MDST4251: Histories of Games (the “Zelda class”)

In the spring of 2020, I’m offering a new class entitled Histories of Games. The course will focus on helping students understand and contextualize game history as an important media history of the past 35 years, with the through-line being a semester-long focus on Nintendo’s popular The Legend of Zelda game series.

The Zelda series is, of course, not representative of all game history, but our focus on it will serve an important pedagogical aim. We will cover industrial histories, play/player histories, and genre histories over the history of games in the past three decades, and will tie together our first-hand understandings of this franchise with academic discussions of “platform studies,” or the ways we consider the hardware and software substrates that afford and constrain media, as well as industrial discussions of development of gaming interfaces over this period, and cultural critiques of “gaming culture” as it has touched on Nintendo fandom. Our focus on Zelda thus entails us becoming familiar with the history of Japanese game industries, the rise of popular game franchises as globally-impactful transmedia enterprises, as well as changes to gaming fandom during this period.

MDST4251 will also involve a great deal of first-hand play and collective critique of at least six different Zelda games. Using original hardware when possible, we will take an “experiential game history” approach to this course, developing our understandings of the history of these media through play. For a final project, students will be then tasked with applying the approaches they’ve encountered through these investigations of Zelda toward an understanding of a different gaming franchise. This course counts as a capstone requirement for UVA’s Media Studies major, and as such, all students will be required to complete a 15-20 page research paper as a culminating assignment for the course.

Registration for this course requires instructor approval, in order to ensure that students are prepared for the complex combination of play, critique, and scholarly engagement that the class will require. Media Studies majors and students who have completed either MDST3704: Games & Play or MDST3559: Interactive Storytelling will be prioritized, and all potential students are required to complete a survey before instructor approval will be granted. Familiarity with The Legend of Zelda franchise is preferred, but not required.

If you are interested in taking the course, please complete the instructor approval survey (either the link or below) and also feel free to contact Dr. Duncan at sean.duncan@virginia.edu if you have any questions.

Update, Nov 7th 2019: The survey is now closed. There has been tremendous interest in the course, and while not all instructor approvals have gone out yet, there are more surveys than student space for the course. Thanks for your interest in the class, and if you have filled out this form but have not yet submitted an instructor approval request via SIS, please do so ASAP.