Virtual Realities, Fictional Worlds, and Games

Overview

 Virtual reality, fictional worlds, and games are all over the so-called real world: from education, business, and popular entertainment to how we conduct politics, meet other people, and define ourselves and our communities. Although new technologies make videogames and extended reality prominent in the contemporary moment, fictional scenarios, virtual worlds and gamified systems have played important roles in culture and society for centuries. 

This cluster considers how the virtual, the fictitious, and the gamified shape the circulation of information and the making of meaning. It likewise looks at their antecedents and analogues in older immersive forms like role play, the print novel, film, and television. When we examine the continuities among the virtual, the fictional, and games, we find all sorts of contradictions underlying how they work in the real world. All have been deployed to serve the ends of the powerful and the oppressed; to train particular professions (from doctors to soldiers); and to reveal social inequities across race, gender, sexuality, and (dis)ability. Believe it or not, reading novels was once described in the terms we now use for video game playing: the salvation of an industry, but addictive and the scourge of youth. From collaborative storytelling to war games, this cluster considers the range of social and antisocial uses of immersive worlds. Whether we read about, watch, or play the part of killers, achievers, party guests, explorers, or some other yet-to-be-determined role, we will discover how versions of ourselves come into being through versions of virtuality, fictionality, and gaming. 

Courses

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 188FS/Information Science and Studies 188FS/Literature 188FS/Visual and Media Studies 188FS/International Comparative Studies 186FS/Political Science 186FS: Games and Culture (SS, CCI)

Ginsburg

Shai Ginsburg, Chair of and Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

This class is different: It is about both playing hard and working hard; it is about questioning the opposition between playing and working. We inspire to work through play and play through work, and have fun doing both! We take games both as great fun and very seriously. True, we are about to play games—many games—and, hopefully, have fun doing so; but we will also consider the games we play (as well as other games) in a scholarly fashion, as important products of our culture, as something that can tell us about our society, politics, and ideology. We will thus look at tabletop games and videogames from divergent perspectives: historical, sociological, political, military, literary and more, paying particular attention to game design and the ways it shapes our experience not only of the game, but also of the world. Our driving contention is that the understanding of game design and gameplay can enhance our understanding of cultural and political dynamics.

Informational Sciences: Constructing Immersive Virtual Worlds

Augustus Wendell

Augustus Wendell, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Art, Art History & Visual Studies

We are surrounded in our daily lives by immersive media. Literature, Cinema, Social Media, Broadcast Media and Gaming among others. How do we define the methods, strategies and tactics of immersion used by these media? How do we understand emerging paradigms in immersion in the context of these historical models? What opportunities and potentials are at play in the much hyped Metaverse? This course explores immersive media head on, through both critical research and critical making. We will investigate contemporary and historical immersive worlds through readings and research. Through these studies we will develop a vocabulary of how immersion functions across multiple media and throughout history? Simultaneously we will master the software tools to design and author our own immersive worlds. State of the art computational simulation workflows using 3D game engines, 3D modeling and 3D texturing technologies will be studied, mastered and applied to critical design prompts. Throughout the course we will balance our attention between critical research and the application of specific media creation skills towards manifesting actualized immersive works in AR, VR and XR. The course will culminate in the creation and exhibition of robust immersive critical computational projects.

English 190FS: Fictionality and Virtuality (ALP, W, STS)

Vadde

Aarthi Vadde, Associate Professor of English 

This course uses literary works (novels) and popular culture (video games, TV shows, blogs, Twitter fiction, and crowdsourcing projects) to introduce two key concepts for literary and digital cultural study: fictionality and virtuality. The fictional and the virtual explain how stories immerse us in their worlds: why we can’t put a book down, binge watch our favorite shows, and game for hours. Whatever your pleasure (reading, watching, playing), your immersion in a familiar art form is usually preconditioned by the knowledge that it is not real even if it feels real. But what about when art forms are new? In the 18th century, novel readers did not yet know what they were reading. They thought novels were autobiographies and characters were real people. Today, when we go online and use social media, we encounter real people who behave like fictional characters, parody accounts, curated personas, avatars, deep fakes, and all sorts of other techniques for virtualizing the self. In thinking about the entwined history of fictionality and virtuality, we will gain perspective on a contemporary world in which readers and viewers, for better and worse, have become players and participants. 

Computer Science 94FS: Introduction to Programming via Animation and Virtual Worlds (QS)

Duvall

Robert Duvall, Senior Lecturer of Computer Science 

Games are an increasingly important medium in terms of international use, cultural impact, and profitability. Arguably, gaming has also driven many recent advances in computer hardware and are finally gaining acceptance within the academic community as an area worthy of study. And why not? Games contain all of the basic elements taught in computer science and commercial game engines are becoming increasingly complex software systems. The focus of this project is not to build commercial quality games, but you will experience the same basic concepts, trade-offs, and design ideas by building these games. 

Games are also a very interesting medium to explore new things but designing something that is fun as well as educational is a significant design challenge. This course will be a hands-on exploration of designing, implementing, and play testing games. Along the way you will learn about what makes a game good and practice working in teams to iteratively improve your work. 

This course aims to be an introduction to the basic concepts of computer programming by designing and implementing games. While the focus is on programming games, the concepts covered are widely applicable across programming languages and applications. These concepts include loops, selection, collections, organizing data, event-driven responses, and user interface design. As such, it provides an introduction to a skill that you can use to enhance any of your other interests as well as preparation to take CompSci 101 if you choose to continue on in Computer Science. 

Required Background: This course is intended for non-majors and has no prerequisites.