ICS 60: Computer Games and Society

University of California, Irvine
Summer Session II, 2011


Joel Ross (email: jwross@uci.edu; office: Calit2 2006 or 3423)

Class Meetings

Tues/Thurs from 9:00am to 11:50am, ELH 110.
This class will be taught in a seminar-style (and we only have a few session), so attendance and participation is very important.

Course Description

From the catalog...

"The study and critical analysis of computer games as art objects, cultural artifacts, gateways to virtual worlds, educational aids, and tools for persuasion and social change. Emphasis on understanding games in their historical and cultural context."

This course acts as an introduction to the academic study of computer games, a growing discipline known as Game Studies. In this course, we will focus on the critical analysis of social issues in video games—we're interested in how games affect (and are affected by) the people who play them and the culture in which they are played. We'll be learning about why people play games, how they play games, and how games can be used to improve people's lives and the world around them.

By gaining a deeper understanding of games and play, you'll be able to articulate what a game does well or does poorly, beyond simply whether you liked playing it or not. You'll be able to better appreciate the games you play, gathering more meaning from interacting with these systems. And moreover, you'll be able to explain how games are much more than mindless entertainment, and why it is important and significant that people spend their time playing, studying, and creating video games.

Course Goals

After completing this course, a student will be able to:


There are no prerequisites for this course. However, having played some video games will certainly help!

Office Hours

The quickest and most effective way to reach me is by email (see below). However, you are welcome to drop by my office (Calit2 room 2006), at any time to talk about the course. Official office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00pm to 3:00pm. I am also happy to make arrangements for other times during the week—"making an appointment" is not a big deal (but if you make an appointment, be sure to show up!). Learn to take advantage of professors' office hours!

Course Texts

Readings for this course will all be available online (or sent out over email). However, in order to access these readings, you will either need to be on campus or signed in through UCI's VPN (Virtual Private Network). For instructions on setting up and using the VPN, see http://www.lib.uci.edu/how/connect-from-off-campus.html and http://www.nacs.uci.edu/security/vpn/. If you have any problems acquiring the course readings, let me know as soon as possible.

Course Assignments

Daily reading quizzes

Each day there will be a short readiness assessment quiz about the day's reading. After taking the quiz individually, students will re-take the quiz in small groups to make sure everyone is up to speed. Correct answers on the group quizzes will partially replace incorrect answers on individual quizzes. These quizzes will not be difficult--they are intended to simply make sure that everyone is prepared for the day's discussion. [25% of course grade, due daily]

In-class activities and participation

Students will do a number of small, informal presentations and exercises as part of active learning during class. These assignments will be described in more detail during individual class meetings. Students are also expected to participate in class discussions. [15% of course grade, due daily]

Critical Essays (3)

Students will write three papers in this class, each critiquing some aspect of a computer game and its relationship to society. More details about specific essays will be made available in class.

  1. Games as Played Systems: Write a critique of a single computer or video game, discussing how a person plays the game and how the game "holds" the player. [due Thurs, Aug 11]
  2. Games as Social Artifacts: Write a critique of a single computer or video game, discussing how the game reflects upon or is embedded in its surrounding culture. [due Tues, Aug 23]
  3. Games as Tools for Change: Write a critique of a single persuasive, educational, or serious computer game, discussing whether it succeeds as a game and/or as a tool for social change. [due Fri, Sep 02]

Each essay should be around 800 words in length. Use a standard, business-like font, size 10 or 12 pt. At the top of the paper, include your name and UCInetID. Including a title for the essay is optional (but recommended!). You may include any images you deem necessary.

Your essay should not have footnotes or a references section. If you quote one of the readings, use the format (Turkle 1995) to cite it in text. If you refer to another work (which is not required but is welcome), cite it in text using a format similar to (Ross, J., 2011, "Secrets of citing references", Journal of Made-Up Papers).

All essays are due at 5pm on the specified date. Essays should be uploaded to the appropriate EEE Dropbox in .pdf format. Essays are each worth 20% of the course grade. A student's stronger papers given more weight than his or her weaker ones.

Course Policies

No Griefing

This class may involve in-class discussion of topics on which you and your classmates may have differences in opinion. Please be respectful of others at all times. Although we are interested in seeking out assumptions and flaws in arguments, we are also all here to help each other learn.

Discussion Etiquette

Much of class will thus be spent talking about games and practicing analyzing them as a group. As students in this class, you are responsible for participating in these discussions—for sharing your ideas, experiences, and views with the rest of us. At the same time, allow other students to contribute as well, and be willing to consider alternate points of view.

I will do my best to guide the discussion and prompt interesting observations. Nevertheless, a good goal is to try and ask at least one meaningful question each day: a question that causes someone else to think and to ask a question themselves. I will also make sure everyone has a "progress report grade" of the quality of his or her participation at the end of Weeks 1 and 3, so that we're on the same page about what is expected.

Email Etiquette

When emailing me, please try to use proper grammar and make sure to sign your emails. This will help me to better answer any questions. Also include "ICS 60" in the subject line to make sure I see your email!

