Yesterday, I had the first meeting of the class I am absolutely the most excited about taking this quarter, The Aesthetics of Video Gaming. I thought some people might find the class – which is concerned with assessing video games as a form of new media, and exploring the ways in which it functions like other forms of media, and how it differentiates itself from these previous forms – interesting, and might want to read about my experiences.
The goal of this blog, then, is to relay a few things: primarily, I want to pass on some of the knowledge (admittedly secondhand) I glean from the readings and the class; secondarily, I want to give personal responses to the readings to the readings and other activities we do in the class; also, I want to give a reaction to the class itself – what I liked, what I think could be improved, and what I think is challenging about teaching the class. The blog won't have a specific schedule, but it will update at least twice a week (class meets on Monday and Wednesday). I haven't yet decided exactly how I'm going to format these updates, but for right now it seems I will be updating with reactions to the previous class and reactions to the reading for the next class in the same update. This entry will test that format.
The first class was, as most first classes are, little beyond an introduction and deciding the mechanics of the class. However, a few things did become apparent. One, is that the teacher is not a gamer. He acknowledged this, and also acknowledged that he has little experience beyond playing in high school, though he is trying to remedy that. He is a media critic, though, and this, I feel, qualifies him in two important ways. For one, he has experience that, although not game-specific, is certainly applicable to games in general. Secondly, I think being removed from the “gamer culture” allows for a certain degree of objectivity – he doesn't have a bias to declare games art, though that is a topic we will discuss, or to hold them up as the pinnacle of storytelling, and so I am hoping this ability to be objective reflects itself in the way the readings are interpreted.
I haven't yet decided whether it is his lack of gaming history or simply a dearth of academic literature on video games which have influenced his decisions as to what games we will be most closely studying. The choice for many of the older games we will be playing is fantastic – Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Adventure, Ultima IV, Zork, Wolfenstein, Doom, among others – the more contemporary games seem to be a bit lacking. For example, the final four games we will be analyzing are GTA III (and, tangentially, the evolution of the GTA series since), America's Army, Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition (specifically for the Wii), and Final Fantasy X. Now, I can see the argument made for each of these games to be included on the list. I must admit I originally scoffed at Tomb Raider, but on further reflection, it does well to bring up issues of gender, especially in that a mostly male audience controls a female character, essentially assuming her identity. The one that irks me most at this point is Final Fantasy X, a game I found so boring that I played it for an hour and a half before turning it off and selling it (a friend had already spoiled almost the entire plot for me, anyway). But that was years ago, maybe I'll have a different reaction to it this time around.
There is also a list of games each student must buy; it's only 3 games, and they're all somewhat old and rather inexpensive, and they all are to be played on the computer. They are Max Payne, World of Warcraft, and The Sims. I've played all but World of Warcraft, and that is the game I am most conflicted about playing, partly because I still don't know how much I like the idea of a game that can only be played online, and also because I had a tendency (though it hasn't happened in a few years) to get really addicted to games, and I've seen for myself what a dark road WoW can be.
If any of you would like to join me in my n00btastic voyage in WoW, by the way, my username there is the same as it is on dtoid – russiaishere. Bonus points for any readers who can accurately cite what my name references. Protip It's not a video game.
It is of note, by the way, that the class has, at its disposal, a Wii, an Xbox 360, and a PlayStation 3, though the PS3 will be used only to play PS2 games.
I'll probably update later tonight (much later) with reactions to the readings. If not, expect one tomorrow.