Videogame Pedagogy for Social Change


Game studies, game design, and game development courses have proliferated in colleges and universities in response to the growing cultural interest in gaming and the game industry’s need for skilled labor. As education joins the ranks of institutions targeted for “gamification,” the medium has also been taken up as a key mode for engaging students in classroom instruction.

However, in the midst of the games-in-education hype, there are only scattered discussions about how to actually teach it, and even fewer resources for instructors to teach video games with the purposeful intention of cultivating critical reflection, democratic participation, and transformative social impact. Commentators lament the lack of gender and racial diversity in the game industry and the STEM fields that often feed that industry. But too often the structure for teaching video games in higher education has been shaped primarily by the scramble to provide technical training and to legitimize the field of game studies by defining its formal contours, leaving the crucial but messy questions of culture, power, oppression, identity, and ethics as optional additions for later, after the “serious” business of teaching the technology and nuts and bolts of gaming are established. The social and political exclusions built into this industry-based model of teaching video games prevent women, people of color, LGBTQ people, lower class people, people in the global south, and “non-techies” of all kinds from participating in the medium of games as players, creators, critics and scholars.

This panel seeks to intervene on the prevailing discourse of game education by including these questions of diversity, social justice, and politics as essential rather than peripheral to the pedagogy of video games. From securing institutional support, to planning syllabi and assignments, to setting up classroom spaces and practices, this panel for critical videogame pedagogy in higher education positions social transformation at the core of technological and design innovation rather than as a side issue. A concrete outcome of the panel is to collect a selection of case study stories and and extract a few key issues to highlight and share in a special section of the new Game Studies Pedagogy website, a curated online resource hub for teaching game studies in higher education to focus on diversity, social justice and inclusive pedagogy, with an associated ongoing working group.



Irene Chien (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) is Assistant Professor of Media and Communication at Muhlenberg College. Her work on the politics of race and gender in video games has been published in Film Quarterly and the anthology Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games (Routledge, 2010), and she has contributed an essay to the edited collection Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games (Indiana University Press, forthcoming Summer 2017).


Jennifer Malkowski (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Smith College. She is the author of Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary (Duke University Press, forthcoming February 2017) and the co-editor of Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games (Indiana University Press, forthcoming Summer 2017). Her work has also been published in Jump Cut, Film Quarterly, and the edited collection Queers in American Popular Culture. Her CV is available at:



Jane Pinckard is a writer and educator who has studied the culture of video games for fifteen years. She has written about games for publications such as Gamepro, EGM, 1UP and Salon, as well as on her games culture blog, GameGirlAdvance. She led the east coast business development operations for Foundation 9 Entertainment, and served as vice chair of the IGDA. In 2011, she joined UC Santa Cruz as associate director of the Center for Games and Playable Media, and now lectures at USC School of Cinematic Arts in the Interactive Media and Games division. She is a Capricorn and her favorite game is Loderunner.