality (VR) versus flat-screen environments? How do issues of gender, race and sexuality play out in gaming culture? What can games teach us about learning? What makes a successful, serious game? What makes a game immersive? Can games be considered art?

Through a series of critical readings and weekly group discussions, we will address these questions and consider what part games play in our understanding of information. Our studies will be focused on computer-aided games and video games (flat-screen and VR), but will also examine other forms of games throughout human history.

Each week, readings will be discussed as part of a two hour class meeting. Each student will be expected to help lead at least one weekly discussion during the course. Part of leading will include selecting readings appropriate for the week's selected topic. Some weeks will be devoted to demonstrations and in-class activities related to game structure, development and design. There also may be one or two guest speakers, depending on scheduling.

Class assignments will include lightweight development and modification of games, as well as hands-on familiarization with specific games and game designs. The final deliverable will be a group project (2–4 students each) that addresses one or more specific issues from the course as (1) a research project, or (2) a design prototype.

This course was taught in Spring 2007 with the title “Ludology: Games, Gaming and Game Culture”.

Last updated: April 2, 2024