Semester(s) Offered: Fall
Credits: 4
Course Call Number: GAMES-GT 104, GAMES-UT 104
Taught By: Jesse Fuchs

This survey course covers a selection of the computer games that were produced and played in the United States in the 1980s. While developers often started out in their bedrooms mailing out individual disks in ziplock bags, development and publishing companies sprung up from their early success; when the console game industry of the early 80s crashed in 1983, the relatively high­-end computer game market continued to innovate and sometimes even greatly prosper, albeit with a more narrowly targeted idea of its customers. The most popular games of the era retailed for an average of $30 ­ $40 (around $70 ­ $90 in today’s money), often with stylish, lush presentation (thick manuals, cloth maps, scene­-setting “feelies”) that often doubled as a physical form of copy protection. Cultivating an aura of expense and quality allowed American game designers to project pop personas, explore new ways of creating meaning via play, and add genuine depth to game worlds.

The political, cultural, and technological context of the United States in the 1980s provides a lens to analyze a corpus of games that, while often forgotten in contemporary American games culture, has imposed a powerful influence over our practices, and remains a rich ore of quirky ideas and never ­explored by-ways to mine. The course encourages students to play games critically, to understand different game design strategies as well as the technological constraints that often led to them, and to develop an understanding of the ways in which European, Japanese and American games diverged through the 1980s. While the primary focus of the course is computer—as opposed to console or arcade—games, the latter will also be discussed to a extent; partly because they provide an effective counterpoint to what was going on in home computers, but also because there are more than enough interesting obscurities and touchstones for any game designer to at least be passingly aware of.

This course is directed to students of game design and game studies, as well as those with an interest in the study of video games as a cultural form and/or digital media history and development.