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2020/21 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PIED3810 Video Games: Politics, Society and Culture

20 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Dr Nick Robinson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2020/21

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Do games lead to increased violence? Do they denigrate women? Do they legitimate military conflict? Why do the Japanese and American industries produce such different games? Why does the political establishment respond the way it does? What impact do games have on policy? Do they, for example, lead to illiberal policing? How do we understand the messages contained within games and situate them in context? Games are the fastest growing leisure industry in the world, are played by over a third of the adult population in many industrialised countries and are being subjected to increasing debate both socially and academically in terms of their impact and meaning. This module contributes to this debate, offering a combination of reflective thinking on how we understand the political, social and cultural impact of games and considered debate into how we might better understand the messages contained within the games themselves. Perhaps, predictably an enthusiasm for playing games as well as talking and writing about them are crucial!Brief Reading ListBogost, I. (2007) Persuasive Games: the Expressive Power of Videogames (Cambridge, MA: The MIT press).Egenfeldt-Nielson, S., Smith, J. and Tosca, S. (2008) Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction (London: Routledge).Garrelts, N. (ed.) (2006) The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company).Mäyrä, F. (2008) Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture. (London: Sage).Perron, B. and Wolf, M. (eds.) (2009) The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (London: Routledge)Rutter, J. and Bryce, J. (eds.) (2006) Understanding Digital Games (London: Routledge).


The module is designed to allow for greater understanding of video games, reflecting on their political and social impacts, and enabling students to gain an ability to understand the meanings within games.

Learning outcomes
1. Capacity to read meaning into games, so probing what are the messages contained within particular games;
2. Capacity to place games in their social and political context , so asking why do particular games invoke particular political and responses;
3. Capacity to reflect broadly on the impact of games and gaming in terms of politics, society and culture;
4. Capacity to reflect comparatively to understand differences between games and gaming in different countries.


1. Introduction - What are games? Why study them?
Sets out the origins of academic study of games. Reflects on why they have been ignored by many scholars, covering for example the social construction of games (e.g. games as toys, games as playthings vs. games as the 'new art' etc).

2. Theory and Method - What are the tools for game studies?
Covering for example the ludology vs. narratology debate; discussing the disciplinary home for games studies; reflecting on the persuasive potential of games; setting out a political science approach to game studies; asking how we analyse games, reflecting on the internal and social context.

3. The Military-Entertainment Complex:
History; evidence of the M-E complex; implications: militarising games; militarising society; desensitising military personnel.

[examples of related games: Kuma\War and America's Army; insurgency games - Rainbow Six; military combat games: Army of Two; Call of Duty series; Haze; critical games: Velvet Strike; September 12th; Metal Gear Solid series]

4. Race, Gender and Games
The content of games (content analysis and interpretation of the message ; understanding virtual cross dressing); the impacts (e.g. embedding discrimination; legitimating white supremacy?; games and public policy outcomes).

[examples of related games: Grand Theft Auto series; urban sports games; Tomb Raider; Ninja Gaiden; Soul Caliber]

5. Games, Work and Social Change
Games as a 'third place between home and work'; rise of network games; growth of virtual diaspora.

[examples of related games: Massive Multi-player Online games such as World of Warcraft]

6. Games and Culture
Comparing Japan, the USA and Britain to ask: why different societies create different types of games? (e.g. Japan and role playing games; manga style; USA and realistic violence); cultural variations in play; different cultural understandings of games; the cultural values within games.

[examples of related games: e.g. Japan (Devil May; Final Fantasy series; Nintendogs; Animal Crossing); American games (Gears of War/Fallout; Sims; Civilisation); British Games (productions by developer Rare; Grand Theft Auto series; Little Big Planet)].

7. Games and Political Activism
Returning to Bogost's persuasive games approach; Games as sites of social protest (virtual demos; cyber activism; game modifications); games as forms of activism (activist games).

[examples of related games: Velvet Strike; Howard Dean for President; Take Back Idaho; 'Dead in Iraq'; Second Life]

8. Games and the Political Establishment
The violence debate; games and moral panic; discourses on 'solitary play'; the media and the social construction of games; discussion of laws on censorship; discussion of tax breaks; games as art?

[examples of related games: Ico; Resistance and Manchester Cathedral; Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (NB there will also be a video screening accompanying this session)]

9. Games and Capitalism
The messages within games; do games promote material accumulation?

[game related examples: Animal Crossing; the Sims; Sim City]

10. Games and the Future - concluding thoughts on the evolution of games and the study of games.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Video & Discussion12.002.00
Private study hours176.50
Total Contact hours23.50
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

There are two key elements here:
(a) students are required to read the core and additional publications listed in the module bibliography in preparation for seminar discussions and essays. This requires careful and reflective reading, note taking, summarising, preparation for class discussion, and developing a sense of a field of literature in addition to engagement with individual readings. Also, students are encouraged to use their initiative and skills of discernment in finding additional relevant material

(b) students are strongly encouraged to play games in order to both increase their awareness of illustrative examples for discussion in the seminars and essays. Also one of the assessment tasks requires the students to be able to offer a critical review of a particular game. Thus the playing of games, and associated reading to enable them to both understand the meaning of particular games and to place them in their political and social context will be essential.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Student's progress will be monitored on a weekly basis by means of:
- Student contributions to class discussion, which will be monitored throughout the course, though not assessed
- Assessment performance will be monitored through the submission of essay drafts/plans which will be read by the tutor prior to the submission of their final term paper. Meetings will then be offered to students to discuss their work prior to final submission.

- Opportunities for individual discussions outside seminar times.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Literature Review1 x 2,000 Mid Term Videogame review34.00
Essay1 x 3,000 End of term Essay66.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 10/08/2020 08:43:35


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