Old Dominion University is not well known for any sort of video game centric curriculum. However, there a few select offerings that act as a crossroads between academia and gaming culture.
Gaming and Rhetoric will be offered this spring as an ENGL 395 topics course for the second year in a row. Taught by Dr. Kevin Moberly, this class will “Explore game studies as a discipline, and examine how scholars look at games,” Moberly said. “It’ll look at gender roles, race, how games present time and space…and create meaning like how novels, poems, and other things we think of when we think of ‘literary works’ create meaning.”
In this class, Moberly plans to discuss the idea that video games as a medium, though they may be considered less privileged or prestigious than traditional literature, can be a more accurate reflection of contemporary culture and possess inherent artistic and philosophical significance on par with many of the examples of literature our culture has come to revere as classic.
“Games [draw] upon centuries of storytelling and technological advancement, providing gamers with absorbing narratives. It is the essence of these narratives that we discussed extensively in [Dr. Moberly’s class],” said Larry Chapman, a former student in the class.
Moberly will also concentrate on how games can be used to construct arguments, focusing on how operant conditioning propels players to continue and how game developers use strategies to influence player action in-game.
“Rhetoric is concerned with two parts,” he said, “discovering how things make arguments to us…and then using those techniques to make arguments. Dictionaries make arguments about our understanding of language. The cars we drive make arguments about the people driving them.”
Chapman praised Moberly’s integration of rhetoric and gaming and engrossing presentation of the course material. “Dr. Moberly’s enthusiastic guidance through the various aspects of storytelling present in video games, as well as the provided readings that demonstrated the psychological rewards of gaming, kept each class meeting fresh and interesting.”
Moberly plans to use an achievement system similar to that of the Xbox 360 to reward particularly diligent students. For example, achievement points would be given to students who maintain high attendance throughout the semester, take their papers to be proof-read at the writing center, or resist the temptation to start their Spring Break early and skip the last day of class.
The final project will require students to create a game in order to understand what skills are needed to write in this genre.
“Making my own game was a blast,” said Lindsey Vermillion, also a former student of the class. “But seeing my classmates play it and learning what worked and what didn’t was awesome!”
Instead of focusing on a small percentage of well-known and well-received games at “the top of the pyramid,” as Moberly put it, he plans to cover a wide variety of games from different genres for students to examine, dissect, and ultimately gain a better understanding of.
“Whether you’re interested in Facebook games or the latest Xbox and PlayStation titles, you will definitely find something to love about this class,” said Vermillion.
By Alyse Stanley