Critical History of Video Games Syllabus (Fall 20xx)

Film ####: Critical Study of Video Games                                                                                                                                                                                                  Neal Hinnant Critical History of Video Games SyllabusFall 20xx

CRN: 12345

Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-3:45

Professor Neal Hinnant


Office: 734 One Park Place

OFFICE HOURS: Tuesday and Thursday: 12-2 or by appointment.



Course Objectives: Video games have existed for almost half a century, and during that time have had a major impact on our culture and the entertainment industry. This course will chart the history of the video game medium, paying particular attention to trends within the industry and the cultural forces that have shaped the development of games as well as how games have shaped culture. We will begin with an examination of some of the major themes of the course as they relate to current gaming events, and then chart those themes through the history of video games as a medium.



Course Texts:

  1. Tristan Donovan, Replay: The History of Videogames
  2. Some readings will be taken from sources other than Donovan. In these circumstances, either internet links will be provided to the readings or they will be placed in the Ulearn folder labeled “Additional Readings.”




Exam 1: 20% of final grade

Exam2: 20% of final grade

Exam 3/Final Exam: 30% of final grade

Writing Assignment: 20% of final grade

Participation and Attendance: 10% of final grade


96-100: A+

93-95: A

89-92: A-

86-88: B+

83-85: B

79-82: B-

76-78: C+

73-75: C

69-72: C-

66-68: D+

63-65: D

59-62: D-

58-: F



1. TWO (2) tests will be administered over the duration of the course. Scheduled during the fifth and tenth weeks of class, these exams will evaluate student knowledge of material discussed prior to the exam period.

2. A written assignment (8-10 pages) due the final class period will ask students to take a game text or group of texts and analyze them based on their historical context. There are many options available in this assignment, and it will be discussed in more detail during the course of the semester.

3. Participation and Attendance are an important part of any learning experience. Students are allowed two unexcused absences, any additional absences will detract from this portion of the course grade.

4. A comprehensive final exam will evaluate the students’ knowledge of course material. It will be administered on Sometime in December at a time that I don’t know.


NOTE: Lecture Notes are only available during lecture; I do not put them on Ulearn or send them to students who miss class. If you miss the lecture notes, ask to copy them from a classmate. I WILL bring lecture notes back to class before each test. Detailed Study Guides will be available before tests; they will be posted on Ulearn.


Make up tests/exams WILL NOT be given, with the exception of cases of extreme hardship. Your grade will be a Zero (0) if you do not take the test. You must present an official written document if you potentially wish to excuse your absence from the test. If approved by the instructor and your TA, you will be allowed to take a make-up test on the day of the final exam.


Students with Special Needs: Students who wish to request accommodation for a disability may do so by registering with the Office of Disability Services. Students may only be accommodated upon issuance by the Office of Disability Services of a signed Accommodation Plan and are responsible for providing a copy of that plan to instructors of all classes in which accommodations are sought. You must contact and make an appointment with me during the first week of class for us to arrange testing conditions and/or other concerns with the Disabiltity Services Office.


Dropping, Withdrawals, Incompletes: It is your responsibility to drop the class if you deem it necessary. Withdrawals must occur before the midpoint of the semester, or it will be recorded as a grade of WF. Incompletes may be given to a student for nonacademic reasons beyond her or his control is unable to complete the requirements for this course. An incomplete may be assigned for this course only if a student has completed most of the major assignments of the course with a pasting grade.


Policy on Academic Honesty, in GSU Faculty Handbook ,Section 409 available at We follow this policy completely. Also available in complete Film 2700 syllabus posted on our ULearn site.


Course Schedule: The course syllabus provides a general plan for the class; deviations may be necessary. Revisions will be announced in class.



Week 1

Tuesday: Introduction to class [discuss syllabus, introduce selves

Thursday: General Overview of the Course (Reading: “A Natural History of Video Games” from Joystick Nation) [general overview of the course, discussion of major themes (censorship, business vs. programming, cultural agency)]


Week 2

Tuesday: Why Games are Fun (Reading: Chapters 1-3, A Theory of Fun for Game Design) [Establish some basic vocabulary and knowledge of game studies theory; discuss the appeal of games as entertainment]

Thursday: Why Games are Fun Part II (Reading: “More Satisfying Work,” Reality is Broken) [more basic theory groundwork, discussion of games as work]


Week 3

Tuesday: Examining the Gaming Conglomerate: EA (Reading: “Cognitive Capitalism: Electronic Arts,” Games of Empire) [Establish current status of industry; lay out developer>publisher>consumer model; discuss divide between the companies and the employees)

