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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: The Anthropology of Games and Play (PGSP11455)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course provides an overview of the emerging anthropology of games and play. Topics will include video games, but will also cover themes surrounding human and animal play much more broadly. We will consider especially the relationship of play and games to ritual and labour as well as the general role of play in human societies.
Course description This 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 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

Students will be introduced to a number of general theoretical works and broad key questions on play. We will then investigate a series of more concrete examples from ethnographic and other sociological literature. Opportunity will be provided to discuss, play, and reflect on certain games as part of the students' theoretical development.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  15
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 196 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Long essay (4000 words) at end of semester (100%).
Feedback Summative feedback will be given on the final essay. Formative feedback will be given orally and in writing at individual meetings. This feedback will concentrate on the application of theory to examples, and so is intended to help build towards the students' final essays, in which similar combinations of theory and game examples will be needed.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate extensive, detailed knowledge of the cross-cultural variety of forms of play and games.
  2. Show critical understanding of the work of theorists of games and play, and evaluate their arguments.
  3. Critically analyse particular games or game genres in terms of their design, cultural context, and social significance.
  4. Present their experiences of participation in games to advanced and professional audiences, with strong theoretical context.
  5. Present their ideas on games and play in a clear, original 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.

Tekinbas & Zimmerman (2005) Game Design Reader.

Malaby, T. (2007) Beyond Play; Graeber, D. (2015) Utopia of Rules.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students will develop advanced oral and written presentation skills, as well as analytical essay writing.

Students will gain a nuanced appreciation of the role of play and playfulness in life at large, and will start to develop the ability to turn this appreciation into action ¿ applying knowledge of games and playfulness to career and life activities.

They will have a broad understanding of the current state and future directions of theories of play.
Students will learn to apply new intellectual and reflexive perspectives to their existing engagements with games and play.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Tom Boylston
Course secretaryMr Adam Petras
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