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Syllabus for Graduate Seminar on Socially Conscious Video Games
[ver 1.5]

University of Denver
School of Art & Art History
Electronic Media Arts & Design
Rafael A. Fajardo
Winter 2005

Rafael Fajardo [version 1.5 list]
Miguel Angel Tarango [comments and additions]
Kelly Monico [comments and additions]
Jennifer Kiesel [comments and additions]
Matthew Benjamin Jenkins [comments and additions]



When I sat down to imagine this seminar and to collect a bibliography I realized that their exists no single text or work that addresses the idea of the "Socially Conscious Video Game". This is both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is the discovery of a void in the scholarship that may be filled by some of the activites that we will pursue in this course. The challenge is to glean from a wide range of texts and media that which may or may not be productive in the creation of a scholarship of this kind.

The challenge is aggravated by the nascent stage of digital video game scholarship. The frameworks for critique and critical language are evolving at this very moment. The canon of games cannot really be said to exist. This class and this document are an early attempt at creating a framework.

The need to range widely in search of models and sources encourages a rhizomic approach. We can, and should, behave opportunistically, seeking models in both likely and unlikely places.


Our goal is to weave the varied threads we will explore into a kind of tapestry. What you will find below is a large swath that I have already explored. Some of these threads I have categorized in a way that makes sense to me. It is your responsibility to either adopt and adapt my categories, or to critique them and create your own. It is like wise your responsibility to expand the scope of the search and add to the collection of links and resources presented here. A modest goal is for each one of you to add twenty new links by the end of the quarter. We can debate the merits of the new links in the classroom.

Categorization has its inherent limitations, but it has the advantage of forcing us to attempt to appropriate and organize the knowledge in ways that are knowable, to ourselves and to others.

We should parse and define the phrase "socially conscious video games" so that we have some kind of common frame of reference that is also shareable. Is there actually a differentiation to be made? Are all games in some way "conscious" of the social contexts within which they exist? Is it productive to differentiate between electronic video games and analog games?


Games are fun, and are seen as the domain of children or the idle time of adults. They are trivial things.

Scientists and mathematicians have a wonderful term of art used to distinguish between things that are insignificant and those that are significant. When a procedure or problem requires brain work it is called “non-trivial”. Games haven’t been given much thought in academia until recently. Games are fun, and fun cannot be taken as the object of serious consideration. There is a flaw in the logic that deprecates a serious look at games. Non-trivial amounts of time are spent playing and witnessing games. This time is spent by non-trivial quantities of people. These people help generate non-trivial amounts of revenue for an industry. Each one of these dynamic situations merit attention.

Mysterious things happen when we engage in game play. Joy, exercises in creative imagination, competitive stress, and fear are a small sampling of the range of emotions that we experience in the midst of play. Artists and designers strive to engage and cause similar states in their viewers and users. The methods of game design can be useful to digital media artists.


Market forces have predominated in the creative practices. The complexity of the practice has, to date, precluded attempts at exploring non-commercial efforts. Still, our understanding of the expressive potential of the medium is in its infancy. The medium, the form, is so very compelling as to have attracted a few practicioners who are attempting to work through — and in spite of — the market challenges. There is not yet a coherent community nor forum for these efforts. The search for socially conscious video game practices forces us to look far and wide among diverse sources, and, too, forces us to make synthetic connections among these resouces.

Brenda Laurel has attempted through research and through capitalism to open a space for new, female, voices and audiences within the video game milieu. It can be argued that Will Wright's work with The Sims, and with his entire opus, treat social organization and value systems. It can also be argued that the work of the Miller brothers, Rand and Robyn, critique the tone and emotional depth of all video games that came before them. Wright and the Miller brothers have also managed to achieve market success. These practitioners have worked within market imperatives.

There are those who also have chosen to work on an artistic plane, privileging either art or criticism, or art as criticism. I say privileging because these practitioners do not completely reject a marketplace for their output. Practitioners in this vein include:

There are also a group of practitioners who we might call accidental artists, they don't consider themselves to be practicing in art ways, but the community of artists and curators have adopted them.


