MLCS to offer course on video games across cultures in Fall 2018

A new Modern Languages and Cultural Studies course on how video games can help develop intercultural understanding will be offered this fall.

MLCS 399 (Intercultural Game Studies) will have students explore video games from creators across societies, including Inuit and North African cultures. The course can be taken as a part of the U of A’s Computer Game Development Certificate. According to Astrid Ensslin, a digital humanities and game studies professor who will teach the course, it is a class for “anyone who loves video games.”

“The course is set in an MLCS framework,” Ensslin said. “Anyone with an interest in cultural studies and popular media, specifically interactive media, will find this interesting. It’s not a language course so you won’t learn Spanish… but if you like to play games and especially games that push the boundaries and think outside the box, then this class is for you.”

The course has no final and will be graded on class participation, journal entries, and a game design project. In this project, students will work together on a team to write a design brief, a format used in the early stages of game production, which lays out all aspects of the game’s design.

“It would be the first stage of building a game,” Ensslin said. “If students then want to go on and make the game, say as part of their certificate, that would be a dream… but there won’t be enough room or time to do that in this course.”

The project is designed in this way so that any student can take the course regardless of their background in programming.

The reading list for MLCS 399 includes textbooks on game design, online editorials on video games, and actual games themselves including Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Never Alone, and This War of Mine. The course aims to help students develop critical tools to analyze and evaluate commercial AAA titles with respect to their appropriation and stereotyping of non-Western cultures and to find out how and why some games might misrepresent, distort or exaggerate elements of specific cultures and people that live in them.

Ensslin emphasizes the importance of the critical study of video games in today’s era, as the games industry is now larger than the film and music industry combined, with nearly 2.6 billion gamers globally. She said gaming experiences help naturalize dominant belief systems, such as cultural and ideological binaries, and they have the potential to break patterns of hegemonic thinking.

“I believe in the importance of diversification, especially in popular media (and) video games culture,” Ensslin said. “A lot of leeway has already been done in areas of gender and queer gaming and things like that… but not enough has been done to actually study games as learning objects for cultural understanding.”

MLCS 399 is currently open for enrollment on Beartracks and the course will continue to be offered in the future provided there is student interest.

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