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Political Expression in Videogames




Admission Requirements



Videogames have become an 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 that offer their players complex, artful worlds to act on. Today, videogames are not only entertainment products, but are also deployed in education, campaigning, advertisement, and political critique.
Framed by the general context of media culture and technology, this course explores some of the intersections between videogames and the political in two ways. On the one hand, we will discuss existing literature on related issues like political themes in games, the politics of gameplay and videogame software, as well as censorship or social aspects of online gaming. On the other hand, the course aims to use the perspectives gained in the theoretical discussion in an analysis of actual videogames. In sum, the course aims to encourage all participants to develop and practice a critical, analytical stance towards videogames as one of the most influential areas of contemporary culture.

Course Objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will:

  • have understood where and how videogames intersect with the political and contribute to or influence contemporary society in various ways

  • will have developed a critical perspective on the contents of videogames and their culture

  • be able to situate videogames within the landscape of contemporary media, popular culture and art

  • have played and analyzed videogames critically

  • have improved their presentation skills, including the use of images, video and audio content

Mode of Instruction

The course will be split in three parts. In the first part (weeks 1 and 2), we will establish a general understanding of videogames and their expression based on a discussion of selected literature. In part 2, we will examine specific intersections between politics and videogames in literature and concrete videogame examples. In part 3, each student will present his or her own analysis of one self-chosen videogame in class.
The second and third part run parallel (week 3-7), with one discussion session and one presentation session each week.
If necessary, the course will include an excursion to facilities equipped for gaming or provide respective setups.


To be confirmed in the course syllabus:

Assessment is based on preparation of the reading assignments, written summaries of assigned parts of the respective readings, participation in in-class discussions (parts 1 & 2), individual presentations (part 3) of a videogame (about 10 mins), including one blog post based on the presentation, and the final assignment, which can be based on the individual presentation.

Preparation of reading assignments and assigned chapter summaries, in-class participation: 30%
Analysis of one self-chosen videogame from a political perspective, presentation of the results in class and on a blog: 30%
Final research essay (3000 words): 40%


The following books are compulsory. A copy will be made available in the library in The Hague or in a reader.

  • Bogost, Ian. 2007. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

  • Galloway, Alexander R. 2006. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Embrick, David. 2012. “Social exclusion, power and video game play : new research in digital media and technology.”

  • Flanagan, Mary. 2009. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge/Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

  • Glas, René. 2013. Battlefields of Negotiation : Control, Agency, and Ownership in World of Warcraft. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Open access via: http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=437366

  • Koster, Raph. 2005. A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Scottsdale: Paraglyph Press.

Contact Information

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

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Overview of videogame expression, its poltitics, and respective methodologies
Week 2: Overview of videogame expression, its poltitics, and respective methodologies
Week 3: Videogames as procedural instruments of political persuasion
Week 4: Videogames as Art
Week 5: Videogames and Participation
Week 6: The politics of online gaming
Week 7: Game rating, censorship and region locking & concluding discussion

Preparation for first session

FIRST: Write, in one sentence, how you think videogames might be political.
THEN: Watch Jane McGonigal’s TED talk: “Gaming can make a better world” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE1DuBesGYM