Space War, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Tetris, Battle Zone, Mortal Kombat, etc. at the Killer List Of Video Games [web]
PBS: The Video Game Revolution, The History of Video Gaming [timeline]
The Dot Eaters: Video Game History 101 [web]
Giant List of Classic Game Programmers [web]
The Institute For Play [web]
Sutton-Smith, Brian. "Play and Ambiguity". The Ambiguity of Play. Harvard. 1997. isbn 0674017331. pp 1-17. []
Carse, James. "One: There Are At Least Two Kinds Of Games". Infinite and Finite Games. Ballantine Books. 1986. isbn 0345341488. pp 1-42. []
Helfand, Jessica. "Teasing The Nerves: The Art of technological persuasion". Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture. Princeton Architectural Press. 2001. 1568983204. pp 28-33. [excerpts]
Kane, Pat. Play Journal. [blog]
Crawford, Chris. The Art of Computer Game Design. [web]
Zimmerman, Eric. "The Rules of the Game". If/Then 1.0: Play. Netherlands Design Institute. 1999. []
Zimmerman & Lantz. "Checkmate: Rules, Play and Culture". Merge Magazine. Number 5. 1999. issn 14026570. pp 41-43. [web]
Porter, Jenelle. "Eric Zimmerman Interviewed". Artists Space Newsletter. Fall 1999. [essay]
Ringen, Jonathan. "Game Boys". Metropolis Magazine. July 2001. [essay]
Frasca, Gonzalo. "Rethinking Agency and Immersion: videogames as a means of consciousness-raising". [download PDF]
McAllister, Ken. Game Work: Language, Power, And Computer Game Culture. University of Alabama Press. January 2005. isbn 0817314180. [] [Learning Games Initiative]
Johnson, Steven. "Infinity Imagined". Interface Culture: how technology transforms the way we create and communicate. Harper Edge. 1997. isbn. 0062514822. pp 206-242. [] [excerpt]
Salen, Katie. Curatorial Statement for "Transforming Play: Family Albums and Monster Movies". Walker Art Center. October 19, 2002. [essay]
Baigorri, Laura. "Game As Critic As Art ver 2.0". available at [essay in Spanish] [web]
Bittanti, Matteo. "Make Better Criticism: A mature form of cultural analysis". Proceedings of IGDA 2004 conference. [download PDF]
Buzzcut: Game Criticism by Dave Thomas [blog]
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Harper Perennial. 1994. [especially chaps 1 & 2 for our purposes]
Marcus, Greil. "Van Morrison". Rolling Stone's Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Random House. 1976. isbn 0394739388. pp 320-323.
Salen, Katie. Rules of Play. MIT. 2003. [excerpts]
Miller, Laura. "Mystic Simulacrum". May 29, 2001. [essay]
"Real Life: The Full Review". [satirical essay]
Rossignol, Jim. "All About Eve". PC Gamer. October 2004. pp 136-143.
Gillen, Kieron. "The New Games Journalism".
Shanahan, Ian (aka Always_Black). "Bow Nigger".
Killing Monsters: Why children need fantasy, super heroes, and make-believe violence. []
Leonard, Andrew. "Screenage Wasteland?". December 05, 2002. [essay]
Markle Foundation studies on Interactive Media for Children
[study highlights]
[study report archive]
Wartella, Ellen, et al. Children and Interactive Media - Research Compendium Update. Markle Foundation. November, 2002. [download PDF 292K]
Carey, George. An Environmental Scan of Children's Interactive Media from 2000-2002. Markle Foundation. June 3, 2002. [download PDF 102K]
Kleeman, David. One Mission Many Screens - A PBS/Markle Foundation Study on Distinctive Roles for Children's Public Service Media In the Digital Age: Executive Summary Markle Foundation. April 17, 2002. [download PDF 40K]
Wartella, Ellen, et al. Children and Interactive Media - A compendium of current research and directions for the future. Markle Foundation. May, 2000. [download compendium PDF 740K]
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
Rideout, Victoria, et al. Zero to Six: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Kaiser Family Foundation. October 2003. Publication number: 3378. [download PDF]
Roberts, Donald. Kids & Media @ The New Millenium: A comprehensive national analysis of children’s media use. Kaiser Family Foundation. November 1999. Publication number 1535. [download PDF]
