The Faculties of Arts, Science, and… Video Games?

The number of video game-related courses at the University of Alberta has risen over the past several years in a trend that isn’t likely to quit, according to Humanities Computing professor Sean Gouglas.

Traditional game development courses such as CMPUT 250 (Computers and Games) and CMPUT 350 (Advanced Games Programming) have been joined in recent years by more unusual takes on video game studies, including history and cyberliterature courses. As one of the largest commercial mediums in the world, it would be silly not to study video games, Gouglas, also the Senior Director of Interdisciplinary Studies, said.

Gouglas teaches STS 350, (Understanding Video Games) and its massive open online counterpart, STS 351 (Understanding Video Games). He also teaches HIST 121 (Topics in Global History — Video Games & Story Telling). He said that more Canadian universities are starting to offer courses, certificates, BA programs, and B.Sc programs in video games. In British Columbia, Great Northern Way Campus offers an MA in digital media, while in Quebec, McGill University allows its computing science students to specialize in computer games. At the U of A, students have been able to earn certificates in computer game development since 2013.

This year, a section of 100-level world history was closed to offer HIST 121 (Topics in Global History), with a focus on video games. Courses such as these reflect the interests of students taking them — and Gouglas said it’s reasonable to create courses in video games due to their importance in culture, economy, and social issues such as perceptions of women.

“The fact that students find (courses in video games) appealing reflects the interest of the students that are taking it,” Gouglas added.

“I think it’s perfectly reasonable for us to appeal to the interest of the students.”

The video game industry added $3 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2015, and is a growing industry worldwide. The introduction of more video games-related courses reflects their increasing prevalence in the real world, both economically and culturally, Gouglas said.

“All you’re seeing is universities catching up to the interest of the students and also their faculty members,” he explained. “(This reflects) the importance of this medium to the social, cultural, and economic situation in Canada.”

Whether or not video game studies becomes a fully recognized discipline in the future remains to be seen. Gouglas said video game studies are very similar to other disciplines in terms of apparatus, only brighter and shinier.

“If games studies become a discipline at the U of A, we will adapt to it,” he said. “We will adapt to the new games in the same way that history adapts to new history, and English adapts to new literature.”

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