Computer Game Culture

Fridays, Spring 2004

Instructor: T.L. Taylor (, office hours: Mondays 15:00-17:00 and by appointment (room 4.11).
Teaching assistant: Thomas Hansen (

Description: This course will examine computer games from a cultural and sociological perspective. Rather than focusing on tasks like level construction, it will explore the ways culture, socialization, and values are a part of gaming. Using a variety of theoretical & methodological approaches (drawn from the humanities and social sciences) a range of topics will be discussed in an attempt to understand not only the internal workings and social dynamics of computer games, but their place in the broader culture. Potential topics include: community management and maintenance in games; group formation, social processes, and interaction; games as communication spaces and virtual worlds; ethics and gaming; the relationship between game rules and social experience; in-game community governance; political/ideological analysis of games; gender and race in gaming; and design & values.

Format and Grading: Lectures, discussion, groupwork, classroom exercises. Midterm group presentation and final group paper with oral examination. The group presentation will be produced in collaboration with team members in and out of class sessions. Midterm assignment will be graded pass/fail. Final will be given a grade according to the 13-scale.

Groups and Afternoon Exercises -- Exam Info -- ITU course database info -- Additional Online Resources

Course plan:

All readings are available in the course compendium except those noted by [O]. Where possible, online copies of all the articles have also been linked here.

Feb 6 - Intro & Methodology

Feb 13 - Technology & Culture

Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?"
Nissenbaum, "How Computer Systems Embody Values"
Lessig, selections from "Code"
McChesney, "So Much for the Magic of Technology and the Free Market"
Feb 20 - Creating the Self in Game Worlds
Turkle, "Aspects of the Self"
Stone, "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up"
Bartle, "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs"
Avatars Offline documentary (in-class)
Feb 27 - Gendered Spaces
Jenkins, "Complete Freedom of Movement"
Taylor, "Multiple Pleasures"
Bryce and Rutter, "The Gendering of Computer Gaming"
Kerr, "Women Just Want to Have Fun"
March 5 - Race in Games
Adams, "Not Just Rappers and Athletes: Minorities in Videogames"
Nakamura, "Race In/For Cyberspace"
Silver, "Margins in the Wires"
Kolko, "Erasing @race"
March 12 - Socialization & Community I
Jakobsson & Taylor, "Sopranos Meets EQ"
Stald, "Meeting in the Combat Zone"
Wright, et. al. "Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games"
Squire and Steinkuehler, "The Genesis of `CyberCulture'"
March 19 - Mid-Semester Presentations

March 26 - Socialization & Community II

Kolko & Reid, "Dissolution and Fragmentation"
Heide Smith, "Avatars You Can Trust"
Kim, "Killers Have More Fun"
Lockard, "Progressive Politics, Electronic Individualism, and the Myth of the VC"
April 2 - Governance & Design
Koster, select two pieces from his website (under "Gaming/Essays") [O]
Talin, "Managing Deviant Behavior in Online Worlds"
Morningstar & Farmer, selection from "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat"
Taylor, "Intentional Bodies"
April 16 - Productive Players
Morris, "Co-Creative Media: Online Multiplayer Computer Game Culture" [O]
Rhody, "/em speaks"
Sun, Lin, and Ho, "Game Tips as Gifts"
Alphaville Herald incident and Terra Nova coverage [O] or Platoni, "There is No War in Blazing Falls" [O]
Castronova handout (in-class)
April 23 - Intellectual Property, Commodification, and Culture
Taylor, "Whose Game is this Anyway?"
Koster, "Declaring the Rights of Players"
Dibbell, "The Unreal Estate Boom"
Oliver, "The Similar Eye"
April 30 - Political Gaming
Guest speaker, Gonzalo Frasca (ITU)
Please read his article "Ideological Videogames." Also, check out his site,, as well as Water Cooler Games, Newsgaming, Persuasive Games, and Serious Games.

Reminder: The CS competition with Espen Aarseth's Game Theory class (as well as game center staff!) will be taking place at 15:00 in room 3.03 : )