Humanities Unlocked: The Value of Liberal Arts for your Game Design Program
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Humanities Unlocked: The Value of Liberal Arts for your Game Design Program



Mia Consalvo's 2011 GDC talk for the Game Education Summit. ...

Mia Consalvo's 2011 GDC talk for the Game Education Summit.

How can disciplines like religion, history, philosophy and literature make a game development program stronger? And how can games--both the study of them as well as their creation-- make such fields more relevant to contemporary society? This talk takes as a given that you've built a successful program at your college or university. You have plenty of majors with excellent GPAs, good faculty and professional advisors, and a relevant curriculum. You've distinguished and built room for programming, art, production and design into your degree (or some subset), and students are getting jobs in the industry upon graduation. What comes next? How can a game development program go from good to great? The answer lies outside of game development classes, in more distant parts of the university such as the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Should these classes be dismissed? How are they relevant to a decent game development major or education? In this talk, Mia will argue for the essential part that they can play in a quality game development program.



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  • VALUE$$Immediate valueValue deferredEnrichment‘what are you going to do with a degree in X’
  • The humanities are in crisis
  • Ethical decision making games (mass effect, dragon age, fable, infamous, kotor, etc)How to players choose a path?How can ethical theories help us understand the choices we make as players?
  • Bringing fresh material to the humanitiesRevitalizing how we think about ethicsBroader perspective on how others might make value judgments
  • Different kind of encountering the other- here it’s intentional to seek out- usually through study abroad; meeting Japanese students who are studying intheir local university; trying to go beyond surface cultural discussions.
  • Mobility– most I talked with had either visited Japan or had plans to in the future; many wanted to go beyond the basic tourist elements, go to small towns, see daily life, talk with everyday people;
  • Or, a tale of two game geeksOpening new markets for Indie JRPGsOver 100k soldLooking at more games to localize
  • Who cares about old greek plays?Abe Stein does!
  • New ideas for game stories, designsMore meaningful than surface attempts like Dante’s Inferno
  • EdithReallyAge of InnocenceEthan FromeCustom of the CountryEtc etc
  • Amazing writer, laser-like insights into pretensions of society of the dayBorn in old New YorkKeeping up with the JonesesMarried Teddy WhartonSettled in France
  • Characterization, description, wit, language
  • Delia and Charlotte, and TinaWho is the bad guy?What are the choices we make, and feel forced to make, in order to remain part of a community?
  • Age of Innocence: Newland Archer falls in love with Countess Olenska, but in teaching her how society judges her, she internalizes those rules and ultimately can’t break free of them to be with him
  • Wharton gives us more to think about in terms of sociality…. Meaningful interactions
  • Fully realized charactersPowerful storiesNorms, values, beliefsThe powerful draw of the group, versus the demand to live one’s own life
  • Revisiting Value(s)
  • Revisiting Advising

Humanities Unlocked: The Value of Liberal Arts for your Game Design Program Humanities Unlocked: The Value of Liberal Arts for your Game Design Program Presentation Transcript

  • Humanities Unlocked:The Value of Liberal Artsfor your Game Design Program
    Mia Consalvo
  • first a word about advising...
  • TCOM Day Alumni Panel
  • CI-H/HASS-D lotteries
  • Humanities Grants
  • 4 Case Studies
    Literature, Foreign Languages, Philosophy and Classics
    What game design programs can learn from the humanities
    What game design can contribute to the humanities
  • Case Study 1: Philosophy
  • Ethical theories
    Virtue Ethics
    Developing good habits of character, such as benevolence
    (consequentialism: an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable)
    Utilitarianism adds “to everyone”
  • More theories
    Duty Theory
    Base morality on specific, foundational principles of obligation. Non-consequentialist—principles are obligatory, irrespective of consequences that might follow from our actions.
  • How do players play?
    “I always seem to go good. I can go evil if I force myself to be evil—I really have to force myself to do it, it never comes naturally to me”
    “I generally do good ‘cause it’s easier. ‘Cause that’s how I was raised. Like, for example, it’s easier to be good, ‘cause that’s how you’re trained. ... as a person, but you translate that into gamer world, almost innately.”
  • Evil or just selfish?
    “I was trying to do kind of ‘evil-ish’ things, but when I went into ‘game autopilot’ mode, I would naturally make the good guy choices. And I started to get ‘renowned’ back—good guy points, essentially—and I was like ‘no, I don’t want to do this! Stop it!’”
    “the good guy always wins, the bad guy never wins. It’s the rules. If it’s Batman versus Joker, Batman always wins.”
  • Breaking a contract
  • Philosophy
  • Case Study 2: Foreign Languages
  • Western otaku
    Games lead to interest in culture, language
    Leads to seeking new experiences
    For some, getting past stereotypes
  • Encountering the ‘other’
    Dani: “Cause she [friend Aiko] would, she wasn’t afraid to talk to us about things and she wanted to know about our culture too and it was really nice having really long conversations with her about… everything. So, that was invaluable to me, as far as learning about culture. Was actually talking to somebody, someone that was outgoing enough to not, you know, shy away from nitty gritty subjects like that.”
  • Traveling, Curiosity
    Moti: “I’m not really done with Japan and I’d like to go back again at some point”
    Dan: “…going over this summer in July to conduct fieldwork”
  • The Cosmopolitan Western Otaku
    Spectrum of interests, from banal consumption to deeper engagements, levels of openness
    Comfort with what is distant as well as the familiar
    Potential for surface interest; reinforcing stereotypes; return of Orientalism
  • Languages
    Games can inspire us to learn new languages, and about new cultures
    Learning languages can help us appreciate more games, understand cultural differences, and can even lead to new hobbies, businesses, and the creation of new markets
  • Case Study 3: Classics
  • Procedural adaptation
    Not a translation, but a purposive attempt to identify dominant themes and meanings in Sophocles and adapt those to a procedural system
  • Classics
  • Classics
  • Case Study 4: Literature
  • Edith Newbold Jones (Wharton)
    Pulitzer Prize for Literature, 1921
    Age of Innocence
    House of Mirth
    Custom of the Country
  • False Dawn, 1924
    “Mr. Raycie was a monumental man. His extent in height, width and thickness was so nearly the same that whichever way he turned one had an almost equally broad view of him…”
  • The Old Maid, 1924
    “Nothing had ever been changed in the room which, even as a bride, she had planned to modernize. …”
  • Jane Austen wrote about how society was a social game
  • Edith Wharton wrote instead about the weight of society on individuals, and our need to remain part of the tribe, despite our own ambitions.
  • Current social games
  • Meaningful interactions
    Must all interactions simply be positive?
    How do tribal norms regulate us… how can we think about that relative to game design
    Are we happiest when inside the group, at the cost of our own individuality or particular actions?
    What are the benefits (as well as drawbacks) of sticking with the tribe
  • Revisiting value
  • Revisiting advising
  • Revisiting the Humanities
  • Thank you!