The Critical Gaming Project grew out of my failed Huckabay Fellowship proposal in 2006 to teach a lab-style course on the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game World of Warcraft, wherein students would have a communal game experience and engage in critical writing on their experience. The proposed course, “Warcraft as Playcraft,” was intended to be a pilot experience and provide the basis for an online resource for further exploration of games courses at University of Washington. The idea was to ground the course in the experience of the game rather than academic discourse on games, which at that time was very dated in its game references, awash in student-alienating jargon and conceptualism about “play,” “games,” etc., and mired in debates about relevant critical interests and methods. These circumstances made designing a course about games (that took the actual games seriously) on the strength of academic discourse nearly impossible. Even though the proposal failed I decided to pursue some of its goals, particularly the creation of a local teaching resource for games. I modeled the original site after David Silver’s Resource for Cybercultural Studies (RCCS) site which provided course syllabi, reviews of relevant books/media, and conference/CFP announcements. I imagined collecting in one place all the materials on games courses from any university, which was possible at that time since there were so few, and maintaining a master bibliography of the growing academic literature on games that now goes by the name of game studies.
As a former research assistant to the Undergraduate Research Program I also valued collaboration with undergraduates in research and thought that any games curriculum should be responsive to the interests and needs of students in some way. As an instructor for CHID I saw an opportunity to use the curricular resource of the Focus Group to develop a games curriculum in a grassroots manner. The initial idea was to mentor undergraduates in designing new pilot focus group courses on games, experiment and show what could be done, and then appeal again for institutional support to teach a full course with some examples. In 2007 I designed and co-lead the first CGP focus group, “Warcraft as Playcraft” with two undergrads, Scott Hannus and T.L. Scott, and on the success of that class decided to appeal to CHID for a chance to teach a special topics seminar. That course was “Poetics of Play in Digital Roleplaying Games.” Meanwhile colleagues Tim Welsh and Ed Chang, together with some graduate students who took my the seminar, joined the CGP and we started to develop the project website further and offer more focus groups.
August 18th, 2013