A staple of geek subculture for almost three decades,
role-playing games have taken on new life in the era of networked
computing. High-speed connections, sophisticated graphics and powerful
microprocessors have paved the way for massively multiplayer games
(MMO’s) such as Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and Second Life.
The popularity of these virtual environments
is staggering. At this very moment, more than 90,000 players
are interacting with one another
in Norrath -- the fictional world of Everquest. With game characters
and virtual objects fetching thousands of dollars on eBay, sweat
shops have been set up in developing nations to service this
micro-economy (Dibbell, 2003). According to one recent study, the
world of Everquest
is the 77th richest “nation” on the planet with a per-capita
GNP that outstrips China and India (Castranova, 2002).
It may seem far-fetched to apply economic
indicators to virtual worlds. However, a growing number of scholars
use social science research
methods to investigate MMO’s (Turkle, 1995; Yee, 2002; Schaap,
2002; Delwiche, 2003). Such theorists believe that these cultural
objects raise important questions about identity, community, and
the influence of technology in our daily lives.
Of course, MMO’s are a subset of a much larger videogame industry.
From home gaming consoles to arcade-based machines, gamers are confronted
with a staggering array of choices. As more individuals turn to interactive
media for entertainment, television and film audiences are dwindling.
In 1999, “total videogame software and hardware sales in the
U.S. reached $8.9 billion, versus $7.3 billion for movie box-office
receipts” (Poole, 2000, p. 6). Clearly, videogames are here
In this course, we will play, design, and critically analyze a variety
of videogames. We have three objectives:
- to explore themes of cyberculture studies through
sustained interaction with other residents of a virtual world
called Second Life
- to develop a critical vocabulary for analyzing all
types of videogames
- to experiment with mechanics of game design by creating
games that can be played by other residents of Second Life
The course is divided into four segments.
- Social dynamics of virtual game-worlds
- Fundamentals of game design
- Videogame aesthetics
- Social aspects of videogames
Prior technical experience is not required for this course.
Course requirements and materials
Readings will be drawn from the course packet
and one “textbook.”
- Communication 3344-2: Games for the web
- Lucien King (2002) Game on: The history and culture of video
New York: Rizzoli Press.
The course reader is available at the campus bookstore. You are responsible
for all assigned readings, even if they are not addressed during class.
Throughout the semester, we will spend a significant amount of time
in Second Life. This virtual world encompasses almost 1,000 acres
of land and contains more than 200,000 user-created objects. It is
an ideal location in which we can investigate themes in cyberculture
studies, and it offers powerful development tools for creating our
The creators of Second Life have generously agreed to provide us
with free accounts for the duration of the semester. A significant
amount of class time will be spent in the game-world, but you are
also expected to devote at least five hours a week to Second Life
outside of class. You are encouraged to play via the lab computers
when other classes are not using the facilities, and you may also
be able to install the game on your personal system.
In order to install the game on your home system, it must meet the
basic requirements listed below.
- Graphics Card: Nvidia Geforce 2 (32MB RAM) or higher, or ATI Radeon
8500 (32MB RAM) or higher
- Computer: 800MHZ or higher, 256MB RAM or more
- OS: Windows XP/2000
- Internet Connection: Broadband (DSL/Cable Modem/LAN)
- DirectX 8 or 9
If your computer is more than eighteen months old, your graphics
card will probably not be capable of rendering this three-dimensional
environment. If this is the case, you will have to access the game
via the lab machines.