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Morrissey College of Arts and Science

UN551.01 The Games of Life

capstone program

John Dacey

Professor Emeritus
Lynch School of Education

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Games – all kinds but especially video games – are going to play a much larger role in your life than they do now. Why? Because they are so good at motivating learning. Studies of avid adolescent and young adult game players have found new patterns in their brain physiology and mental function. Many of today’s youth learn differently from their parents as a result. The negative impact of video games has been well-documented, but positive results are getting more notice. One example: neophyte surgeons who spent significant time playing video games in their youth are 40% less likely to make errors in their surgical operations. The purpose of this course is to examine the impact games have had and will have on humans in general, and in your own life in particular.

In this course, you will write a "game biography," seeking to discover how games have influenced your life, and a second paper predicting how your future will be shaped by them. You will also design a socially valuable game. Previous knowledge of video games or of developmental psychology is not a prerequisite.

Course Objectives

In this course you will have five objectives:

  • Acquire a summary knowledge of the principles and theories of developmental science.
  • Investigate the underlying principles that influence the design of game media.
  • Examine the effects that various games have had on your own life. You will write a "game biography," seeking to discover how games have influenced your thought patterns, both positively and negatively. In particular, you will seek to discover the subtle ways games have shaped the academic and personal choices you have made in your college years. Because of its central role in this arena, our research will pay particular attention to defining the theme of fun. You will look at the implications of how enjoying games has predisposed you. In addition, your biography should be informed by discussions of developmental theory.
  • You will also preview the future as it is likely to be shaped by electronic games. For example, cybernetics, the imitation of biological control systems through the use of technology, will transform thinking. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, argues convincingly that in the next 20 years, the distinction between biological and electronic intelligence will disappear. Software will replace many mental functions by direct electronic connection to the brain. Games will be used to teach all manner of of learning objectives, in all fields of human endeavor.
  • Consider the many ways your development in post-college life is likely to be formed by these advances. You will look at four crucial aspects in this prospective view: work, relationships and family, society, and spirituality. You will identify the personal implications of these explorations, and will write a second major paper on this subject, with an eye to answering the question, "How will you carry out the life-long commitments you envision as you discern your vocation?"

As to our class discussions on games, the majority will be focused on video game software. There are several reasons for this emphasis:

  • Electronic simulations typically produce a high degree of pleasure, and as a result, rapid advances in the ability to understand and control an environment.
  • Young people today – the first generation to be immersed in electronic games – view "learning in a totally different way," says game guru Will Wright. You "treat the world as a place for … creativity, community, self-esteem and problem-solving, not consumption. This is the true impact video games will have on our culture" (p. 111, 2006).
  • New software can make manipulation of virtual environments more affordable, and often more effective, than is possible in vivo. This is especially true for educational topics. Exploring the virtual Plains of the Serengheti as a virtual Maasai hunter-gatherer is far superior to reading a pictorial essay on Africa. Examples of other arenas are psychotherapy, emergency planning and business ethics.

Although the degree of motivation developed by most video games is well documented, the great majority of these games still promote unacceptable values: aggressiveness, intense competitiveness and sexual brutality. The authors of textbooks on game design regularly excoriate their colleagues for failing to address this deleterious tendency. As a result, new products are attempting to achieve more responsible goals, such as helping fourth graders to develop a sense of empathy for others, and motivating seniors to exercise their aging brains so they can stave off senility.

Hence the third assignment for this course is to complete a socially useful game design. You will produce the details and, if possible, a sample of the game. Texts, lectures and class discussion will provide you with help in preparing this paper. Also, your game should in some way reflect what you are learning about yourself in this course. Proposals for joint projects will be allowed, but grading will be commensurate.


Your two personal papers and your game proposal will each account for 25% of your grade. Quality, not quantity, of class participation will determine the remaining 25%.