Key Facts: Children and Video Games. Kaiser Family Foundation. October 2002. Publication number 3271. [download PDF]
Pew Internet & American Life Project
Jones, Steve. Let the games begin: Gaming technology and entertainment among college students. Pew Internet. July 2003. [download PDF]
UK Children Go Online [web]
Brown, Janelle. "The Sims in the hands of an angry god". February 17, 2000. [essay]
Sieberg, Daniel. "The World according to Will". February 17, 2000. [essay]
Johnson, Steven. "Re: Will Wright". September 14, 2000. [intro] [essay]
Johnson, Steven. "Video Games 2001: Guinea Pig of Death". February 2001. [essay]
Schactman, Noah. "From Sims to Slammin' Steel". February 2, 2002. [essay]
Nick Jr™ and Humongous Entertainment (now part of Atari)
Figgins, Stephen. "Humongous Python: Humongous Entertainment adopts Python for game scripting". O'Reilly. November 7, 2002. [essay]
DeMaria, Russell. "An interview with Ron Gilbert of Humongous entertainment". [web]
Blues Clues™
Spy Fox™
Backyard sports series
Brown, Janelle. "Girl Gamers: Sugar, Spice, Everything Profitable?". November 19, 1996. [essay]
Brown, Janelle. "All-Girl Quake Clans Shake Up Boys’ World". February 5, 1997. [essay]
Alderman, John. "Girl Games Leaps From CD To AM". April 5, 1997. [essay]
Brown, Janelle. "Women Proto-Programmers Get Their Just Reward". May 8, 1997. [essay]
Brown, Janelle. "Joystick Nation Faces Gender Divide". June 9, 1997. [essay]
Brown, Janelle. "GameGirlz Turns Industry On To Game Girls. November 11, 1997. [essay]
Weil, Elizabeth. "The Girl-Game Jinx". December 10, 1997. [essay]
Brown, Janelle. "Girl Jocks Take On Digital Hoops" February 18, 1998. [essay]
Reuters News Service. "Adult Women Like to Play Games". Aug 27, 2003. [essay]
Brown, Janelle. "Girl Game Pioneer Purple Moon Shuts Down". February 22, 1999. [essay]
Laurel, Brenda. "Just One of the Girls". Signum Press. Volume 5 Number 4 Issue 6. December 7, 2000. [essay]
PBS: The Video Game Revolution:: "Solving The Mystery of the Missing Girl Games". [essay]
PBS: The Video Game Revolution:: "What Women Want". [essay]
Laurel, Brenda. Utopian Entreprenuer. MIT Press. 2001. isbn 0262621533.[MIT Press]
Kassel, Justine, ed. From Barbie To Mortal Kombat: Gender and Video games. MIT Press. 1998. isbn 0262531682. [MIT Press] [excerpt]
Hafner, Katie. "What Do Women Game Designers Want?". October 14, 2004. [essay] [web]
Game+Girl+Advance: blog that brings alternative perspectives to videogame culture [blog]
Women In Technology International [web]
Pobgadget, womyn, grrlz and gadgets [blog] [web] [web]
Hidden Agenda by Jim Gasperini [the original game]
Interview with Jim Gasperini about making Hidden Agenda [essay]
Tropical America by Onramp Arts [play the game]
Ruth Catlow: Activate 3 (from Rethinking Wargames) [game]
Maria Sisters by Global Arcade [game]
Vagamundo by Ricardo Miranda Zuniga [game]
Delete.TV :: hacktivism by Fran Ilich, check out “Beaner” [game]
Escape From Woomera [web]
9-11 Survivor [screen grabs]
Waco Ressurection by C-Level [web]
PacManHattan [web]
®™ark: playful, challenging, transgressive art collective [web]
Select Parks: blog and catalogue of games by artists [web]
JFK reloaded [web]
Mary Flanagan, game artist and critic [web]
Banja, winner of 2003 Golden Nica at Ars Electronica [game]
Slow Death: a project by John Gerrard [web]
Under Ash and Under Siege by Afkar games [web]
World Trade Organization Loteria [web]
Velvet Strike by Anne Marie Schleiner [web]
September 12th & Madrid by Gonzalo Frasca and Newsgaming [games]
Social Impact Games :: a compendium collected by Marc Prensky [web]
Water Cooler Games :: games that will have 'em talking [web]
King, Brad. "Make Love Not War Games". June 8, 2002. [essay]
Anne-Marie Schleiner at the Digital Hub [review]
Frasca, Gonzalo. "Videogames of the oppressed: Videogames as a means for critical thinking and debate." Master's Thesis, Georgia Tech University. [download PDF]
