Beginning as early as the first printed book in English (William Caxton’s The Game and Playe of Chesse) a host of approaches have sought to explain and to modify human behavior through the analysis of games, and vice versa. Game studies has attempted to analyze human culture through the window of the games we play, especially as those games articulate complex social structures. Seen as a tool to optimize decisions—and to anticipate the decisions of others—game theory has shaped political science, mainstream economics, the probability theory used in quantum physics, cryptography, and so on. It has also become a powerful tool—perhaps too powerful—for reading literature, film, and the arts. And, finally, a recent explosion of studies and practices called, loosely, “gamification” or “serious games” has held out the promise of a new utopia, turning everyday life into an extended episode of play. Taken together, then, games may be said to be deeply entwined with what it means to be human.
This course will explore the importance of the play of games in and by the arts and sciences. Texts will include a very early play (Middleton’s A Game of Chess), a mock-epic poem (Pope’s The Rape of the Lock), several puzzles and short stories (by Arthur Conan Doyle and Jorge-Luis Borges), and a number of novels (Casino Royale and The Man in the High Castle, among others).
Students will choose among a menu of assignments, which may include two or three essays, several kinds of response papers, short presentations, and other forms of written work. Focus will be on the revision and editing of prose. The course will also include a series of weekly challenges, built around the tools we develop in the analysis of games in literature and literary games.
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