Required Readings

Ralph Koster (2004) A Theory of Fun. San Francisco: Paraglyph Press

John Fowles (1978) The Magus. Boston: Little Brown. New York: Viking

James Paul Gee (2006) Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul. Victoria, Australia: the Learner

Online summaries of developmental theories

Social Justice Games

Suggested Readings

Crawford, C. Chris Crawford on Game Design

Dacey, J., Fiore, L. Your Anxious Child

Dacey, J., Weygint, L. The Joyful Family

Dacey, J., Fiore, L. The Safe Child Handbook: How to Protect Your Family and Cope with Anxiety in a Threat-Filled World

Dacey, J., Lennon, K. Understanding Creativity

Hesse, H. Magister Ludi (Master of the Game)

Pardew, L. Game Design for Teens

Rollings, A. Game Architecture and Design: A New Edition

Richard Rouse III. (2004) Game Design: Theory and Practice (2nd Edition). New York: Wordware

Salen, K. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

Weekly Assignments

Week One - Introduction

Read online section on Introduction to Developmental Theories
A Game Proposal for Teens and Seniors, by John Dacey

Week Two - The Main Questions Developmental Science Attempts to Answer

Read online section on Freud
Introduction to Theory of Fun: Koster, ch 1
Gee, ch 1

Week Three - The Eight Stages of Life

Read online section on Erikson
The Human Brain and Games: Koster, ch 2–5

Week Four - The Relationship between Games and Life

Read online section on Buddhist psychology
Recommended ancillary reading: Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse
Fowles, The Magus, first half

Week Five - Social Justice and Games

Read online section on Jung
Social Justice Game (see site above)
Gee, ch 2

Week Six - The Underlying Nature of Games

Read online section on Skinner
Some Problems for Games Designers: Koster, ch 6-8
Gee, ch 3
Paper one due, a Personal Biography

Week Seven - Online Communication Sites

Class interview with Tim Lindgren, BC technology specialist, on new and future digital communications techniques
Read online section on Bandura

Week Eight - Technology and Education

Read online section on Piaget
The Philosophy of Games: Koster, ch 9–10
Gee, ch 4-5

Week Nine - The Future of Your Mind

Read online section on Frankl
Gee, ch 6-7
Finish Fowles

Week Ten - The Future of Society

Read online section on Maslow
Gee, ch 8

Week Eleven - New Directions for Theories of Development

Read online section on May
Gee, ch 9
Paper two due, a Prospective Biography

Week Twelve - Summary of Our Conclusions

Read online section on Fromm
Gee, ch 10

Week Thirteen - Presentations of Term Projects: Game Designs

Directions given in class.

Academic Integrity

The pursuit of knowledge can proceed only when scholars take responsibility and receive credit for their work. Recognition of individual contributions to knowledge and of the intellectual property of others builds trust within the University and encourages the sharing of ideas that is essential to scholarship. Similarly, the educational process requires that individuals present their own ideas and insights for evaluation, critique, and eventual reformulation. Presentation of others' work as one's own is not only intellectual dishonesty, but also undermines the educational process.

Plagiarism, that is, failure to properly acknowledge sources, written or electronic, used for verbatim quotations or ideas, is a violation of academic integrity. Each student is responsible for learning and using proper methods of paraphrasing and footnoting, quotation, and other forms of citation, to ensure that the original author, speaker, illustrator, or source of the material used is clearly acknowledged. See Office of Student Services Academic Integrity, Policy and Procedures.

Information for Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability you are entitled by law to equal access to University programs and facilities. The most relevant laws are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Under these laws you cannot be discriminated against on the basis of your disability. In the University setting this often means that alterations must be made in the classroom or in testing procedures. Advance notice and appropriate documentation are required for accommodations.

The Connors Family Learning Center provides academic support services and accommodations to undergraduate and graduate students with learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD. If you have a learning disability and will be requesting accommodations please register with the Center.

To be considered eligible for services for all other disabilities through the Disability Services Office students must make an appointment to meet with the Assistant Dean for Students with Disabilities, in addition to providing documentation of a disability.