Spring 2018
Professor: Paolo Pedercini
Course number: 60359 – Carnegie Mellon University – School of Art
Classroom: CFA 303
Time:  Tuesday & Thursday 9:30AM – 11:20AM CFA 303
Office: CFA 419A – 4th Floor
Office hours: By appointment
Email address: paolop [at] andrew [dot] cmu [dot] edu

This hybrid seminar course combines games studies, game criticism, and research-based art to examine the history, contexts, and frontiers of play.  Digital and analog games will be approached through a variety of lenses: games as culture, systems, technologies, commodities, etc.
While not geared toward the technical development of videogames, the coursework will include creative projects beyond writing and discussion. The goal is to provide conceptual tools to enrich your design/art practice and tackle a variety of academic topics in a playful but rigorous way.


Upon completion of the course students will be able to:

* Situate gaming cultures in their cultural and technological contexts.

* Critically analyze games and their ideological and expressive features.

* Design their interactive works with a better understanding of the historical, industrial, and artistic discourse in the field.


* Being passionate about games might help but please keep in mind this is not a class for sharing our love for video games. We’ll try to approach the subject critically and focus on cutting-edge developments at the margins of the mainstream game industry.

* Coursework is almost entirely comprised by readings but being in an art school you will be require to produce some creative output, not only response papers.

* If you are just interested in making games, consider taking my Experimental Game Design class in Fall 2018 instead. It has a different focus each year and includes critical studies too, although much more oriented toward game design.


Readings: we’ll have a structured discussion for each set of readings. You are expected to post a short response and bring your notes to class to get the conversation going. Reading responses are not mere summaries nor reviews – I don’t care if you enjoyed the reading or if you were annoyed by the tone of the writer.

Assignments: the assignments are related to the readings and should be executed after them.

Social media: this course meet in short sessions, you can survive without social media or email.


Week by week plan. It’s still in progress, units may shift and change.

Games and Play


Homo Ludens for the People by Mattie Brice
Play and Ambiguity from The Ambiguity of Play by Brian Sutton-Smith
Hearts and Minds GDC keynote by Frank Lantz

Activity: Roger Caillois’ elements of play workshop

Assignment: Find three artifacts (newspaper articles, news reports, academic talks, scholarly publications, advertisements etc) that embody, or relate to, three different rhetorics described by Brian Sutton-Smith.

Games as Culture


Board Games from Critical Play by Mary Flanagan
Why Did Ancient Egypt Spent 3000 Years Playing a Game Nobody Else Liked? by Christian Donlan
Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight by Clifford Geertz

Assignment: Research a non-digital game, a sport, or a form of play and present it in relationship with the cultural context that generated it. It must be pre-20th century. Format: 20×20 Pecha Kucha slide presentation. Groups of 2.

Games as systems


Games as Emergent Systems and Games as Cybernetic Systems from Rules of play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
Places to Intervene in a System by Donella H. Meadows
Allegories of Control from Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture by Alexander Galloway,

Presentation: SimCities and Sim Crises

Activity: The Fishing Game

Assignments: Analyze a real world system according to Meadows’ basic framework.
Perform a systemic/cybernetic analysis of a game, identifying feedback loops, and discuss how they affect the experience of the game.
Expand a reference from Galloway.

Games as technology


Spacewar, Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums by Stewart Brand
Analog (on Katamari Damacy) from Gamer Theory by McKenzie Wark
Videogames are disappearing from Best Before: videogames, supersession and obsolescence by James Newman

Assignment: find an obscure, possibly overlooked game from the ‘70s or ‘80s, and make a video analysis (critical let’s play).

Feb 13 – Feb 15
Paolo is away
Screening: King of Kong
Screening: Indie Game: The Movie

Games as Industry


Immaterial Labor from Games of the Empire by Nick Dyer-Witheford
Welcome to the Club by Anne Krueger
You Can Sleep Here All Night: Video Games and Labor, Ian Williams
The problem with videogames by Anna Anthropy

Presentation: Indie revolution and Indiepocalypse

Assignment: find an obscure, possibly overlooked, independent game from the last 10 years, and write a short piece of game criticism around it.

Games and addiction


Mapping the Machine Zone from Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll
Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games by Mike Rose
Loot Boxes Are Designed To Exploit Us by Heather Alexandra

Activity: visit to the Rivers Casino TBD

Debate: gambling, free to play, loot boxes: moral panic or not? You’ll be divided in two groups (you might end up arguing a position you do not personally agree with).

