In Class: Film 380 Video Games

Bryan Meltz

Course Description

What is a video game? Is it best described as an interactive narrative that can be analyzed according to the conventions of literature and film? Or should it be thought of as a playful activity standing in a long line of human games, from make-believe to chess to Monopoly? This course serves as an introduction to the history, theory, form, function, and culture of video games. Students perform theoretical and formal analysis of the various genres of video games over the course of their history, from the first arcades in the 1970s, to the home consoles (like Atari) and home computers of the 1980s and 1990s, to the networked, multiplayer, online, and mobile games of today. The focus is on the aesthetic strategies video games use to activate various pleasures—corporeal, intellectual, narrative, competitive. Discussions also cover the relation of video games to society, exploring gamer/ fan communities, video game regulation, the social effects of gaming, and avatar identities. 

Faculty CV

Tanine Allison joined Emory in 2013 as assistant professor in film and media studies after a two-year American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellowship in Film and Media Studies with the department. She earned a PhD in English with certificates in film studies and cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010, and she is working on a book revision of her dissertation, “Screen Combat: Recreating World War II in American Film and Media,” which reevaluates the World War II combat genre by looking at it through the lens of the digital. Allison developed the class as a fellow at Emory and has taught it twice during regular semesters. This is the first time the course has been offered in the Maymester format. Daniel Reynolds, who cotaught the class during Maymester, will teach the class in fall 2015. He received a PhD in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. Reynolds is developing a book project on the relationships between media and the embodied mind.

Today's Lecture

Allison and Reynolds led class discussion on the topic of narrative and space in video games. Students discussed two articles, Henry Jenkins’s “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” and Reynold’s essay titled “Letters and the Unseen Woman: Epistolary Architecture in Three Recent Video Games.” Students played two games in class,The Sims, a life-simulation game; and Gone Home, a first-person inter-active story adventure game, and were assigned a paper to compare and contrast any two video games to draw a conclusion about the history of video games— use of genre, ease of game play, game space, visual style, and gameplay mechanics. 

Quotes to Know

“We are hoping to show students that there is a whole lot more to it than just playing games. Video games can be appreciated as aesthetic and cultural objects that have meaning within the games and in what is created for players that reflects and influences culture.”—Tanine Allison, assistanprofessor of film and media studies 

“We are getting people to think about how games are getting to be part of the fabric of everyday life and to help them think critically about video games, and about media in general—film, TV, the things we sort of do mindlessly—to get them to ask questions about whatever they spend their time doing.—Daniel Reynolds, assistant professor of film and media studies 

Students Say

“This class has given me a better understanding of the narrative and culture of video games. They are often criticized in society as isolating players, but I’ve discovered there is a whole culture and community around gaming.”—Jordan Marcus 15C, economics major

“Unlike other media, video games provide a fluid filter of experience for each player. Players can have experiences that are both similar and radically different from other media.”— Matt Casseday 16C, creative writing and English major

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