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Frags for grades: Video games in academia

Amy Lau

Thu Oct 18 2012

The Visual Resource Centre

WHAT?? Play a video game to pass an essay? Amy Lau speaks to University of Melbourne’s Digitial Mediascape coordinator Daniel Golding to find out exactly what sorcery this is.

It is almost unbelievable there’s a university course requiring students who take it to play mainstream video games such as Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, and Resident Evil. But at the University of Melbourne, a quarter of The Digital Mediascape module is dedicated to the practical study of video games as a form of media.

But why study them?

“When a mass media form like video games becomes incredibly popular and widespread as they are, it’s inevitable that people will want to try and understand them, study them, and research how they function,” the course coordinator, Daniel Golding, explains.

He says it’s similar to the study of “other forms of media, such as literature, film or television”.

Considering that it’s 2012, when you run a digital media subject, you definitely have to encounter games at some point.”

The Digital Mediascape focuses on how media forms like video games critique and reflect culture and society.

“In the case of an arts degree, it’s less about training people for professional work skills as it is to train students to think critically and reflectively about the world that they live in,” Mr Golding says.

For example, playing Bioshock shows students how the lack of rules and government can result in a dystopian society.

Also, students learn how shooting ethnic African zombies as a white protagonist in Resident Evil 5, can be perceived as racist and reinforce problematic stereotypes.

Mr Golding believes video games are an effective medium in expressing and explaining such social theories.

There’s always going to be that level of enjoyment when you play games, and I think that’s the advantage of studying games.I would hope that nobody sees it as a chore.”

And no, students do not have to purchase the aforementioned video games for the course. The Visual Resource Centre at the university’s Parkville campus, houses a Playstation 3 and an Xbox 360 for students to try them out.

“It’s to ensure that everybody has a level footing when it comes to discussing and theorising games,” says Mr Golding.

“I mean, there’s only so much you can teach someone if they don’t have personal experiences with playing games.”

The Digital Mediascape also touches on other forms of media but video games may soon dominate it.

“Video games are the popular medium of the 21st century,” Mr Golding says.

“Their influence is definitely going to continue to be more widespread.”