Islanders Play, Learn About Video Games in Video Game Studies Course

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – There’s education beyond the traditional math, science, and performing arts for undergraduates at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. As of spring 2023, there’s also video games — yes, those beloved electronic rabbit holes where skills are developed utilizing hand/eye coordination, concentration, memory, strategy, and persistence.

The Department of Communication and Media at TAMU-CC has launched a new course — Topics in Media Arts: Video Games Studies, which includes a gameplay lab. The class, which meets three times a week and includes a gameplay lab day, introduces students to video games as an art form, as a business, and as a part of global popular culture. Furthermore, the course investigates the uniqueness of video games as a medium and takes different approaches to studying video games, including historical, industrial, technological, cultural, theoretical, and aesthetic.

Super Mario Bros 64, Tetris, Pac-Man, Pong, and The Legend of Zelda are just a few of the video games featured in the class, which is taught by Dr. James Fleury, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of Media Arts. Fleury previously taught a version of this course at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I hope that students will realize that video games are an art form worthy of studies like literature, film, and television and that they shouldn’t be embarrassed to tell people that they play or study video games,” Fleury said.

The Video Games Studies course is broken up into three broad areas. The theory unit examines genre, design, storytelling, and hardware aspects. The industry unit focuses on economic, historical, and labor issues. Lastly, the culture unit considers cultural practices of players in general and the retro gaming community. It will also cover representation within the industry and in video games themselves.  

During the game-centric weeks, students attend gameplay lab to experience playing video games based on the week’s topic. During the lab, students are split into groups of five while taking turns playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Run, Donkey Kong, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection. Students also watch documentaries to reflect on their readings and have the chance to learn from guest speakers such as Jason Schreier, a Bloomberg News journalist and author who primarily covers the video game industry.

Media production major Miroslava Canales ‘24 played video games all her life and was interested in taking the course to learn more about how video games can benefit her career aspiration.

“My favorite video games to play are the Assassins Creed series and Skyrim. There’s also another video game, Until Dawn, that we studied in one of our labs, that I want to play,” Canales said. “I hope to learn the basics of video games and their history to benefit my future career of making films. Video games and movies have always worked together and understanding both could open more doors.”

Xavier Pon ’26 was enrolled in Fleury’s Media and Society course last fall. Pon said he loves video games and was excited to have the opportunity to enroll in a course where he could study them.

“I am most excited to study how video games affect society and how we classify video games,” Pon said. “We are already learning about what makes up a video game and it has flipped my perception on everything.”

Fleury is in his second semester at the Island University. He received his Ph.D. in Cinema and Media from UCLA in 2019 and is a co-editor of the book, “The Franchise Era: Managing Media in the Digital Economy.” His publications have appeared in journals such as Mediascape and the South Atlantic Review as well as edited collections, along with several other articles and book chapters currently under review. His primary research project is focused on Hollywood’s involvement in the video game industry, and he is currently writing a monograph that will examine the game history of Warner Bros. and its conglomerate owners – from owning Atari to its more recent work on the Batman: Arkham and Lego video games.

“From an early age, I was fascinated to learn about how movies, TV series, and video games were made. It was while in my master’s program at UCLA that I took a video game studies class, and it was like being introduced to a new world,” Fleury said.

Fleury says that because Topics in Media Arts: Video Game Studies is a new class, it was offered as a special topics course this semester. The course will need to be offered three times before the College of Liberal Arts will decided on whether to officially adopt the course into the Communications and Media Arts department curriculum.

“Hopefully the course is a success and will be officially adopted going forward,” Fleury said. “I also hope that this course paves the way for other video game classes in the department in the future.”