Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Labs: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This course will serve as an introduction to the interdisciplinary academic study of videogames, 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 videogame 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 course 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.

Note: 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 the emerging field of videogame studies and its foundational academic research and publications.
  • To explore videogames' impact as contemporary cultural texts, each with their own social communities and significance as media.
  • To connect and compare videogames to other contemporary digital (and nondigital) media.
  • To be introduced to a variety of games-related careers and studies through discussions with professionals working in videogames and interactive media.

Required Texts

Buy at Amazon Salen, K., and E. Zimmerman. The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780262195362.

Please check the MIT Press Bookstore for discounted student copies.

Readings that are not included in the Salen & Zimmerman book will be available as .pdf downloads from the MIT Server Web site or as links to their online locations.

Regular upkeep with readings associated with your game: magazine / online reviews, bulletin board discussions and forums, fan-produced media and texts, online chats, etc.

Student Requirements

  • Complete all assigned readings and weekly writings.
  • Complete (or play, at minimum, 70 hours of) a single contemporary videogame or a grouping of games in a particular series or genre (example: Civilization III and IV, plus expansions or online play; the Zelda series, etc.).
  • Present a formal in-class analysis of your game (see attached assignment).
  • Midterm and Final exams, which will include a writing component.
  • Adhere strictly to attendance policy.

Weekly Details

With a few exceptions, Mondays will be spent examining the readings, organized by theme. Students will be expected to have completed the summary assignment by 11:59 pm the night before and review each other's work before the start of class the next day. On Wednesdays, students' formal analyses will be presented to the class as scheduled with the instructor. See attached analysis assignment and assessment details.

Monday night labs will be spent with a series of guest speakers pre-arranged by the instructor. Guests are from a variety of game-related contexts, including developers and designers from the games industry, games researchers, artists and interactive media specialists. Lab attendance is required.

Midterm and final exams will cover a variety of topics from the readings, class discussions, and guest presentations. Graduate students may choose to organize these exams in connection with their theses or longer games-related projects, but they should make these arrangements with the instructor early in the semester.

Exam Dates

The Midterm Exam will take place in Ses #11, either during class or during lab. The MIT Scheduling office will announce its final exam schedule, at which point the time, date and location for the final will be determined.

About Attendance

Required, on-time attendance is expected. Students are allowed a total of two missed classes (including labs) before a penalty is assigned. After two absences, your final grade will be lowered by one half (a B will become a B- and so forth). Students more than ten minutes late for class (after 9:45 am or 7:15 pm) will be counted absent. This attendance policy will be strictly enforced. And no, missing class because you couldn't stop playing your game is not a good excuse, even for this class.


In-class participation and weekly summary postings 30%
One formal analysis presentation 15%
Midterm 25%
Final 30%


Graduate students may elect to submit papers for the midterm and final examinations.

About Grading

I welcome all questions about grading, provided these conversations happens in-person during office hours or by appointment with me. Like all instructors, I'm busy, but I'm always glad to find a time to meet with you. For all assignments I will provide you with clear expectations. Read them. I work very hard to write clear and careful assignments. It's been my experience that students who take the time to read assignments carefully do much better when it comes time for assessment. I will also gladly clarify my expectations with any assignment so don't be shy about asking me to do so.

Public Work

All written and submitted work will have the potential to be made public and available via in-class distribution or on the class Web site. I will regularly use other students' work to as models for good thinking and writing. Students work will never be used to exemplify poor thinking or writing. In other words, this policy is just for good, not for evil. Please notify me in advance if you choose to keep your work private. This notification should be made with each assignment you hand in.


The Writing and Communication Center offers you free professional advice from published writers about oral presentations and about all types of academic, creative, and professional writing. Go to MIT online Writing and Communication Center and click on the yellow sunburst. If you cannot find an open appointment slot, do not despair. There are always cancellations on the day of the appointment (sometimes as many as 15 cancellations in one day). Click on the Wait List (the blue strip that says "Is the time that you want already reserved?"). Whenever a cancellation occurs on that day, you will be automatically notified by email. Because several people might receive that same message, go online ASAP to schedule that open spot; 96% of clients who want an appointment end up with one if they use the Wait List. If you still can't find an appointment, try the Online Tutor.


Lucky for all of you, I will devote some specific class time to talking about plagiarism and how to cite sources properly. Unlucky for you, I'll hold you to that knowledge. In other words, if you've not had practice in learning how to cite sources properly, I'd suggest you spend some time with the Writing and Communication Center or come to my office and I'll walk you through it personally. Since the midterm and final exam have writing components to them, you might want to spend some time learning the difference between a reference list and an in-text citation, between MLA and APA, between a quotation and a paraphrase. More information on MIT's policy is available here: MIT Academic Integrity.