Friday, July 11, 2008

The Center for Video Games and Human Values

The Center for Video Games and Human Values, based at the University of Connecticut, serves as an interdisciplinary nexus for online courses and online scholarly activities like symposia and research fellowships. All these activities are designed to advance our understanding of how video games and their culture can shape our values constructively for the enrichment of society.

I will offer the center's pilot courses, "Living Epic" (a short course for high school teachers and parents) and "Gaming Homer" (an undergraduate credit course) in the winter and spring of 2009. For more information on the courses, click through the links below or contact me at

Click through these links to get involved in the center!: Since my friend Michael Abbott is at the Games, Learning, and Society conference this weekend, and has just put up a remarkable post announcing the revolution that’s emerging from the work of James Paul Gee, and since there’s also a story in the New York Times today about how the price of fuel is creating a tipping point for online college education, it seems a felicitous moment to make a relatively formal announcement about what I’ve been putting nearly all my energy into for the last few months.

As a medium that embraces the humanities and social sciences, technology, and the worlds of business and education, video games demand analysis from multiple angles and on multiple levels. We believe that video games have grown to extraordinary cultural prominence without benefit of such a truly interdisciplinary analysis; in particular, video games are a dominant cultural force among students now in the midst of their secondary and post-secondary education, only a few of whose teachers have any understanding of how gaming is shaping their students.

To meet the need for such analysis, the center will offer a slate of online courses aimed at several inter-related groups: high school teachers and parents, and their advanced students, undergraduates in various disciplines, and interested people in the gaming culture, all of whom share a fundamental interest in ensuring that video gaming both increasingly earns the societal respect it deserves and increasingly deserves that respect. In order to address video games in their broad effect on culture and to engage gamers in its discussions, the center will advocate an approach that addresses popular and ambitious games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto, and World of Warcraft, demonstrating for example on the one hand their cultural relationship to Homeric epic and on the other their educational relationship to the way students who play them learn.

The center’s first course will be a two-week online short course for high school teachers and parents in January of 2009, called “Living Epic: Video Games and the Epic Tradition.” An undergraduate credit course, CAMS 3208, will follow in the spring semester, and the center’s first full year of operation will begin in the fall semester of 2009 with several courses offered by the first fellows of the center. My colleagues in this endeavor include Michael Abbott and Jeff Howard, the author of Quests, and if we can make our schedules come out right, Michael and Jeff will offer two of our first courses.

These courses will involve in-game class work, in the form of in-game laboratories and in-game discussions; they will also involve contacts with the people who are creating the games we explore and analyze. To that end, the center is already forming partnerships with developers and publishers; these partnerships will be announced as the kick-off date of the pilot course approaches.

At the same time, the center will provide a (virtual) place for scholarly research and discussion about the relation of video games to values. Fellowships from the center will support individual research projects at the intersection of video gaming and scholars’ own disciplines, while the interdisciplinary nature of the center will provide extraordinary opportunities to strengthen those projects through the cross-fertilization of ideas from other fields. An ongoing virtual symposium, with a guest symposiast from a field such as game development or game journalism, on a topic like “Immersion” or “Character in Games,” will involve contributions from the fellows, their students, and the center’s alumni; the proceedings of this symposium will be compiled and published once a year.

We believe that video games’ greatest innovations in education, business, the social sciences, the humanities, and most of all in games themselves will arise from a deeper understanding of games’ connections among all these disciplines. When scholars and students alike understand these connections better, they will be better prepared to advance the state of gaming as it relates to their own fields.

The center will exist almost entirely online, and we hope to make that online existence at once a place to gather a community of learning and a laboratory for the study of what games are and can be. Using open-source tools like those from Sun Microsystem’s Projects Wonderland and Darkstar, we will create and then build-up a virtual center that will serve as the focus for a growing community of fellows, students, and alumni, to carry on the center’s work of learning both through online teaching and through online discussion.

If you’re interested in enrolling in the center’s course offerings, or want to inquire about applying for one of the center’s first fellowships, please make contact with me at The details of the fellowships in particular are still coming together, and there’s a great deal of room for innovative ideas in how they might work. A formal fellowship application, on the other hand, will probably be available in January.