Course Syllabus


Convergence Center 327


Section 1: 1:00 – 2:00 MWF

Section 2: 2:00 -  3:00 MWF


Dr. Zach Whalen


Office: Combs 308, MWF 10-12 or by appointment





From Solitaire to Skyrim, videogames are all around else, creating common experiences that we can share and learn from. Videogames are also part of a larger ecology of media woven into a tapestry of cultural values including identity, equality, freedom. As videogames are products of a culture with these and other values, videogames in turn, reflections of those values as well as vehicles for motivating change.

This class, “Games and Culture”, is an investigation of these cultures and conversations. In the weeks that follow, we’ll play some videogames, read about their history and the ways they come to portray cultural values, and engage with some critical and creative works in other media that reflect on videogames in interesting ways.


This course meets the general education requirement, “Arts, Literature and Performance: Process,” which means that successful students will accomplish the following broad outcomes:

  • Explore and explain different, divergent, or contradictory perspectives and incorporate the results into one’s understanding of creative work.
  • Evaluate creative processes and products, using appropriate criteria.

For this class in particular, the perspectives we’re interested in are those that inform and produce videogames and videogame culture. The processes and products under consideration are videogames. And since this is also technically an English class, you might say our approach is going to treat videogames like literary texts.

  • Explore the processes of cultural value within videogames -- including issues of gender, race, sexuality, class, labor and neurological diversity -- and the ways by which games contain, demonstrate or encourage action in relation to those concepts.
  • Understand a history of games as both products and producers of culture.


Most of the readings and games for this class will be freely available online, but you'll need to purchase or have ready access to the following two books:

  • Fernández-Vara, Clara. 2014. Introduction to Game Analysis. 1 edition. New York: Routledge.
  • Flanagan, Mary, and Helen Nissenbaum. 2014. Values at Play in Digital Games. 1 edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

You'll also need to purchase Gone Home, which is available for PCs, Macs, or Linux. Sharing with another student is fine, so long as each of you play through the game in its entirety.

Other game purchases may be required, but these will be minimal -- no more than an additional $20 total.

Finally, this class will require you to watch a few films. In each case, I'll organize an on-campus screening which you should attend unless you make other plans to watch the film on your own.

Assignments and Grading

Midterm Exam (20%)

An essay exam, drawn from the material covered in the first half of the semester. This will be mostly (or all) essay or short answer questions.

Final Project (20%)

A project of your own design that says something meaningful about games, culture, or game culture. You may work in groups or individually.

Community (30%)

Working in "Community Groups", rotate twice through three, two-week tasks: article writing, response writing, and synthesizing.

Participation (10%)

Contribute to the community of the class both in-person and online. A basic condition of participation is your consistent presence in class; missing more than 3 days of class will affect your participation grade. Missing more than 6 classes will affect your final grade.

Quizzes, Homework and other Minor Assignments (10%)

Semi-regular, somewhat spontaneous. As-needed to reinforce or scaffold broader class goals.

A Note on Feedback

Wherever possible, assignments will include detailed rubrics articulating my specific expectations and describing levels of achievement for those expectations. This rubric is the primary means by which you will receive feedback on your work after you've submitted. I will provide more detailed, content-intensive feedback in personal conferences before an assignment is due, so please schedule an appointment with me or drop by open office hours. 

Grade Scale








An A grade is reserved for work that is truly exceptional. Besides meeting the minimum requirements and surpassing the basic goals for the assignment, this work is expressed with a particular elegance, insight or skill that creates something original and compelling.



< 94%




< 90%




< 87%

Work that has completed all minimum requirements for an assignment, that demonstrates a good understanding of the assigned tasks or concepts, and that in some way exceeds or surpasses the basic goals for the assignment shall receive a B.



< 84%




< 80%




< 77%

Work that has completed the minimum requirements for an assignment and that demonstrates a basic understanding of the task’s conceptual goals or the content’s generic context shall receive a C.



< 74%




< 70%




< 67%

Work that is missing required elements, that fails to demonstrate competency with the content or the assigned tasks, or that is incoherent or poorly organized shall receive a grade of D.



< 61%

Work that is substantively incomplete, incoherent, or that demonstrates little to no competency with the assigned tasks or material shall receive a grade of F.

