Syllabi

People all over the world have begun teaching courses on games and history – including a number of contributors to Playing with the Past.

Below you will find syllabi from people teaching such classes that are put here with the intent of giving teachers ideas for similar classes.

All contact information, and information related to campus-specific requirements, are removed from the syllabi listed below. But every effort has been made to offer the relevant details needed in understanding the course organization for each class.

To begin here is Playing with the Past contributor Joseph A. November‘s course – a senior-level and graduate-level course on the topic. (You can find a link on the links page to a lunch talk given by Dr. November on his class and his work in Playing.)

More syllabi will be added here as they become available.

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HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) 

Department of History – University of South Carolina

History 492C 

Computer Games and History 

Dr. Joseph November 

Course Description: 

This course examines the ways history is presented in computer games, a rapidly-growing and content-rich form of mass media that has so far only been seldom discussed in academic settings. By pairing selected games and pieces of written historical scholarship, students will assess the strengths and weaknesses of these games’ presentations of historical developments. Students will identify the assumptions inherent in the game-makers’ portrayals of history, and will also consider important new questions and perspectives computer games bring to the study of history. Students will be evaluated on the basis of: 1) participation in classroom discussion; 2) completion of two 5-page writing assignments comparing assigned games to assigned readings; 3) completion of an 18-20-page research paper that relates the representation of a particular historical development or person in a game (of the student’s choice) to research on that subject conducted by professional historians.

Learning Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have learned to:

  • Convey sound historical arguments by drawing on primary and secondary sources
  • Identify the chronological and geographical settings of important developments in the history of computing worldwide
  • Evaluate a computer game to gain insight into the society that built it, particularly how that society understands history
  • Recognize historical relationships between developments in science, information technology, and society

Course Requirements: 

You are responsible for completing the readings and gameplay experiences assigned each week. Your mastery of the readings and active use of the assigned games will not only help your participation in class, but also your performance in the entire course. Besides class participation, you are responsible for completing two 5-page (1250-word) writing assignments comparing assigned games to assigned readings, and completing an 18-20-page (5000-word) research paper that relates the representation of a particular historical development or person in a game (of the your choice) to research on that subject conducted by professional historians. Please bear in mind that as a historian your job is to make an argument supported by explicit and precise references to the assigned texts and games. HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) Prof. November

Grading: 

Your grade in the course will be determined by this formula:

  • Class Participation: 20%
  • Essay 1 (5 pages): 15%
  • Essay 2 (5 pages): 15%
  • Research paper (18-20 pages) 50%

Required Texts and Software:

Five books are required for this course. These books are all available exclusively at the SC Bookstore on Main St, though you’re welcome to get them elsewhere. All other readings will be posted to Blackboard. (Please let me know during the first week of class if you are not able to log on to this course in Blackboard!)

  • Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (Penguin, 2001) [Paperback] [ISBN: 0142000159]
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999) [Paperback] [ISBN: 0393317552]
  • Stephen Ambrose: Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany (Simon and Schuster, 1998) [Paperback] [ISBN: 0684848015]
  • Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (W. W. Norton & Company, 2012) [Paperback] [ISBN: 0393342379]
  • Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture (University of California Press, 1987) [Paperback] [ISBN: 0520060679]

Six games are also required for this course. With the exception of Railroad Tycoon this software is available through Steam, Amazon, and major retailers like Best Buy and Gamestop. You do not need to buy it all at once – be aware that from time to time it is heavily discounted on Steam and Amazon. I strongly recommend that each student in this course establish a Steam account.

  • Civilization V (2010) [students seeking to use earlier iterations of this game (e.g. Civilization I, II, III, IV, FreeCiv) must seek permission from me first] [Windows, Mac]
  • Assassin’s Creed II (2009 [console], 2010 [Windows, Mac, consoles])
  • Railroad Tycoon (1990) [You will be provided this software] [Windows]
  • Call of Duty (2003) [Windows, Consoles]
  • Rome: Total War (2004) [Windows, Mac]
  • Fallout 3 (2008) [Windows, Consoles]

Course Policies: 

Cheating deprives you of the opportunity to learn as much as you possibly can in this course. Therefore, cheating wastes your time and mine. But cheating is a more serious than a simple waste of time, because it presents someone else’s effort as your own and disrespects the other students in the class by offering you an advantage more honest students are not availing themselves of. As such, cheating provides a direct conflict to the Carolinian Creed by compromising both your academic and personal integrity.

