Preparing video…

Understanding Video Games

An 11-lesson course teaching a comprehensive overview of analytical theory pertaining to video game media. Topics covered: play and game, emergence versus progression, game mechanics, story, interpretive theory, the culture of games, violence, sex and race in games, and finally, serious games. Estimated workload: 3-5 hrs/wk for non-credit; 7-10 hrs/wk for credit.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

Video games are a globally entrenched entertainment medium that entertains, informs and challenges us. These games are defined by, and define our modern culture. In this course, students will learn how to study games and engage in informed discussions about them. Ultimately, this course is about understanding the literacy of video games.

Understanding Video Games was created with the help of world renowned video game developer, BioWare Corp, located in Edmonton, Alberta.

The three main parts of the course are:

1) developing the terminology that enables us to talk about video games;

2) exploring how these terms are used in theoretical frameworks to interpret games, and;

3) turning these theories toward cultural aspects of games in order to understand how the medium has impacted society. One of the most important insights students will gain from the course will be an understanding of the interplay between video game designers, players and the games themselves.

Course material is delivered in a student-friendly short-form fashion, with numerous formative feedback sections. Students will gain access to a number of special interactive modules designed specifically for this course. These modules will give users the opportunity to design their own video game avatar, as well as explore the short but fascinating history of video game releases. This course's unique lesson delivery, combined with classic quiz structure, will enable students to quickly gain a solid foundational understanding of video games within the context of modern culture. 

UAlberta students can earn course credit: Learn how.

For information on how non-UAlberta students can earn course credit, please see the FAQs below on this page.

Understanding Video Games is part of an ongoing program of research into digital learning conducted by the University of Alberta and therefore anonymized data provided by Coursera and survey information can be made accessible to the researchers.

Course Syllabus

Lesson 1: Introduction
In this short lesson, students will learn what to expect from the course, and will be introduced to our avatar creation module.

Lesson 2: Play and Games
Here, students will gain an appreciation for the differences between play and games. Game taxonomy and a definition of rules will be covered.

Lesson 3: Emergent and Progressive Gameplay
This lesson focuses on the difference between two major gameplay types, and how they impact our experience of video games.

Lesson 4: Game Mechanics
Students are introduced to the concepts of ludology, structuralism and the mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics approach to game analysis

Lesson 5: Story and Games
We explore the concept of games as stories, as well as the importance of narrative in video game presentation. Campbell's monomyth theory is thoroughly explained and applied to game stories.  

Lesson 6: Interpreting Games
How can structuralist and post-structuralist analysis lead us to a better understanding of "how games mean?" This lesson will introduce students to a number of theoretical frameworks for analyzing games.

Lesson 7: Gaming Culture
Here students will be introduced to the concept of semiotics and how language is used in inclusionary and exclusionary game community practices. Indie game producers and modding groups are also discussed during this lesson.

Lesson 8: Violence and Games
Discussions around violence and games seem to go hand-in-hand. Why is this? What purposes are served by violence and its portrayal in video games? These are some of the questions engaged by this lesson.

Lesson 9: Sex and Games
In this lesson, the subjects of sexuality, gender and the portrayal of sex are discussed. In addition, there is a module on women in the game industry.

Lesson 10: Race and Games
The subjects of race and racial stereotypes are explored in this lesson. The student will discover that race and racial conflict drive gameplay and narrative in numerous game genres, yet is a subject seldom broached in scholarly discussions.

Lesson 11: Serious Games
Games can be used for teaching and training, and this genre is called serious games. Here, students will learn about industry's co-opting of game theory and practice as they endeavour to engage their workforce. Methods of player retention are explored in this lesson.

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome. 

Suggested Readings

Each lesson is accompanied with a recommended reading.

Course Format

This class consists of lecture videos from 1-8 minutes in length, interspersed with integrated quiz questions in addition to a unit test after each of the 11 lessons. Students taking the course for credit at the University of Alberta will be required to take a midterm and final exam as well.


What resources will I need for this class? 
An internet connection and a sense of adventure. 

Can I receive credit from other universities for UVG?
Understanding Video Games is an open, free MOOC, and all learners are welcome. This course is being taken concurrently by University of Alberta students for credit at the University of Alberta. If you are a learner interested in earning academic credit, but are not enrolled at the University of Alberta, there is a way you can potentially receive credit from other universities.  Please remember there is no requirement for you to pay to take the exams if you simply want to take the course for free or if you are only interested in a Signature Track verified Coursera certificate. 
You will need to do two things if you are not a University of Alberta student: 

1. Register for Signature Track    
Only students who are registered for Signature Track will be allowed to take the midterm and final exams. See Signature Track Guidebook for more details. You can also just take Signature Track for the verified Coursera certificate if you are not interested in taking the exams.    

2. Sign up for the midterm and final exams    

Signature Track students who are not enrolled at the University of Alberta who want to take the exams will pay a $263 Canadian fee. The exam option for students not enrolled at the University of Alberta will be available soon and all Signature Track students will be alerted by email that they have the option of paying to take the exams. Please note: additional costs will apply to students taking these exams. The exact cost will be provided when you register to take the exam.

It is important to understand that Coursera and the University of Alberta can't actually grant you credit at your university or college. The decision to grant you credit is always up to the professors at your university or college. The University of Alberta and Coursera are committed to giving you everything you need to take to your university to request credit. We have built a complete course explanation package available to you when the course starts that gives you everything you need to take to your professors at your university for them to evaluate. 

You can take the exams to add to your resume or CV or for the sheer challenge of taking a university-level midterm and exam and be graded, but if you are hoping your university will grant you credit for Understanding Video Games, please make sure you have your university's support before you pay to take the exams.