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Political Expression in Videogames




Admission Requirements

None. Experience playing videogames is of help but not required.


Videogames have become a integral part of contemporary media culture. Combining the concept of games and play with the possibilities of digital technology, they have developed distinct expressive techniques and offer their players complex and artful worlds to act on. Today, videogames are not only media of political expression, but are also used for (political) education, campaigning, advertisement, and critique.
This course explores some of the intersections between politics and videogames in two ways. On the one hand, it discusses some intersections between politics and videogames explored in existing literature. On the other hand, the course aims to use the perspectives gained in the theoretical discussion in an analysis of actual videogames, encouraging participants to develop a critical stance towards this major area of contemporary culture.

Course Objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will:

  • understand how videogames intersect with politics and are employed for political ends in contemporary society in various ways;

  • understand how videogames are related to or distinct form other areas of contemporary media culture and art with regards to their political potentials and limitations;

  • have developed a critical stance towards videogames

  • have played and analyzed videogames from a political point of view

Mode of Instruction

The course will be split in three parts. The first part (weeks 1 and 2) will provide a theoretical introduction to videogames through a series of short presentations on respective literature by the participants. In the second part, we will discuss several existing approaches to videogame politics, based on selected readings. In the third part, the course will examine a series of videogames selected and presented by the participants. Part 2 and 3 will run parallel (weeks 3-7), with one theory session and one analytical session per week. If it proves necessary, the course will include an excursion to facilities equipped for gaming or provide respective setups.


Assessment is based on participation in in-class discussions, well-prepared presentations, and the final assignment. In part 1 (weeks 1 and 2), all participants are expected to do a 10 min. presentation about a chapter on videogame theory, alone or in group. In part 2 and 3, participants are expected to prepare well for the discussions of the theoretical readings, and present a videogame in class (about 20 min.). This presentation will be the basis for the final research essay to be submitted in week 8.

Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Presentation on videogame theory
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 3 – 7

Assessment: Presentation of a videogame analysis
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 3 – 7

Assessment: Final research essay (3000 words)
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8


All compulsory readings will be made available in a reader or via the blackboard. Interested students please contact the convener for the reading mandatory for the first session.

Contact Information

Martin Roth
Leiden University (LIAS)
Huizinga 0.09D, Leiden

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to Videogames and Politics
Week 2: Introduction to Videogame Technology and Expression
Week 3: Videogames as Instrument in Politics, Education, and Advertisment
Week 4: Videogames and the Empire
Week 5: Videogames and Censorship
Week 6: Videogames as Art
Week 7: Videogames and Participation & concluding discussion

Preparation for first session

Please read the INTRODUCTION to Wright, Talmadge, David G. Embrick, and András Lukács, eds. Utopic Dreams and Apocalyptic Fantasies: Critical Approaches to Researching Video Game Play. Lanham / Plymouth: Lexington Press, 2010.