Critical Approaches to Gaming

Instructor: Dr. Nabeel Siddiqui
Time: TTH 12:35-2:10 PM
Office Hours: TTH 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Location: Virtual
Office Location: Apfelbaum 115

Course Description

Introduces and expands student knowledge to the art and practice of contemporary media criticism and key theoretical and critical approaches, focusing on interactive digital media, including gaming and simulation technologies. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the movement and interconnection that exists between new media technologies and their social, economic, cultural and political impacts and effects. Historical development, industrial structure and organization, and effects of convergent and emergent media will be incorporated into the analysis.

Prerequisite: COMM-190. 4 SH. CC: Writing Intensive.

Writing Intensive CC Goals

The purpose of Writing Intensive courses is to help students further hone their writing skills. These courses are often part of a student’s major.

  1. Employing rhetorical and organizational strategies appropriate for the assignments and discipline. (ULG 2a)
  2. Critically selecting and integrating sources and/or ideas. (ULG 2c, 2d)
  3. Learn from and respond to criticism of rhetorical and organizational strategies in
  4. their own writing. (ULG 3a, 3b)

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • Categorize the formal elements of videogames and differentiate them from other media.
  • Debate the impact of gaming on culture and communication.
  • Distinguish the peculiarities of a numerous games to assert how they construct or deconstruct ideologies.
  • Deconstruct the relationship between gaming and issues of identity, such as race, gender, and class
  • Articulate the role of gaming in discourses surrounding free speech and aesthetic merit
  • Compose a multimedia document to communicate to others how to interact with a game
  • Assess how games challenge issues of narration and interactivity.

Department of Communications Mission Statement and Encompassing Theme

The Department of Communications seeks to lead students to an understanding of the theory, practice, and ethical implications of their chosen field in keeping with the university’s liberal arts mission to educate undergraduate students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse and interconnected world. The fields of communication focus on how people use messages to generate meaning within and across various contexts, cultures, channels, performances, and media. The fields promote effective and ethical practice.

The Department of Communications requires a cumulative portfolio as part of your senior capstone course. Be sure to save the syllabi, assignments, tests, and papers from your Communications courses to use in that portfolio.

Note: Students taking this course to meet the requirements of the Broadcasting major or minor must earn a final grade of 70% or better to meet the department’s requirements for graduation.

What This Class is Not

Although we examine the formal elements of videogames, this class is not a game development course. Skills such as programming and story boarding are important for you to develop if you are interested in entering the gaming industry but are impractical to cover in a course that details games as historical, cultural, and artistic artifacts.

Perhaps most importantly, this course does not center on AAA games, such as Call of Duty, Madden, Battlefield,orAssassin’s Creed. Instead, we focus on indie and experimental games. There are three reasons for this. One, AAA games can be expensive for students to acquire who do not already have gaming consoles or high-end PCs. Two, most AAA games require numerous hours to finish making them impractical to complete in the necessary time. Finally, this class is meant to broaden your horizons of how games can serve as powerful and influential mediums for communication. Indie and experimental games often challenge and subvert various gaming norms leading to far more interesting discussions.


Plagiarism is not only theft but counterfeit. Students caught plagiarizing will receive an F for the assignment and the course. You may also face further disciplinary action, including and up to expulsion. It is up to you to familiarize yourself with Susquehanna University’s Code of Student Conduct. Students should use proper citations to indicate quotes, summations, and paraphrases. You may use any citation style as long as it is consistent. If you have any concerns or confusions, please ask me.


Students in need of accommodations for disabilities should see or contact the Offices of Disability Services, 570-372-4340, Fisher Hall 204. Please reach out if you suspect you may have or have been diagnosed with a disability to see what assistance is available.

Content Warning

This course deals with a myriad of topics, including violence, sexual assault, and obscene language. If you believe that any of these would negatively impact your learning environment in a way that is beyond mere discomfort, please see me.

Required Texts and Games

All reading materials and games will be provided to you online. Many of these readings may seem challenging or abstract. This is completely normal. I do not expect you to be an expert in the scholarly literature on the subject, but you are expected to try your best. I will fill in any gaps you have and provided clarification during class. Students are often surprised by the rigor of the class given its subject matter. Please plan your schedule accordingly.

You may need to purchase access to some of the documentaries and shows.

Syllabus Policy

I reserve the right to make changes to the syllabus and often do based on the direction of our discussion. Make sure that you check your email regularly so that you are aware of these changes as you will still be responsible for all assigned materials. This is particularly important for our current semester where we may have to adjust rapidly due to the pandemic.

