Gaming Culture and Theory — Or; Will Somebody Please Pinch Me?

Gaming Culture and Theory — Or; Will Somebody Please Pinch Me?Literacy Weblog)

About a half hour ago, I returned from a meeting with the dean of academic affairs, at which I was planning to pitch a new course that I’m calling “Gaming Culture and Theory.” I brought a short stack of scholarly books along with me, intending to justify the academic value of such a course, particularly as Seton Hill University continues admitting more men.

But before I even made it to the chair, the dean said, “Just so you know, I’m going to ask you teach this course next January. Tell me, what will it be about?”

In return for teaching a course in the first few weeks of January (during Christmas break), I would get a lighter teaching load in the spring.

In order to accomodate the needs of students who want to go home for Christmas break, the dean wants me to teach the course online, and to commit to teaching it every other year (which is typical of electives at our small school).

I had already roughed up a syallabus that had us meeting in virtural environments for all of the second week and using blogs throughout the term, so I didn’t have to think very much about that. She also asked whether the course would meet the university’s “artistic expression” area requirement, and I said that I thought it would — graphic designers could produce storyboards, English majors could write branching dialogue trees, programmers could produce their own Elizas, etc.

I decided to go with a cultural focus, rather than a heavy theoretical focus, because one of my goals would be to get students to begin thinking critically about the games they play (and about the rhetoric of gaming as it is represented by the mainstream media). Perhaps after I’ve taught more upper-class SHU students, I’ll have a clearer idea of what kind of theoretical concepts to attempt, but something tells me a three-week intensive course offered during the January break is going to have to have a lot of hands-on game time. Since three weeks is probably not long enough for students to become fully invested in an epic MMORPG, I don’t think I’ll be able to work with EverQuest in class. And I want to include an exploring/socializing game, such as There.com, SimsOnline (neither of which I’ve played). I’m thinking of assignments such as asking students to use their avatars for cross-gendered role-play, to discuss such issues as sexual harrasment or body image in virtural environments. I’m not sure I could teach stand a course on the mathematical algorithms for generating the shadow for a stream of spurting blood, but the course will have to appeal to the gaming geeks in order for it to attract enough enrollment.

My parting shot was a request that I be given a budget to fund my own exploratory research on the pedagogical uses of virtual environments. Sure, she said, put it in the proposal. (Which is easy enough to say, but still… she didn’t burst out laughing, which is a good sign.)

Where to start… EverQuest is probably out (though maybe I should investigate a little further before deciding…). Star Wars Galaxies? Deus X 2? Grand Theft Auto?

(Somebody, pinch me!)

Okay, okay, back to my long-enough list of short-term goals.