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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Anthropology

Undergraduate Course: The Anthropology of Games and Play (SCAN10079)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will study theoretical and ethnographic works on games and play to ask the following questions: Is play a human universal? What special kinds of communication does it afford? Why are games compelling, and how do they vary cross-culturally? How are new technologies changing the landscapes of human play and gaming? And how do games and play relate to classical anthropological domains such as ritual, co-operation, and the social construction of worlds?
Course description The course will draw theoretical materials from a range of social scientific and philosophical sources, and will combine these with mainly ethnographic studies of games and play. We will progress from defining games and play, to investigating anthropological approaches to the imagination and processes of rule-making, to thematic treatments of contemporary issues in the study of games: rule-making, virtuality, fantasy, entertainment, co-operation, and conflict. Seminar classes will include small participatory games, where appropriate.

Preliminary course outline:

Weeks 1-3: definitions, classical theories, and modern game design.
Key readings: Caillois, R. (2001) Man, Play, and Games; Huizinga, J. (1938) Homo Ludens; Bateson, G. (1955) Theory of Play and Fantasy; Koster, R. (2004) A Theory of Fun for Game Design; Tekinbas & Zimmerman (2005) Game Design Reader; Malaby, T. (2007) Beyond Play; Graeber, D. (2015) Utopia of Rules.

Week 4: Play and Ritual
Indicative Readings: Turner, V. (1982) From Ritual to Theatre; Malinowski, B. (1922), Argonauts of the Western Pacific; Trobriand Cricket (Film)

Week 5: Imaginary Worlds?
Indicative readings: Overing, J. (1990) The Shaman as Maker of Worlds; Berger & Luckmann (1966) The Social Construction of Reality; Laycock, J. (2015) Dangerous Games.

Week 6: Rules and Roles
Indicative readings: Goffmann, E. (1974) Frame Analysis; Moore, H. (2012) Avatars and Robots; Graeber, D. (2015) Utopia of Rules.

Week 7: Digital worlds
Indicative readings: Malaby, T. (2009) Making Virtual Worlds; Boellstorff, T. (2008) Coming of Age in Second Life; Kendall, L. (2002) Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub

Week 8: Simulating War
Indicative Readings: de Landa, M. (1991) War in the Age of Intelligent Machines; Lakoff & Collier Infrastructure and Event; Baudrillard, J. (1988) Simulacra & Simulations. Debord, G. Game of War

Week 9: Games, Culture, Globalization
Indicative Readings: Rollason, W. (2011) We are Playing Football; Walker, H. State of Play

Week 10: Review
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Anthropology courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Develop a critical understanding of the cross-cultural variety of forms of play and games.
  2. Engage critically with the work of theorists of games and play, and evaluate their arguments.
  3. Analyze particular games or game genres in terms of their design, cultural context, and social significance.
  4. Develop their ability to present their experience of participation in games in the context of relevant theoretical and comparative materials.
  5. Present their ideas on games and play in a clear, critical manner, in written or oral form.
Reading List
Caillois, R. (2001) Man, Play, and Games; Huizinga, J. (1938) Homo Ludens; Bateson, G. (1955) Theory of Play and Fantasy; Koster, R. (2004) A Theory of Fun for Game Design; Malaby, T. (2007) Beyond Play; Graeber, D. (2015) Utopia of Rules.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills By the end of the course students should have strengthened their skills in:
- breaking down elements of design into formal components and analyzing their socio-cultural significance
- discussing participatory experience in analytical terms
- presenting ideas clearly in written and verbal form
- awareness of the use of participatory/game design methods in communication
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Tom Boylston
Course secretaryMr Ewen Miller
Tel: (0131 6)50 3925
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