Consequently, cheating will be actively and aggressively policed in this class; cheating of any sort will be turned into the Dean’s Office.

Plagiarized papers are those that present anyone other than your own ideas as your thoughts. This includes information pasted from websites as well as published materials. Papers plagiarized from the internet will be harshly penalized. If you use external sources, you must provide proper citations (you will be given a handout about how to do proper citations before the first paper). Paper topics are also designed to minimize the possibility of plagiarism (especially to minimize downloading papers); therefore you must cohere to the paper guidelines. All of this effort is to provide a level-playing field for the assignments in the class and to reward truly exceptional personal effort. Please feel free to speak to me if you have any questions about how to properly cite your sources. Ignorance is not an excuse!

PLAY IT SAFE. DO NOT CHEAT—IT’S NOT WORTH IT! WHEN IN DOUBT ABOUT FOOTNOTING, ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION AND CITE YOUR SOURCE.

Extensions: Requests for deadline extensions will be considered only until one day before the class in which the project is due. This means there will be no last-minute extensions, regardless of the legitimacy of the cause (this includes computer glitches, car lockouts, and hangovers—please backup your work to prevent last minute disasters and “act like you got some sense”). Papers are due at class time and must be handed in via Blackboard. Late assignments will be penalized one grade per class meeting the paper is late.

Note about Office Hours: 

I encourage you to visit me during office hours. I would be very pleased to talk to you about the material in the class or any other relevant topic that might be on your mind. I am especially eager to meet with you if you are having trouble with the class, either in preparation for one of the assignments or more generally with the reading load or the style of discussion or anything that might be worrying you. I can only help you if I know what the problems are. HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) Prof. November

Course Schedule: 

1/15 Opening Discussion: Computer Games and History 

Luke Plunkett, “Can Games Handle History?” (Kotaku, 4/13/2009)

http://kotaku.com/5209313/can-games-handle-history

1/17 Yali’s Question, Civilization’s Answer 

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 13-32.

Civilization V: complete player tutorials.

1/22 Civilization and Contingency 

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 33-52, 67-82.

Civilization V: Get your civilization to the point where it resembles the Spanish Empire circa 1530 (the late Renaissance Era in game terms).

1/24 Civilization and “Modernity” 

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 83-93, 195-214.

Civilization V: Get your civilization to the point where it resembles the British Empire circa 1850 (the late Industrial Era in game terms).

1/29 Civilization and the “Mythical Man Month” 

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 239-264.

Rob Blades, “Gaming and History: Civilization V and the Law of Accelerating Returns:” http://hastac.org/blogs/rblades/2013/01/06/gaming-and-history-civilization-v-and-law-accelerating-returns

Fred Brooks, “The Mythical Man Month” [excerpts – see Blackboard]

Civilization V: Your civilization should now resemble that of the United States in the early 20th century.

1/31 Civilization and the fate of human societies 

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 403-440.

Edge staff, “Time Extend: Alpha Centauri:”

http://www.edge-online.com/features/time-extend-alpha-centauri/

Brian Reynolds interview (on IGN): HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) Prof. November

http://www.ign.com/articles/2000/02/12/brian-reynolds-interview-2

Civilization V : win, i.e. achieve one of the “victory” conditions.

2/5 Rome: Total War – Simulating the Caesars 

Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, “A Mediterranean Empire”

Rome: Total War : complete the player tutorials

2/7 Veni, Vidi, Vici 

Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, “Government without Bureaucracy”

Rome: Total War: conquer (and hold) several outlying towns

2/12 Logistics as entertainment 

Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, “The Land” and “Supplying the Roman Empire”

Rome: Total War: Defeat a foe roughly as powerful as you are; this can be a barbarian or another Roman.

2/14 You, the pater familias 

*** Essay 1 (Can Civilization answer “Yali’s Question”?) due ***

Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, “Family and Household”

Rome: Total War: seize all of the Italian peninsula

2/19 Assassin’s Creed II’s cloak and dagger tour of 16th century Florence, 

Keith Stuart, “Assassin’s Creed and the appropriation of history” (The Guardian, 11/19/2010):

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2010/nov/19/assassin-s-creeed-brotherhood-history

Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, 1-42.

Assassin’s Creed II: complete Sequence 1, i.e. return a certain family heirloom and finish the “Last Man Standing” mission.

