Film 323: Thinking About Video Games

Spring 2007, Tuesdays 1:30 to 4:20, Avery 117

Professor Ed Halter

Office: Avery 220

Office hours Tuesdays 10:00 to 12:00, by appointment


Two 10-15 page papers; class discussion; presentation of one week’s reading; occasional short assignments related to readings and discussions.

Grading rubric:

33% participation (including presentation and short assignments); 33% first paper; 34% second paper. All assigned work must be completed by the semester’s end for a passing grade.

Paper topics:

First paper: Explore how one or more of the writers in Section One might relate to a specific electronic game of your choice (could be an individual title, series, type of game, or even console system).

Second paper: Open topic of your choice within the parameters of the seminar, with minimum one week’s prior approval of the professor.


Shorter readings and book excerpts will be available online or as pdfs, linked from this site. The following required books will be at the Bard Bookstore: Homo Ludens, Man, Play and Games, The Medium of the Video Game, Gaming, and From Sun Tzu to Xbox.

In-class presentation

Each week one student will give a 15-20 minute presentation on that week's reading, meant to kick off that day's discussion, which will count towards participation. Each presentation should outline the basic arguments or themes of the reading. Useful questions to consider include: According to this writer, what is a game? What is play? What is (or would be) a video game? (Don't worry about presenting all of the writer's ideas--just hit on some of the most pertinent or the ones that interested you the most.)


Jan 30


Peter Watkins, Punishment Park (1971)

Section One: Play and Game

Feb 6

J.C. Friedrich Von Schiller, Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794), esp. XIV & XV (web) (pdf)

Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” (1973) (web) (pdf)

Presentation: Greg

Feb 13

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1938)

Presentation: Joshua

Feb 20

Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games (1958)

Presentation: Jane

Feb 27 

Sigmund Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (1920)

D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (1971)

Presentation: Bonnie

Mar 6 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, from Philosophical Investigations (1953)

Stanley Cavell, “The Availability of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy” (1962)

Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science” (1946) (web)

Presentation: Ian

Mar 13 

Marshall McLuhan, from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964)

Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations” (1981) (web)

Lev Manovich, from The Language of New Media (2001)

Presentation: Alex

Section Two: Video Games

Mar 20 

The Medium of the Video Game, Parts I and II (2002)

Steven Poole, from Trigger Happy (2000)

Presentation: Jen

* First 10-15 page paper due

Mar 27 

Espen Aarseth, “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation” (2004) (web)

Gonzalo Frasca, “Ludology Meets Narratology” (1999) (web)

Jesper Juul, from Half-Real (2005) (pdf)

Presentation: Scott

Apr 3

No class - Spring Break

Apr 10 

Lisa Nakamura, from Cybertypes (2002) (pdf)

Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace” (1993/1998) (web)

Recommended: always_black (Ian Shanahan), "Bow Nigger" (2004)

Presentation: Jonnie

Apr 17

Gonzalo Frasca, "Ephemeral Games: Is it Barbaric to Design Videogames After Auschwitz?" (pdf) (2000) 

Stephen Johnson, from Everything Bad is Good For You (2005) (reserveweb)

Presentation: Elias

Apr 24 

No discussion (screening only) – moderation week

May 1  

Alexander R. Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006)

Presentation: Jesse

Note: We will only have half a session today, 1:30-3:00, and will continue discussing Galloway in the following class.

May 8

Alexander R. Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006)

Ed Halter, From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games (2006)

May 15

Charles Bernstein, “Play it Again Pac-Man” (1991) (web) (also in Medium of the Video Game)

Henry Jenkins, “Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces” (1998) (web)

Celia Pearce “Beyond Shoot Your Friends…A Call to Arms in the Battle Against Violence” (1997) (web)

Presentation: Eliza

May 22


* Final 10-15 page paper due

Other resources:



Water Cooler Games

Grand Text Auto

The Ludologist

War and Videogames

Terra Nova

Collision Detection

We Make Money Not Art


Serious Games

Eddo Stern

Cory Arcangel




Game Girl Advance

Game Set Watch



Henry Jenkins: Confessions of an Aca/Fan

Guardian Gamesblog

Slashdot: Games