Screenshot of the videogame Fez

Videogames, Strategy, and Critical Theory

Instructor: Ajay Singh Chaudhary
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

The videogame has become an ascendant cultural form of vast aesthetic, sociological, and, of course, economic significance. But a literature focusing specifically on the aesthetic experience and critical engagement of the player is only beginning to come into focus. Similarly, we are only beginning to think about how games and game-playing in their current forms can contribute to a critical theory about strategy in everything from economics to politics. Why does  one of the premier mass arts of our time center so specifically on games and strategy?

In this class, we will explore games through a series of lenses: aesthetic philosophy, critical theory, game theory, affect theory, military and political thought, and media studies among others. “What is lost in the withering of semblance, or decay of aura, in works of art is matched by a huge gain in room-for-play [Spielraum],” Walter Benjamin argued nearly seven decades ago. This Spielraum – which plays on the multiple meanings of the German Spiel, “play,” “game,” “performance,” “gamble,” – became for Benjamin the ground for new emancipatory possibilities to emerge in an art freed from cultic, mimetic, and “authentic” value. The late film and media theorist Miriam Hansen was one of the first to note, almost in passing, that perhaps Benjamin’s argument – originally constructed around film – might in fact apply more obviously and directly to videogames. What does a critical, literary, or aesthetic analysis tell us about games? What do games tell us about our cultural, economic, and political worlds? In what ways are games reflective of current social conditions? How does thinking about and through games help us sharpen our critical engagement with the world? To build, critique, and understand political, economic, cultural, and social strategies? Is there a reconciliation of the instrumentality of strategic thinking with a philosophical impulse to critical reflection?

Short, excerpted readings will be drawn from: Kant, Benjamin, Schiller, Haraway, Habermas, Hansen, Weber, Auerbach, Butler, Berlant, Clausewitz, Schelling, Mirowski, Liu, Buck-Morss, Deleuze & Guattari, and others, as well as more recent videogame-specific literature including selections from Adrienne Shaw, Jesper Juul, McKenzie Wark, Mary Flanagan, Ian Bogost, and Graeme Kirkpatrick. Games (and game series) to be considered include: Super Mario Bros., Metal Gear SolidJourneyFezPortalPapers Please, MetroidSnowfieldDestiny, BioshockSaints RowDOOMKatamari Damarcy, X-COM, Crisis Theory, Minecraft, The Witcher, Civilization, Final Fantasy, and more.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 06 — March 27, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Closed

Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.