New course focuses on social history of games and gaming

David Dubin
David Dubin, Teaching Associate Professor

The iSchool has introduced a new course for undergraduate students who are interested in gaming. Social History of Games & Gaming (IS 199 SHG) is a survey of the history of gaming from the ancient world through the twentieth century and its impact on science, society, and culture. Taught by Teaching Associate Professor David Dubin, the course fulfills a general education requirement for students majoring in information sciences. It is taught in a lecture and discussion format, engaging students with the material and promoting participation.

Dubin encourages students to enroll in the course because of the large impact gaming has made across a variety of disciplines. Mathematics, psychology, military planning, education, and computer science have all been influenced by gaming. Dubin wants students to be aware of the relevance of gaming to their daily lives and hopes they will come to appreciate how different academic disciplines question and understand our world.

According to Dubin, another reason that students should enroll in this course is because gaming provides models for framing important questions.

"The whole field of probability theory developed in large part out of questions related to gambling, such as how to fairly divide the stakes if a game has to end before a winner is determined. The question of whether a machine could play chess opened debates about what constitutes intelligent behavior and what it means to be a human being. The popular board game Monopoly began as a satire on the abuses of capitalism," he said.

Furthermore, the course is relevant for students because it connects the history of gaming to current events and issues. An example of this is when Dubin discusses the ancient Olympic games. He assigns students readings related to the topic and then poses questions that encourage debate about the status of student athletes. In doing so, he relates the status ancient Olympians once held to the status of student athletes in today's society.

Dubin also discusses how games like Rock Paper Scissors evolved in segregated red-light districts during the Edo period in Japan. When students learn about the history of the game, they learn about its relevance to evaluating today's policing of the sex industry and the sex workers' rights movement. Ultimately, the game's history contributes to changing our current understanding of entertainment, personal freedom, and labor.

In teaching the course, Dubin assures students that the skills learned in gaming can be beneficial in other parts of life. For example, learning to evaluate a situation from an opponent's perspective is a life skill that offers heightened insight, improves decision making, and positively impacts the outcome of certain situations.

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