The Faculty of Arts’ recent MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), entitled Understanding Video Games, was wildly popular. Now, in partnership with the Calgary Public Library, the faculty will be offering an online summer camp on the same topic.
I love video games. I love their potential to inform, to educate and to entertain. I love that in one moment you might be saving the galaxy from hordes of terrifying extraterrestrials and the next you might be lining up three jewels in a grid and wondering where the last few hours went. I love that some games position us to explore alternate perspectives on the world, even as they offer a retreat from the reality we inhabit. I love that I can play silly collaborative games with my daughters that open up moments to discuss serious issues like teamwork, persistence and overcoming obstacles… right before we all race in to steal the best loot from each other.
I also love the “arguments” that games make. Games can take the almost infinite complexities of human experience and condense them into a single moment. They do this by privileging some “things” over other “things” when they present choices to the player. In the hugely popular game The Sims, for example, the complexities of human sexuality and emotional connection are distilled into a joyful moment of “woo hoo” – the exclamation made by characters when they fall in love. In its lighthearted and playful nature, this exclamation distills the argument The Sims is making about sex and emotion. In contrast, the game Freshman Year, in its attention to the sexual assault of a young woman, illustrates the potential of games to explore abuses that are deadly serious.
I love that I can play silly collaborative games with my daughters that open up moments to discuss serious issues like teamwork, persistence and overcoming obstacles… right before we all race in to steal the best loot from each other.
In fact, all games – in the stories they tell, the actions they permit, and the stated and unstated assumptions of their developers – make arguments about some aspect of human experience. Uncovering those arguments and deciphering how they are made is one of the wonderful parts of game studies. Interesting and innovative games can offer remarkable experiences – some of which inspire, some of which challenge and some of which get us to think differently about ourselves and about others, perhaps in ways that we may find disconcerting.
Of course, like almost all human endeavours, video games are a double-edged sword (and in games, who knows, those swords might also shoot lasers and launch attack-Chihuahuas). Anyone who studies games knows there are some serious social and cultural issues that circumscribe the medium’s potential. Some games perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reify dysfunctional patterns of behaviour. Sexism, racism and abuse are rampant within and between communities of gamers. No serious conversation about games can avoid a discussion about how abusive behavior is deeply rooted in some gamer cultures.
What is true is that video games reflect and affect the cultures in which we live. Worldwide, people spend more money on games than movies or music. Games are played by tens of millions of Canadians, almost equally split between men and women. We seem fascinated by their potential. The 40,000 or so people who have taken the Faculty of Arts’ popular MOOC, Understanding Video Games, attests to that.
Based on Understanding Video Games, we’ve designed a summer camp targeted at high school students in Calgary. I’ll be introducing this new initiative on Friday, May 27 at 6 p.m. at the Calgary Public Library. If you’ll be in town, I invite you to join me as we discuss why you should play video games. Or if you can’t come, share the news with your Calgary friends and invite all high school students to sign up for the camps!
Friday, May 27, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Calgary Public Library central location
Register online here or call 403.260.2620.