Games as Spectacle


Jocks Without Borders by Vickie Osterweil
At Play on the Field of Ghosts by James Bridle
Cam Girls who stream on Twitch by Merritt Kopas

Assignment: in teams of 3, become spectators of a game you are not already intimately familiar with, try to understand it deeply and prepare a quick guide for its appreciation (any format is allowed).

Games and Metagames


About, Within, Around, Without, A Survey of Six Metagames from Metagaming by Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux

Presentation: Subversive Play

Assignment: Critical play: mis-play a game of your choice by acting against the intention of the designer or by exploring/exploiting the limits of its system. Try to achieve an aesthetic goal or provide insights on the game itself. Any documentation format is allowed.

Games and Escapism


It’s Time For a New Kind of Power Fantasy by Leigh Alexander
The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future by Leslie Jamison
Voyeur Reality by Kathryn Hamilton

Presentation: Stranger Playthings – Virtual Reality and counterculture

Games as art


The Secret (Art) History of Games by John Sharp
One Falls for Each of Us: The Prototyping of Tragedy by Brenda Romero
Cuphead and the Racist Spectre of Fleischer Animation by Yussef Cole
Proteus: A Trio of Artisanal Game Reviews by Ian Bogost

Debate: Are games art, and how so? You’ll be divided in two groups (you might end up arguing a position you do not personally agree with).

Presentation: The Great Art Upgrade.

Assignment: Imaginary curator. Select some games or playable artifacts to exhibit in a hypothetical show, write a curatorial statement.

Games and social change


Gaming can make a better world, TED talk by Jane McGonigal
Apocalypse postponed. Discourses on video games from noxious objects to redemptive devices by Marco Benoit Carbone, Paolo Ruffino
Gaming the System: The Political Potential of Play by Colleen Macklin

Game Futures


Manifesto: The 21st Century Will Be Defined By Games by Eric Zimmerman & Heather Chaplin
Slouching Toward Relevant Video Games by Brie Code
The Natural: The Trouble Portraying Blackness in Video Games by Evan Narcisse
Queering human game relations by Merritt Kopas, Naomi Clark

Final project: video essay. It can be nonfiction, creative, performative (a recording of a talk or a machinima), confessional etc… as long as it’s informed by rigorous research.

The Unbearable Now: An Interpretation of The Witness by Electron Dance
Everything But the Clouds by Patrick Lemieux
Goodbye Uncanny Valley by Alan Warburton
Who gets to be a Civilization by Kyle Kallgren
Feminist Frequency, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian
Native Representations in Video Games by Elizabeth LaPensée
The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft by Angela Washko
Vanishing Point: a Visual Essay by Zoya Street
Music Object, Substance, Organism by David Kanaga
Game Maker’s Toolkit Series by Mark Brown


30% Assignments
10% Written readings responses
30% Class discussion
30% Final project


* Attendance: three or more unexcused absences result in the drop of a letter grade.

* Absences: you are responsible for what happens in class whether you’re here or not. Organize with your classmates to get class information and material that you have missed.

* Participation: you are invited, encouraged, and expected to engage actively in discussion, reflection and activities.

* Assignments: late assignments are only accepted with permission of instructor. You lose 10% of your points per day late up to a max of 7 days late.

* Tardiness: 1st tardy = free.
Less than 10 minutes late = 1% grade reduction.
Over 20 minutes late = absence (unless justified).


It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present activities that accommodate and value a diversity of gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and culture.
I will gladly honor your request to address you by your preferred name and gender pronoun. I commit to make individual arrangements to address disabilities or religious needs (e.g. religious events in conflict with class meetings). Please advise me of these preferences and needs early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my plans and records.
Debate and free exchange of ideas is encouraged but I will not tolerate harassment, i.e. a pattern of behavior directed against a particular individual with the intent of humiliating or intimidating.


Being in an art school, you should expect to be exposed to content that challenges your moral, ethical, and aesthetic values. In case of extremely graphic content I will warn the class in advance, but if you have a history of PTSD please let me know privately if there are types of content that are known to act as trauma triggers for you.


Collaborative work and projects also fulfilling other classes’ requirements are encouraged as long as it makes sense, and the other professors agree.

Official university language: Take care of yourself. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.


If you have a disability and require accommodations, please email Catherine Getchell, Director of the Office of Disability Resources or call her office at 412-268-6121. If you have an accommodations letter from the Office of Disability Resources office, I encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with me as early in the semester as possible. I will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate.