CHID 496F: “Why So Serious?: Videogames as Persuasion, Politics, and Propaganda”
Winter 2010, University of Washington
Edmond Chang & Timothy Welsh
IN 1970, CLARK ABT DEFINES “serious games” as ones that have “an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement.” More recently, scholars and developers have taken this “serious” approach to video games, experimenting with the potential of the video games as a persuasive medium. As Gonzalo Frasca, game scholar, game developer, and author of “Video Games of the Oppressed,” says, “There is a long tradition of dismissing games as trivial time-wasters. We now have a new generation of players who know better.”
OUR FOCUS GROUP, as part of a continuing series on video games generated by the Critical Gaming Project at UW, will join in this discussion to explore the development, critique, and play of “serious” video games, particularly those with political and/or propagandistic intentions. We will play a series of political and propaganda games alongside formal video game and cultural studies scholarship in order to investigate such questions as: Can video games be educational, political, or propaganda? What do video games articulate, argue, and reveal? If as Gaming author Alexander Galloway argues that “video games render social realities into playable form,” then how do we engage and analyze the rhetorical, informatic, and cultural arguments of video games? Or, in short, what is a serious video game?
TO APPROACH THESE QUESTIONS, we will play games such as America’s Army, Darfur is Dying, Positive or Not, Cutthroat Capitalism, Airport Security, Disaffected, September 12, Super Columbine Massacre, and Planet Green in the context of readings from the likes of Ian Bogost, Alexander Galloway, Gonzalo Frasca, Jane McGonigal, Henry Jenkins, Constance Steinkuehler, James Paul Gee, and others.
THE COURSE will meet once a week for 2 hours to engage guided discussion, analytical and reflective writing, and game play. There will be no formal paper requirements, but students will be asked to participate in online discussion and keep a weekly play-log (plog).