New class caters to video game enthusiasts
Room 439 in LSC Thursday afternoon was filled with boys singing Disney princess songs while wearing tiaras and girls slaying orcs protecting castles. Shouts were heard throughout the room including “All I want is a steady boyfriend!” and “As long as we agree I’m a princess.” These passionate exclamations and strange behavior would appear to be completely inappropriate in a classroom setting, but these actions perfectly highlighted the goal of the class taking place.
Students in Video Game Culture & Women, or Communication 484, spent a majority of their class Thursday playing board games. The games, intended for young children between the ages of four and 10, introduced the class topic of theoretical aspects of “play.”
“The whole class is about video games. This takes the video aspect away and you have to think about what a game is,” Howard Fisher, PhD., said.
Fisher, a professor in the communication department, developed the class as a communication special topic course this semester. Fisher wrote his dissertation on women in video game magazines. He described the degradation of women in the gaming community, and thought it was an interesting and valuable idea to explore. Fisher took his knowledge from that experience and a video game class he took in graduate school, along with his own love of video games, as a starting point for developing the class.
During the class on Thursday, students were split up into four teams of three or four people each and had to choose a board game from a selection of games for young children. After playing the games, the class came together to discuss the implications and the impression they leave on young children about gender roles.
“Mall Maddness” is a talking board game intended for children nine years of age and older. The game is set in a mall and the object of the game is to be the first player to buy everything on the individual character’s shopping list. There are a few male characters in the game; however, the name and design of the game is directed more toward young girls rather than boys. Each character has his or her own personality, which influences the individual shopping list.
Students spoke in the class discussion about the distinction between items boys could buy and girls could buy. Each characterization of the player also played into the gender stereotypes. The female characters wanted to buy pretty “girly” things and only enjoyed shopping while the male characters were interested in science and skateboarding.
“Pretty Pretty Princess” is a game for children ages five and older. The object of the game is to collect a complete set of jewelry while being in possession of the crown, which is stolen off the heads of various players each turn.
Students discussed the aggressive nature of the game, while many females in the class described playing the game as a child and crying or seeing another girl cry because her crown was taken away.
“Barbie Queen of the Prom” is a game made in 1961 for children ages five and older. The object of the game is to become prom queen, and the only way to make it to prom is to have a dress, be a club president and have a steady boyfriend.
The last game sparked an interesting debate on sexism and the role of women.
“The whole object of the game is so demeaning; if you don’t have a formal dress, a steady boyfriend, and you’re not club president, you’re not cool,” senior Kim Pereira said.
In a change of pace, “Castle Panic” was the only game played intended for young boys. The object of the game is to protect the castle from the orcs trying to destroy it. The players had to work as a team to protect the castle by building walls and using other resources provided to protect the castle.
In the class discussion, students spoke about the implications of the fact that the castle game intended for young boys was based in a fantasy world while most of the games for girls were based in reality and the implications of that.
That train of thought sparked a discussion on the stereotypes of women vs. men and who should be allowed to play what, which brought up the topic of marketing. Students pointed out the different branding on the boxes and how the colors and images influence the choices of young girls or boys buying a board game. Students discussed the cultural norms and how it is more socially acceptable for girls to choose to do “boy” things or play “boy” games and how it is not nearly as acceptable of the reverse.
The topic of gender roles is a major element of the class. The class has three components: the history of video games, video game theory, and the relationship between women and video games. The class is currently wrapping up video game theory and moving into women and video games, which was partially the reason for the unusual in-class assignment.
The class explores the medium of video games. Fisher says the class attempts to discover what kind of messages video game companies want to portray to people, how they do it and its effectiveness. Fisher says he developed the course in hopes of getting students to think analytically about video games, what they mean in today’s culture and how they influence people.
“We spend so much time taking in the content [of video games] without thinking critically about it,” Fisher said.
Since it is a video game class, students are expected to play at least 15 hours of a video game chosen from a selection of approved games. After their time the game, students are expected to write a six-page paper analyzing the game from a “historical, cultural and gender studies perspective.”
Students were interested in this class for a variety of reasons.
“I thought it would be fascinating to see how a class involving the culture of video gaming and women would add up in class [that is] predominantly male,” first-year Tarajee Karriem said.
Fisher explained that studying video games involves dealing with heavy theoretical concepts. Some of the topics brought up in class discussion throughout the semester include the culture of video games, what it means to be a gamer, who can be classified as a gamer, what different degrees of gamers there are, and so on. Topics then get into men’s games vs. women’s games, the separation and the representation of the opposite gender.
“I really enjoyed all our discussions about how video games have become a mainstream thing in today’s society and how it’s pretty much going to affect everyone in the near future,” senior Kantapol Sitthipanya said.
Fisher hopes to eventually make the course a permanent elective.
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