Game Studies – Novices, Gamers, and Scholars: Exploring the Challenges of Teaching About Games

I’m gearing up to teach Video Game Culture and Theory for the third time. It’s a 200-level elective, with no prerequisites. Students will have taken a basic comp course, but some won’t have done any academic research yet. I’m conscious that some students may have difficulty switching from playing the games they want to play, as intensely or casually as they wish, to playing a (small) selection of games closely and critically. 

I face similar issues in entry-level lit courses, where the students who have a strong attachment to one literary subgenre (and therefore think of themselves as avid readers) can be frustrated by the effort it takes to engage fully and critically with works that don’t match their personal tastes. But in there’s a self-selection in the English courses, so I can count on some level of professional interest (developing your own writing craft, gaining knowledge that will be useful to a future teacher).  A games studies course attracts from a much wider pool.

Teaching about games should be easy. After all, students enjoy engaging with course content and have extensive personal experience with videogames. In reality, games education is surprisingly complex. We report on the results of a study that explored the challenges faced by instructors of games studies classes. Our results indicate that learning about games can be challenging for multiple reasons. For example, prior videogame experience often interferes with students’ abilities to reason critically and analytically about games. Students also have difficulties articulating their experiences and observations. We describe some solutions that instructors are adopting to overcome these challenges. We also describe common misconceptions about the knowledge of expert players and provide a characterization of what it means to have a naïve understanding of videogames. Finally, we draw attention to the issue that current game studies courses run the risk of limiting the diversity of people who could become game scholars. —Zagal and Bruckman, Game Studies

I have found some success starting with a reflective essay, then a traditional game review, and then New Games Journalism in order to construct a bridge from the purely personal (playing what you want, for precisely as long as you wish) to the social/promotional (where the discourse of reviews and fansites is focused on recommendations for purchases and tips for completion/mastery) and from there to the academic level (where we step back and examine how we use factors such as cultural context, personal values and taste, interface and hardware design to interpret the significance of our gaming experiences).