• MUGC 4980:501 Video Games: Behind the Screens
  • 3 credit hours
  • MTWR 10:00 to 12:50 p.m. May 14 to May 31, 2018
  • UNT New College Room 121, Frisco
  • Instructor: Dr. David Bard-Schwarz
  • Office: MU 104
  • E-mail: david.schwarz@unt.edu

This is a screenshot of Limbo: one of the video games we will study in this course.


In this course, we will play, study, and theorize six video games in depth: Inside (playdead.com/store), Limbo (playdead.com/store), Braid (Mac App Store), Soundtrack Edition: Fez (store steampowered.com/app/224760), Dear Esther (http://dear-esther.com/ STEAM), and Monument Valley (iPHONE / iPAD App store). Special thanks to composer Dan Tramte who recommended several of these games to me.

Students should know right away that we will not be studying games that involve violent sexuality, military aggression, or gender-based exploitation on any level in class. There is an immense industry of video games in the west whose structure, imagery, narrative, interactive component, sound, music, and ideological underpinnings rely on these forces. It is possible and perhaps important to theorize them as fully as we will theorize the games at hand. You will be free of course to choose whatever game you wish as the subject of your final project.

During our class, we will emphasize what it means to play, what it means to identify with a character on a screen in an interactive game, what it means to commit to a narrative, or anti-narrative story, what it means to solve a puzzle. On the syllabus below, you'll notice three entries for each class. Since the class meets for 3 hours each day, these are the topcs for each hour. We'll have 50 minutes on each of these + a 10 minute break.

Required Text and Software

Please purchase and install the games we'll study and play in class. All readings will be presented on the syllabus below as pdf files. You will also need the audio software editing program Audacity. It's free. You will also need Sonic Visualizer. It is also free.

Course Goals

For people who play, design, code, build, or market games, this class will help you understand: how it is that you identify with characters in a game, how games function as communication in social space, how games train you to think and feel (consciously), how games trigger deeper emotional responses and reflexes (unconsciously), and how games change your sense of experience outside the game. You will acquire this knowledge through the three things we are going to do in the class: 1) playing games and exploring how we think and feel as we play, 2) reading scholarly articles about games, sound-tracks, music, noise, narrative, fairy tales, psychology, sign systems, and 3) writing--individual responses to aspects of gaming, collaborative writing in which a handful of you will craft a single paragraph describing an aspect of a game, and longer critical papers bringing your personal experience of a game into a conversation with the scholarly readings for the course. Class meets for three hours per day; we will divide each class into three 50 minute segments with a 10 minute break between the first and second and second and third hour. In general we'll play / work with a game during the first hour. Then, after a break we'll discuss an article, both in terms of its precise contents and in its relationship with video games in general and the game we have just been playing / working on, in particular. Then, after a break, we'll break down into small groups for collaborative work. Each collaborative session will result in a written document (worksheet, sketch, outline, report, journal entries, etc) upon which each member will contribute.

And we will develop a precise way of talking about, writing about, and integrating the soundtrack, music, and sound effects into the visual domain of video games.

Office of Disability Accommodation (ODA)

The University of North Texas makes reasonable academic accommodation for students with disabilities. Students seeking reasonable accommodation must first register with the Office of Disability Accommodation (ODA) to verify their eligibility. If a disability is verified, the ODA will provide you with a reasonable accommodation letter to be delivered to faculty to begin a private discussion regarding your specific needs in a course. You may request reasonable accommodations at any time, however, ODA notices of reasonable accommodation should be provided as early as possible in the semester to avoid any delay in implementation. Note that students must obtain a new letter of reasonable accommodation for every semester and must meet with each faculty member prior to implementation in each class. Students are strongly encouraged to deliver letters of reasonable accommodation during faculty office hours or by appointment. Faculty members have the authority to ask students to discuss such letters during their designated office hours to protect the privacy of the student. For additional information see the Office of Disability Accommodation website at http://www.unt.edu/oda. You may also contact them by phone at 940.565.4323.


  • final project on a game of your choice (other than those we study in class) = 100%


I assume you are students of the University of North Texas in good academic standing. I assume that you are interested not only in playing, but in probing in great detail as many aspects as possible of the gaming experience, including reading challenging academic criticism. I also assume that you are willing to work hard on your writing, as a vehicle for putting your experiences into concrete form that you can share with others. You may have majors in the humanities, the fine arts, business, engineering, the sciences, whatever. You may be native speakers of English; you may have a native language other than English. You may be of traditional age or you may be of a non-traditional age.


You must all bring your own laptop computer to each class. You must buy and install on your machines all of the video games we will discuss. Please bring your own earphones to each class, a notebook with pen / pencil, and an empty flashdrive.