Mario and Zelda: hearts and 1-ups. The opera scene, the music box. A god the final boss. An open world…

Image taken from a lovely essay, ‘Breath of The Wild and The Emptiness of Ma,’ by The Bokoblin

A few times over the years I’ve started writing and re-writing Raccoon Tail Opera, my philosophical treatise on video games. Or that’s the working title; those are just some of its possible chapters.

It’s been on my mind lately, and with the time freed up by schools being closed I wanted to give it another look. But this time around I thought I’d start at the other end of the academic world. Instead of writing dense, orotund paragraphs for scholars and cognoscenti, I thought I had better try out my ideas with school-aged kids. It won’t be any easier, but it will mean I have to make sure what I’m saying is not only interesting, but also makes sense. I’ll have to hold their attention, and they’ll keep me honest.

Our first meeting is today on Outschool; check out the course page and follow along.

Lucca at home, hard at work

The first thing we’ll want to get straight is what we’re all doing here. The goal of becoming a programmer, or otherwise getting involved in making games, while admirable, is a little beyond my abilities. All I can speak to is the history of video games so far–unless that includes within it some hint of guidance about the sorts of games we might want to see in the future. I can give some context, some cultural and theoretical points of reference for anyone who likes playing games and thinking about them. Hopefully, that would also include people who want to make games one day, but it could serve just as well to help others enjoy them, and lots of things in life, a little more deeply.

My first serious foray into game studies came with the Humble Bundle by MIT Press a couple of years ago. An alternative to the expensive journals and impenetrable specialization that render most scholarship intentionally inaccessible to most people, the book series on video games fit in nicely with a like-minded project doing the same thing with the university as a whole: Signum U, founded by Corey Olsen, The Tolkien Professor. Around the same time, I started my EarthBound podcast in imitation of his Mythgard discussions, and began looking around for other people doing work along the same lines to collaborate with and to learn from. That led me to writing for The Well Red Mage, and eventually to getting back in touch with Ben. Now we’re putting together this Academy as a way to set out what we’ve found.

In the first class, aside from brief introductions to get to know one another, including what we’re each hoping to learn, we’ll look at some philosophical underpinnings of video game studies. In short, what do we mean by ‘games’ and ‘play’? What can we point to as the important turning points in the history of video games? And who has shaped our understanding of that history? We’ll try to establish a conceptual framework, putting terms like ludic and narrative, art and violence, gamification and the magic circle into our own words, giving examples from our own experience of gameplay and flow states. And having fun while we’re at it.

Each the following weeks, we’ll look at a couple of games in depth. One newer, one older, they will provide the basis for our discussion of the elements that make video games fun to play and to study. In the process, we’ll encourage one another in our individual endeavors, whether blogging, reading and researching, making youtube videos, designing games… or writing books.

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