Fall 2023

MDST4251: Histories of Games
Meets Mondays, 4:00PM – 6:00PM

This workshop 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 and their 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 go deep into Nintendo and the history of this francise, with the intent of covering industrial histories, play/player histories, and genre histories over the history of games in the past three decades. We will also 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. Also we will address 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 pushes us to become familiar with the history of Nintendo, 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 the past forty odd years.

MDST4251 is a workshop, and we will take a very hands-on approach to game history. This will involve a great deal of first-hand play and collective critique of at least six different Zelda games over the course of the term. Using original hardware when possible, we will take an “experiential game history” approach to this course, with all students developing 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.

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, MDST3320: The Politics of Video Games, or MDST3559: Interactive Storytelling will be prioritized. All potential students are required to complete a survey before instructor approval will be granted. Familiarity with Nintendo and The Legend of Zelda franchise is preferred, but not required.

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