Thursday: Minecraft and Independent Developers (Reading: “The Long Tail”) [Contrast corporate control with independent model; discuss the internet and the changing distribution market]


Week 4

Tuesday: Culture and Gaming (Reading: “Is the Recession the Next Big Video Game Bad Guy?”) [Talk about how a period’s cultural context affects games; look at Grand Theft Auto IV as cultural critique; discuss article]

Thursday: Gaming and Culture (Reading: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 passes $1 Billion in Sales” [discuss how the gaming industry has grown to direct certain cultural trends; elements of fandom]



Week 5

Tuesday: Violence and Regulation in the Gaming Industry (Readings: “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?” Brown v. EMA Court Decision and Opinion only worry about the majority opinion on this one) [discuss the continuing fight between regulation advocates and industry groups; why games are considered “different;” review for exam]

Thursday: EXAM 1


Week 6

Tuesday: The Early Origins of Video Games: Tennis for Two and Spacewar! (Reading: Donovan Chapter 1) [Overview of culture in the early Cold War; emphasis on futurist technology and A.I.; point out games’ original goal as programming examples]

Thursday: Pong and the Creation of Atari (Reading: Donovan Chapter 2) [discuss problems with arcades culturally; look at Bushnell’s success in light of the context of the late 60s and early 70s]

Week 7

Tuesday: Pong comes Home (Reading: Donovan Chapter 3) [Look at the culture of television in light of the popularity of Tele-Pong; discuss industry forces and Atari’s Kee Games “split”]

Thursday: Going Micro (Reading: Donovan Chapter 4) [Examine the microprocessor’s effect on the industry; look at Death Race and the first game violence uproar]


Week 8

Tuesday: Subculture Meets Game Culture (Reading: Donovan Chapter 5) [Look at how the fantasy subculture combined with gaming culture for the first time; compare and contrast development of PC games with the arcade industry]

Thursday: Cartridge Fever (Reading: Donovan Chapter 6) [Look at industry shifts after release of the 2600; Examine the Atari situation with Kassar and the programmers, looking forward to the modern industry woes]


Week 9

Tuesday: What Goes Up (Reading: Donovan Chapter 7) [Look at Pac Man and the gender divide in gaming; cultural impact of the gaming boom]

Thursday: Must Come Down (Reading: Donovan Chapter 9) [examine the shenanigans that led to the industry crash; look at American culture during the 1980s in light of game industry crash]


Week 10

Tuesday: Mario Mario versus the Industry (Reading: Donovan Chapter 13) [Look at how Nintendo revamped the industry; how Nintendo used the cultural atmosphere to its advantage; look at Nintendo’s regulation of the medium]

Thursday: EXAM 2


Week 11

Tuesday: EA and the Sports Game (Reading: Donovan Chapter 12 to page 219) [Chart the evolution of sports games; address questions of representation in games as they appeared with sports titles]

Thursday: Sega goes to war (Reading: Donovan Chapter 12) [Look at the console clash from an industry perspective; look at the cultural idea of Nintendo fans “graduating” more closely]


Week 12

Tuesday: The birth of the Internet

Thursday: Bringing all together: approaching convergence (Reading: “The Long Tail” )


Week 13

Tuesday: Rotting our Brains (Reading: Donovan Chapter 18) [Look at the games violence crackdown in the context of the 1990s; Formation of the industry’s self-regulating organization]

Thursday: Sony and the Playstation (Reading: Donovan Chapter 21)

[Examine how a third major party affected the industry competition; the changing culture and how games adapt in the New Millenium; Manhunt and the continual game violence debate]


Week 14

Tuesday: A brief history of video games (Reading: “A Natural History of Video Games” from Joystick Nation. [Note: this book was published in 1997, and thus omits the last decade or so of gaming history from this chapter.])

Thursday: Games Go Mainstream (Reading: Donovan Chapter 26) [Look at how games returned to the mass market with games designed to appeal to non-gamers; Look at how Pokemon exemplified the new gamer mass culture]



Week 15

Tuesday: MUDs and the Evolution of the MMOG (Reading: “Gaming Lifeworlds: Social Play in Persistent Environments,” Play Between Worlds) [Look at the development history of MUDs and MMOGs (since Donovan won’t be used this week); Effect of the MMO boom on gaming culture and industry]

Thursday:Coursesummaryandconclusions [Bring discussion back to beginning of class with modern developments; discussion of the possible trajectories of the future]Papersdueatthebeginningofclass



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