MDST3704: Games and Play
Meets: Online (Zoom Check-Ins on Tuesdays, 9:30am)
Spring, 2021

Games and play surround us. Whether as hobbies, entertainment, sports, instructional tools, or as simply as frameworks for looking at everyday life, games and play are fascinating lenses by which we can understand popular media through culture, politics, and social movements. In this course, students will begin to learn about the evolution of the field of “game studies” while also questioning what we think we know about “play.”

This course will be taught online synchronously in Spring, 2021. However, we will not meet over Zoom every day (only once per week), and instead will move much of our class discussion to a course Discord. Students will use the Discord for discussion of course readings, coordination of gameplay with other students, and collaboration on group projects.

Students will play games in the course and learn how to interrogate their own play, their own positions as players, as well as formally analyzing games. As part of the course, students will regularly read and then implement prescriptive game design concepts, in order to understand both how games are made as well as discourses of design. In the last section of the course, students will engage in small analysis projects, leveraging what they’ve learned about games so far in order to understand and interpret games of students’ choosing.

While much of the course will rely on the existing literature based around digital games, there will be opportunities for students to discuss a wide range of things we call games (including board games, role-playing games, card games, and playground games).


Key course textbooks will include How to Play Video Games, edited by Matthew Payne and Nina Huntemann, as well as Colleen Macklin and John Sharp’s textbook Games, Design, & Play. Students who have little game play or game design experience are welcome in the course, as are students who are interested in the design of games. This course attempts to cover research on games and play that can be beneficial for students who are interested in understanding media as well as for those who are interested in computation and the engineering of digital games.

Here is the Fall, 2020 course syllabus — please note, there are always significant changes from semester to semester, but this should give an idea of what the course covers and how it runs.

If you have any questions about this or any other course (or anything else on this website), please don’t hesitate to email Dr. Duncan at his first name dot his last name [at] virginia.edu.