Assignments and Grades

For each assignment, I will provide you a detailed assignment sheet in class with more information about what is required. Each assignment is due at midnight unless otherwise stated:

  • Participation (20%)
  • Perusall (20%)
  • Reflection Papers (20%)
  • Game Walkthrough (20%)
  • Game Comparison Paper (20%)

Weekly Class Schedule

Week 1—Play

Week 2—Defining a Discipline

  • Tuesday-“Introduction: What is Game Studies” in An Introduction to Game Studies: Games and Cultureby Frans Mäyrä; “Game Culture: Meaning in Games” in An Introduction to Game Studies: Games and Culture by Frans Mäyrä
  • Thursday-“Doors and Perception: Fiction vs. Simulation in Games” by Espen Aaarseth; “Between the Game system and The Fictional World: A Study of Computer Game Interfaces” by Kristine Jørgensen

Week 3—History and Industry

  • Tuesday-“History” in Understanding Video Games: An Introduction by Simon Egenfeldt-Nielson, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca; “The Game Industry” in Understanding Video Games: An Introduction by Simon Egenfeldt-Nielson, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca
  • Thursday-“The Arcade Is Dead, Long Live the Arcade Nostalgia in an Era of Ubiquitous Computing” in Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly A. Kocurek; “Retro Gaming Subculture and the Social Construction of a Piracy Ethic” by Steven Downing

Week 4—Interactive Film

Week 5—Free Speech
  • Tuesday-The Newest Significant Medium: Brown v. EMA (2011) and the Twenty-first Century Status of Video Game Regulation by Zach Saltz in Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Video Games; Watch Playing Columbine* (
  • Thursday-“Roger Ebert and the Games-as-Art Debate” by Felan Parker; “An Apology for Roger Ebert” by Brian Moriarty

Week 6—Serious Games

Week 7—Gender and Gaming Pt. 1

  • Tuesday-“Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis” by Helen Kennedy; “Take That, Bitches!” Refiguring Lara Croft in Feminist Game Narratives” by Esther MacCallum Stewart
  • Thursday-“A Conspiracy of Fishes, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying about GamerGate and Embrace Hegemonic Masculinity by Adrienne Shaw and Shira Chess; “Anger, Fear, and Games: The long event of# GamerGate” by Torill Elvira Mortenson; Play Gamer Girl*(

Week 8—Gender and Gaming Pt. 2

Week 9—Race and Gaming

  • Tuesday-‘‘When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong’’: Resident Evil 5, Racial Representation, and Gamers by André Brock; Play Hair Nah (; Play SweetXheart(; Play Everyday Racism (Available on iOS and Android)
  • Thursday-“Representing Race and Disability: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as a Whole Text” by Richael Hutchinson; “Blackless Fantasy: The disappearance of race in massively multiplayer online role-playing games” by Tanner Higgin

Week 10—E-Sports

  • Tuesday-“Computer Games as Professional Sport” in Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming by T.L. Taylor
  • Thursday-“Growing an Industry” in Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming by T.L. Taylor; Watch Free to Play ( )

Week 11—Virtual Worlds

  • Tuesday-“Method” in Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff; “Personhood” in Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff
  • Thursday-“Virtual Worlds as Comparative Law” by James Grimmelman; “Is This Man Cheating on His Wife” by Alexandra Alter; The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer” by Julian Dibbell

Week 12—Militarization and Violence

  • Tuesday-“Have You Played the War on Terror?” By Roger Stahl; “Digitized Virtuosity: Video War Games and Post-9/11 Cyber-Deterrence” by Marcus Power
  • Thursday-The Rise (and Refinement) of Moral Panic by Nicholas D. Bowman in The Video Game debate Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Digital Games; “Revisiting Violent Videogames Research: Game Studies Perspectives on Aggression, Violence, Immersion, Interaction, and Textual Analysis” by Kyle Kontour

Week 13—Gamification and Addiction

  • Tuesday-“Gamification and Post-Fordist Capitalism” in Gameful World by PJ Rey; “Gamification is Bullshit” in Gameful World by Ian Bogost
  • Thursday-“Gaming (Ad)diction: Discourse, Identity, Time and Play in the Production of the Gamer Addiction Myth” by Rob Cover; Watch “Rehab for Korea’s Gaming Addicts” ( )

Week 14—Final Papers

  • Tuesday-No Class/Work on Final Papers
  • Thursday-No Class Work on Final Papers

Week 15—Final Papers

  • Tuesday-No Class/Work on Final Papers
  • Thursday-No Class/Work on Final Papers

Final Papers Due at Exam Time