Special topics course connects politics and video games

Playing video games is part of the curriculum in one new special topics course offered this semester, which encourages Marshall University students to make connections between video games and real world politics.

The course “Politics and Video Games” (PSC 480) seeks to analyze politics within video games, look at political themes developed in games and look at the politics of both the video game industry and within gaming culture today.

Jess Morrissette, who created and teaches the special topics course, said what sparked his interest in the topic of video games and politics is that he has been a gamer all his life and gaming is a hobby he cares about, which he knows he shares with a lot of students.

Morrissette said in recent years, his research has focused on the politics of popular culture, so focusing on video games as part of pop culture, and looking at the politics that are represented in those video games, was something he wanted to do.

Jacob Redman, a senior political science major, said he is taking this special topics class because he thought it would be different from what he is used to.

Redman said he had never personally gotten into playing video games and wanted to see if the class could open him up to it.

“I think what really held me back from playing video games is I never thought of them as productive, until I took the class,” Redman said. “This emerging field of study of video games, and really studying the political dynamics, the political messaging of video games, whether it be intended or not, is very fascinating to me. We think of TV shows and movies and other forms of pop culture as political, whether they’re intended to be or not, but not really video games, and this class has really opened my mind to that perspective.”

Though video games may not be a form of popular culture people immediately connect with politics, Morrissette said he would argue that politics has been part of video games throughout the medium’s history. He said that any game that deals with any sort of relationship of power and authority has the ability to comment on or reflect critic real world politics in some way, he said.

One of the assignments Morrissette said he is excited about is the final project for the course, where students will have the option to either write a traditional term paper or to create a video game of their own that represents a political theme.

Morrissette said he hopes he built the course so that individuals, whether they play video games or not, will be able to take something away from it if they are interested in the subject matter. He said that it is not just for people who play a lot of video games a week and are hardcore gamers.

“Even if you do not label yourself as a gamer, there is much to be learned from it,” Redman said. “I’m not a game player but I’ve really been able to see in action some of the concepts and theories that we’ve talked about in x number of classes over the past few years, and I think that’s very important in the realm of learning, to be able to see what you’re learning, to be able to interact with it. I believe interaction is a key component of playing video games, and through the lens of political theory and international relations, that interaction really brings home some of those concepts that we learn.”

Jesten Richardson can be contacted at [email protected]