2/21 Modeling a Renaissance city and the Renaissance 

Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, 43-75. HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) Prof. November

Assassin’s Creed II: complete Sequence 2, i.e. escort your family to the city gates and finish the “Arrivederci” mission.

2/26 Assassin’s Creed II and Florentine society 

Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, 76-117.

Assassin’s Creed II: complete Sequences 3 and 4, i.e. you’ll be visiting the Palazzo Della Signoria and things are going to go poorly for Francesco.

2/28 Your visit to Il Duomo 

Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, 118-168.

Assassin’s Creed II: complete Sequences 5 and 6, i.e. you should have plenty of experience skulking around Il Duomo by time you come to class.

3/5 Railroad Tycoon and the history of transportation 

Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, 1-37

Railroad Tycoon: connect St. Louis to Kansas City

3/7 Taming the American West, one pixel at a time 

*** Essay 2 (Assassin’s Creed II and simulating past societies) due ***

Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, 140-174.

Railroad Tycoon: connect Kansas City to Denver

3/19 {Tentative visit by Prof. Michael Gavin (USC, Dept. of English) and his students to discuss the “Writers and Rebels” project} 

*** Final Paper prospectus due ***

Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, 278-317.

Railroad Tycoon: connect Denver to Salt Lake City

Supplemental: William Uricchio, “Simulation, History, and Computer Games,” in Jeffrey Goldstein and Joost Raessens, Handbook of Computer Games Studies (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005): 327-338.

3/21 A Steel-Drivin’ (Virtual) Man HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) Prof. November

Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, 370-398.

Railroad Tycoon: connect Salt Lake City to San Francisco

3/26 {Tentative: Skype conversation with Corey May (Ubisoft), lead scriptwriter for the Assassin’s Creed series} 

No reading: prepare questions related to Assassin’s Creed II – you may want to review your essays and invest a few hours in gameplay to help stimulate your thoughts.

Railroad Tycoon: keep your transcontinental railway profitable through the 1920s.

3/28 {Tentative: Skype conversation w/ historians Prof. Andrew Berns (U of SC Dept. of History) and Prof. Renee Raphael (UC-Irvine, Dept. of History) @ Villa I Tatti (Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies, Florence, Italy)} 

No reading: prepare questions related to Assassin’s Creed II as well as what you have read about the historiography of Florence – you may want to review your essays and invest a few hours in gameplay to help stimulate your thoughts.

Railroad Tycoon: keep your transcontinental railway profitable through the 1920s.

4/2 Call of Duty and the recreation of 20th century warfare 

Stephen Ambrose: Citizen Soldiers, 13-55.

Call of Duty: get Private Martin through Boot Camp, and complete his first combat mission.

4/4 “The Good War,” history, games, and the American popular narrative 

{Tentative: visit by Itamar Friedman and other graduate student contributors to the “Ghosts of the Horseshoe” augmented reality project} 

Stephen Ambrose: Citizen Soldiers, 56-106.

Call of Duty: complete Martin’s missions.

4/9 “Don’t Mention the War” – games and the historical proximity of war 

Stephen Ambrose: Citizen Soldiers, 157-209.

Call of Duty: complete several missions in the British campaign

4/11 Trenches, genocide, friendly fire, and PTSD… war history that’s not in games 

David Zahl, “Must-See Movies, Stalled Netflix Queues and the Hotel Rwanda Effect” (Mockingbird, 9/10/2008)

http://www.mbird.com/2008/09/law-according-to-netflix/ HIST 492C: Computer Games and History (Spring 2013) Prof. November

Stephen Ambrose: Citizen Soldiers, 331-350.

Call of Duty: complete several missions in the Soviet campaign.

4/16 Fallout and the uses of counterfactual history 

Joseph A. November, “Fallout and Yesterday’s Impossible Tomorrow” [Blackboard]

Fallout 3: leave the vault

4/18 “Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?” 

Watch futurism videos [Blackboard]

Fallout 3: save or destroy Megaton.

4/23 Looking Back by Looking Ahead 

Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html

Fallout 3: visit Rivet City.

4/25 Conclusions: The Future of the Past 

*** Final Paper due ***

Vernor Vinge, “The Singularity”

http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~phoenix/vinge/vinge-sing.html

Fallout 3: tour the remains of the National Mall.

There is no final examination scheduled for this class.

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