Course Announcements

I may send out course announcements by email to the official course mailing list, so you should check your email daily. Note that this mailing list goes to the email address that the registrar has for you (your UCInetID address). If you prefer to read your Email on another account, you should set your UCInet account to forward your Email to your preferred account (you can do this on the web at http://phwww.cwis.uci.edu/cgi-bin/phupdate).


Attendance in class is mandatory—you'll get the most out of in-class discussions, and as we have very few meetings you'll miss a lot of you miss one. I will attend every class, and you should too. If you can't make a session, please check in with me about options for making up the work you missed.

Technology in Class

Please turn off all cell phones/pagers/etc. before the beginning of each class. Please do not use notebook computers or any other technology during class for any purpose not directly relating to this class.

Late Work

Essays turned in late will lose one full letter grade for every day past the deadline. Papers will not be accepted more than 3 days after the original deadline. You can make up a missed reading quiz by writing a short (150 word) response to the reading that explicates and evaluates the author's argument. This response must emailed to me before the following class session.

Academic Honesty

Please familiarize yourself with the latest UCI academic honesty policy: http://www.editor.uci.edu/catalogue/appx/appx.2.htm. The consequences of academic dishonesty are not worth the risks. The simple rule is: do not claim anyone else's words or ideas as your own. If you're in doubt, come talk to me in advance.

Special Accommodations

Any student who feels he or she needs an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss his or her specific needs. Also contact the Disability Services Center at (949) 824-7494 as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.

I encourage all students having difficulty, whether or not due to a disability, to consult privately with me at any time.

Course Schedule

Tues, Aug 02 What is a game?
Thur, Aug 04 Motivation, Fun, and Work Readings: Turkle 1984, Chen 2007, Yee 2006
Tues, Aug 09 Rules, Procedure, and Narrative Readings: Bogost 2007 [pg3-14 only!], Juul 2001
Thur, Aug 11 Games and Real Life Readings: Galloway 2004
Tues, Aug 16 Individuals and Groups Readings: Nardi 2006, Sniderman 1999 [all pages!]
Thur, Aug 18 Virtuality Readings: Yee 2009, Summary of Myers 2008 [only summary article required]
Tues, Aug 23 Serious Games, Educational Games Readings: Rockwell & Kee, 2011, Gee 2009
Thur, Aug 25 Gamification "Readings": McGonigal 2010, Schell 2010, Bogost 2011
Tues, Aug 30 Pervasive Games Readings: Sotamma 2002, Montola 2005
Thur, Sep 01 Games, Art, and Science Readings: Aarseth 2001, Deen 2011

Links and Resources

If you need help with writing, please check in with the LARC (Learning and Academic Resource Center). You can schedule an individual appointment to go over a paper or get help with any other issues.

Tips on editing and proofreading from UNC.

For many, many examples of close-readings of video games, check out the Well Played series: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 (available as free downloads).

Some academic journals: Game Studies, Games and Culture. These are good for further reading or research.

Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman is an excellent (and thorough) text on all aspects of games. Chapter 28 is particularly relevant to this class. UCI Library, Amazon, Google Books.

On-Campus Computer Lab Information: Information on campus computing labs.

Library Research Resources: Access to various library information-gathering tools.

UCI Academic Honesty Policy: Academic Senate Policy on Academic Honesty.

More general resources can be found on the UCI homepage under "Resources".

Other Helpful Hints

Below are some helpful hints that may be useful for this course (or in general).

Good Advice (adapted from David Kay)

Check your electronic mail regularly; this is an official channel for course announcements. When sending course-related mail, start the subject line with "ICS 60" or "Video Games and Society".

Attendance in class is essential; concepts and issues will come up in class that aren't easily available from other sources, and those concepts will find their way into the assignments and exams. Also, class participation in various forms will count towards the course grade.

Read each assignment or essay prompt with care, more than once. Expect to refer back to the assignment often, and check it first when you have questions about what's required or how to proceed. Make sure to follow all the instructions for an assignment!

Always keep your own copy of each assignment, both electronically and on paper; if an assignment should get lost in the shuffle (or if the file server should crash), I'll expect you to be able to supply a replacement easily.

If you find yourself having trouble or getting behind, speak with the instructor. But never take the shortcut of copying someone else's work and turning it in; the consequences can be far worse than just a low score on one assignment. The School of ICS takes academic honesty very seriously; for a more complete discussion, see the ICS academic honesty policy: http://www.ics.uci.edu/ugrad/policies/index.php.

Take advantage of campus resources, such as the libraries and LARC. These are valuable resources that can help you make the most of your time at UCI!

Tips for reading academic papers

Look up any words you don't know! Don't just try and guess at their meanings.

Try and figure out what the author's thesis or argument is, and state it in a single sentence. What you've just written is the point of the paper.

If you don't understanding something the first time, that's okay! Ask a classmate, or bring your question into class. Keep an eye out for any disagreements you might have with the paper--published authors are not always right.

More tips and advice can be found here and here.

How to create a .pdf file:

If you have a Mac, you can print almost any document "to PDF".

If you have Windows and you want to make a PDF from a document you made in a program that does not "export to PDF", you can install a free program like PDFCreator or CutePDF Writer which will add a printer called "PDF" to the "Print" dialog box. If you "print" to this printer, you'll get a .pdf instead of a piece of paper!