Au, Wagner James. " Burn down the shopping malls". February 22, 2002. [essay]
and of course Crosser & La Migra [SWEAT]
Near Life's Robot Garage
Near Life corporate site
Persuasive Games
Whuffie [WikiPedia]
Masum, Hassan and Yi-Cheng Zhang. "Manifesto for the Reputation Society". September 2004. [essay] :: peer reviewed journal on the internet [web]
Masum, Hassan and Yi-Cheng Zhang. The Reputation Society. [forthcoming book]
Kane, Pat. On a reputation society. [blog]
Touch Sensitive LCD displays
Zimmerman, Eric. "Creating A Culture OF Design Research". Design Research. MIT Press. 2003. [essay]
Zimmerman, Eric. "Play As Research". Design Research. MIT Press. 2003. [essay]
PowerGrid Fitness: Build muscle and get in shape while playing video games
Au, Wagner James. "Playing Games With Free Speech". May 6, 2002. [essay]
Hafner, Katie. "On video games, the jury is out and confused" New York Times. June 5, 2003.
Goode, Erica. "With Video Games, Researchers Link Guns to Stereotypes". New York Times. December 10, 2002.
Pesce, Mark. "The Trigger Principle". 2000.
Boal, Mark. "The Shooters and the Shrinks". May 6, 1999. [essay]
Au, Wagner James. "Quake, Doom and blood lust". May 12 1999. [essay]
Costikyan, Greg. "Games don't kill people -- do they?". June 21, 1999. [essay]
Media and the Family [web]
Grossman, Lt Col Dave. Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill : A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence. Crown. 1999. []
Rules of Play
COM 3344 : Games for the web : Reading list
concepts in gaming - hunter college
Game Design 2004: Course Overview
reviews and interviews McKenzie Wark's review of Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals
Leonardo Digital Reviews - Videogame Theory
Playtesting - Peter Bayliss: Aki Jarvinen's Review of Salen's and Zimmermann's "Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals".
What is Avant Gaming?
Redefining Games: How Academia Is Reshaping Games of the Future
WIRED coverage of Game Issues That Matter
Wired News: The best games you haven't played
Wired News: Joystick
Wired News: Play Games, Be Better Students?
Wired News: Playing Games With a Conscience
Wired News: Bots Open Door to Gaming History
Wired News: Adult Women Like to Play Games
Wired News: Taking on Lara Croft
Wired News: Educators Turn to Games for Help
Wired News: Indies Show They've Got Game
Wired News: Who Says Science Can't Be Fun?
Wired News: But Serially, a Game in Episodes?
Wired News: Games Started Off Without a Bang
Wired News: Art? Only Shadows Know for Sure
Wired News: Milk the Cow, and Udder Fun Games
Wired News: Games Elevate Hate to Next Level
Wired News: It's Almost as Big as U.S. v. MS
Wired News: No Time for Conspiracy Games
Wired News: Gamers Score at Arts Festival
Wired News: Recapturing Games' Classic Looks
Wired News: Once It Was Atari, Now It's Art
Wired News: Heavy Price For Free Speech
Wired News: Campus Life Comes To Second Life
Wired News: Ready To Delete The Border
Wired News: g.o.d Wants to Help Developers Help Themselves
Wired News: Las Vegas Police Take To the Arcade
Wired News: Gaming Greats' Greatest Flops
King, Brad. "Make Love Not War Games". June 8, 2002. [essay]
Scheeres, Julia. "Games Elevate Hate to Next Level". February 20, 2002. [essay]
Kettman, Steve. "gamers score at arts festival". september 7, 2001. [essay]
BBC News coverage of game issues that matter
BBC News: Game Plays Politics with your PC
BBC News: Games blur news and entertainment
BBC News: Online games play with politics
BBC News: Video games find their political voice
BBC News: Academics take on video games
BBC News: Girl gamers strike at the boys
PopGadget: Personal Tech for Women :: coverage of game issues that matter
Hello Kitty goes to war
Swedish Girls Of Gaming
Retro Flash gaming at Neave
Squeeze-me Biofeedback Toy
Galaxy Guys calendar
Scholarship for Women Game Developers
Tamagotchi, the prince and the pooper
