Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Experimental Game Design

UM LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DEPARTMENT Institute of Digital Games

DESCRIPTION This unit addresses the relationship between social life and a particular kind of technology: games (both in their digital and in their analog constitution).

Games, like all other technologies (such as languages or forms of social organization) do not exist in a vacuum, but by definition involve people, beliefs, materials, traditions, as well as other technologies. All technologies are characterized by the quality that the philosophers of technology call ‘multistability’.

For a technology to be multistable means that it is possible to be repurposed and used in unanticipated ways, and can always acquire new meanings, functions, and effects within a social context (see Ihde 1990).

The indeterminacy of games as technologies makes determining the social and political roles of games (as well as their social meaning) a difficult task. This unit will provide the students with tools to leverage the utopian value of playing games, and to recognize ideologies and the values that playful interactions more or less explicitly communicate. Also, it will challenge the students to use the counter-ideological tools of critical making and critical design to put the social messages of a game into question, and even fix them or subvert them.

Study-Unit Aims:

The unit aims to:

- Challenge students to become sharper critical thinkers in a general sense;
- Guide students in becoming capable to identify and deconstruct ideologies in mediated content and particularly so in interactive media content;
- Provide students with the opportunity to refine the ways in which they express themselves through game design and game design interventions;
- Expose students to ways in which design decisions can be expressed in clear and competent fashion (and particularly so in relation to design decisions and solutions that are socially relevant);
- In short: understand and leverage the practice of game design in ways that do not simply take player satisfaction and commercial revenues into account, but that fully embrace the social relevance and the social potential of the craft.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- familiarize with the notion of ideology and its surrounding discourse (and theoretical perspectives);
- distinguish normative and descriptive statements (and reflect on 'normalization');
- absorb the notions of critical making & critical design;
- refine the understanding and the applicability of the notions of utopia and dystopia.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- apply critical thinking to the understanding of technology;
- apply critical thinking to the understanding of interactive, mediated content in particular;
- identify ideologies materially inscribed in mediated contents and in their modes of use;
- produce game designs and game design solution that are explicitly meant to propose specific ideas on social-life or to counter specific ideas on social-life and its meaning;
- articulate their analyses with clear language and (wherever necessary) academic rigor;
- explain and justify their design choices with a professional and precise use of language.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Gualeni, S. 2020 (forthcoming). “(Science-) Fictional Games and Utopia: the Case of Azad.”
- Pedercini, P. 2014. “Videogames and the Spirit of Capitalism”. Blogpost published on February the 14th, 2014 and available online at:
- "Helmuth Plessner and Virtual Worlds as Existential Complements", in Gualeni, S. & Vella, D. 2020. Virtual Existentialism: Meaning and Subjectivity in Virtual Worlds. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
- "Peter W. Zapffe and the Virtual Tragic", in Gualeni, S. & Vella, D. 2020. Virtual Existentialism: Meaning and Subjectivity in Virtual Worlds. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Supplementary Readings:

- Ratto, M. 2011. “Critical making: Conceptual and material studies in technology and social life”. In The Information Society, 27 (4), 252-260.
- Bogost, I. 2007. Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.
- Friedman, T. 1999. “Civilization and its discontents: Simulation, subjectivity, and space”. On a silver platter: CD-ROMs and the promises of a new technology, 132-150.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Indep Onl Learn, Indep Stud, Lect, Project & Semi

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Classwork SEM2 No 15%
Essay SEM2 Yes 20%
Practical SEM2 Yes 30%
Long Essay SEM2 Yes 35%

LECTURER/S Stefano Gualeni


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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.