Policies and Expectations



This class will make use of several channels for online communication. The blog at  is the public-facing site that includes all information about assignments and links to this document or appropriate pages in Canvas when appropriate. It is also the platform via which we will share our insights and discoveries with the wider world of people interested in video games. The blog is publicly accessible, but commenters must be approved before they can post. Your primary activities on the blog will be writing blog entries and posting comments. Each group will rotate through two-week periods of primary responsibility for these tasks, but all students are encouraged to post to the blog or comment whenever they feel like it.


Our site in Canvas is where you’ll submit your work and access your grades. It will also host quizzes and the midterm exam. I will use Canvas’s announcement feature to communicate with the whole class, so make sure your Canvas profile settings are configured to send notifications of new announcements immediately.

Twitter, Tumblr, Etc.

You are encouraged to use Twitter, Tumblr and other social sites for extending and enlarging the conversation of this class. Use the hashtag “#gamecult” wherever possible to, for example, tweet an interesting insight from class discussion, a provocative quote from a reading, or a significant achievement in an assigned game. Use Twitter as a backchannel during class or film screenings to document and comment on what’s going on. User Tumblr to curate (reblog) interesting content related to game culture. Again, use the “#gamecult” tag whenever something is relevant to the class.

Both Twitter and Tumblr are, of course, third-party social media sites, and as such, you should think carefully about your privacy and your audiences. You’ll need a non-private Twitter account, for example, to join the hashtag conversation, so you may want to create a new account for the purposes of this class.


Since participation is a major part of this class, your presence is required. I expect you to be in class every time we meet. I will, therefore, keep a record of who is present and who is absent. If you are more than 30 minutes late to class, I will consider you absent. I will also consider you absent if you are physically present but spend most of your time in class doing something besides participating in whatever activities are going on (for example, you’re absorbed in a facebook chat or are studying for another class).

I understand that there are legitimate reasons for not coming to class -- sports events, illness, family activity, travel. All are valid reasons not to be here. There is, however, no such thing as an “excused” absence. An absence is an absence. However, if you know ahead of time that you will miss class when an assignment is due, let me know so we can make alternative arrangements for you to do what you need to.

Accumulating 4 or more absences will reduce your participation grade by one half. (This is basically equivalent to a full letter in your final grade.) 7 or more absences will result in a two-letter grade penalty.

Use of Computing Devices in Class

This class is about videogames, many of which are played on computers. This is one reason why we're meeting in ITCC 327, which has some nice computing capabilities. You are welcome to use these computers during class, and you are also welcome to bring your own computing device with you. I simply ask you to be responsible with your computer use. Appropriate uses may include taking notes, playing games (if directed), reviewing reading material, or participating in backchannel activities such as Twitter.

If, however, what you’re doing is a distraction to me or others, I may ask you to stop. I may even count you absent for the day. If problems and distractions are pervasive, I may modify this computer use policy for the whole class.

Status of Student Work

Much of the work for this class will be created online and shared with a public audience. The only exception will be quizzes and the midterm exam. All grades will be in Canvas, only accessible by you and me.

Academic Dishonesty

The UMW Honor System is in effect for our course. I may authorize specific assignments as collaborative work, but all other work must be your own, as per Article 1, Sections 1 and 2 of the University of Mary Washington Student Honor Code. Academic dishonesty typically boils down to taking credit for someone else’s work. Whether you’ve done so accidentally or maliciously, it’s still an honor violation. Some examples include:

  • Including a quote in a blog post without identifying the source of that quote

  • Using an image in a blog post without permission from its copyright holder

  • Asking another student to “edit” your paper for you

  • Creating a blog entry or essay that is mostly quotes, even properly attributed quotes

Disability Resources

The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you already receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, get in touch with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Please bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not contacted the Office of Disability Services and need accommodations, (note taking assistance, extended time for tests, etc.), I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability. Their phone number is 540-654-1266.

Tentative Schedule

A detailed, day-to-day calendar of assigned readings, homework, and other activity will be available via the course website and a Google calendar. Broadly, we'll proceed through four "units" of content:

1. Game Analysis Methodology

2. Game History

3. Game Values

4. Game Design

Course Summary:

Date Details Due