The best price for Doom 3
More women are mobile gamers
No woman No geek, gender study
Human Joystick
Alderman, John. "Saving Pac Man For Posterity". May 22, 1997. [essay] : GB GBC GBA Roms Emulators
GBA Flash Advance Mac OS X Drivers Software
Game Developers Fora::
Joystick 101
GameDev South Africa
Mad Monkey: Indie Game Network
Independent Games Festival
GarageGames: game engines, game lessons
Fair Play Games: distributor of independent games
Serious Games initiative of the Woodrow Wilson Institute
Call for papers from 2003
Resource List
National Academies press release encouraging simulations: “Entertainment and Military Collaboration Can Reap Rewards for Both”
Kohler, Chris. Power+Up. Brady Games, Pearson Education. Indiana. 2005. isbn 0744004241.
Scholder, Amy & Zimmerman, Eric. Re:Play. Publishing Group Peter Lang. 2003. isbn 0-8204-7053-8 [book]
Killer Instinct exhibition at the Zenith Media Lounge of the New Museum [web]
Zenith Media Lounge list of game readings
Jones, Mark. "Char Davies: VR Through Osmosis". 2000.
Char Davies projects
Acker, Kathy. "After the end of the Art World". Art & Design Magazine. Number 45. Academy Group Ltd. London. 1995. issn 02673991. pp 7-9. [full text available on the Art Index]
Virilio, Paul. "Infowar (in conversation with Derrick De Kerchove)". Ars Electronica: Facing the Future. MIT. 1999. isbn 0262041766. pp 326-335.
Dorsey, David. "The Parable of Myst II". Fast Company. April 1996. Issue 2. Page 91.
Pawasarat, Catherine. "RE: Hideo Kojima". 2000.
Van de Walle, Mark. "Shenmue". December 8, 2000.
Hwang, Francis. "Video Games 2001: Cheatin' Art". 2001.
Hall, Justin. "Video Games 2001: Counter-Strike". 2001.
Au, Wagner James. "Video Games 2001: Familiar and Alien. 2001.
Steadman, Carl. "Video Games 2001: Star Trekking" 2001.
Johnson, Steven. "Video Games 2001: Stories on a Rail". 2001.
Hoffman, Donna. The Growing Digital Divide: Implications for an Open Research Agenda. Markle Foundation. July 1999. [report archive]
Mine Control Home Page
IC² Institute: Digital Media Collaboratory
Games-to-Teach Home Archived Site
The Education Arcade :: The Future of Videogames in Education
Educational Simulations Products
WDCF - Where Design Comes From
Archinect : Features : Front Design
Profanity Adventures
NEC ecotonoha
Infocom Classics
:...: AFTERLAB :...: beta version 002.04 :...:
Lego Logic Gates at Goldfish
Rock, Scissors, Paper
Harvest Moon SNES Console Game - Harvest Moon SNES ROM
Digital Games Research Association [DiGRA]
International Game Developers Association [IGDA]
Gammasutra: a nexus of information about game production
Ludology: Game theory, criticism and scholarship by Gonzalo Frasca
Colorado Game Developers Association: regional IGDA chapter
ExitArt: venue for fringe electronic and cultural art
TransformReality: Andy Clarke & Grethe Mitchell are writing a book on games and art
CoSign: Conferences on Computational Semiotics
ANOMOS: research, dissemination, and consulting for digital artists [France]
Ludologica: Italian publisher of video game scholarship
CHI Special areas: Games
CHI Papers
Melbourne Digital Arts and Culture conference: 2003 proceedings
PowerUp: Computer Games, Ideology & Play :: conference proceedings
Hidden Agenda: trick kids into learning through games
Char Davies projects
Dope Farmer,1284,46234,00.html
hooks, bell. Teaching To Transgress.
Laura Trippi at
Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy Of The Oppressed.
Center For Computer Games Research, IT University of Copenhagen
GameShow at MassMOCA
Herz, J.C. Joystick Nation.
Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy.
Kadrey, Richard. From Myst To Riven: The creations & inpirations. Hyperion. 1997.
Kushner, David. Masters of Doom: How two guys created and empire and transformed pop culture. Random House. 2003. isbn 0-8129-7215-5.

This is version 1.5 of this document copyrighted under a creative commons, non-commercial, share-alike, license, December 2004.