Video Games and American Culture

Video games are the fastest-growing segment of the entertainment industry. Indeed, they will soon be the most important force in popular culture, surpassing the reach and influence of any other single medium. As Phillip Penix-Tadsen points out in his book Cultural Code (2016), already today "games are put to use for a broad array of social, political, and economic purposes, and are becoming an ever more ubiquitous element of daily life. Apart from being played, games are being referenced, reviled and regaled, polemicized and politicized, monetized and monumentalized, and otherwise converted into cultural currency with increasing frequency."

This undergraduate seminar seeks to explore these interconnections between video games and the cultures that surround them. As we will see, video games have tapped into the vast pool of icons, myths, and ideas the American imagination offers. American history, for example, provides a number of engaging topics, settings, events, and archetypes which have been readily represented and simulated in video games. These range from triple-A games set during the American Revolution and the final days of westward expansion such as Assassin's Creed III (2012) and Red Dead Redemption (2010), respectively, to independent games such as Walden: A Game (2017), a first-person simulation of Henry David Thoreau's time at Walden Pond, and September 12th: A Toy World (2003), a game which presents a devastating critique of the "War on Terror." Similarly, contemporary first-person shooters frequently oscillate between supporting and critiquing American neo-imperialism and games such as the latest entries in the Grand Theft Auto series (since 2003) celebrate and perpetuate the American Dream as much as they highlight the Dream's vacuity.