Power Games: Identity and the Social Imagination in Game Studies and Design

Fall Open
Class Standing
Julie Russo

What does it mean to play and make games during a time of social change? How do game design and gameplay represent and question social identities and systems of power? How can rule-based play help us understand, even shape, desired futures? 

This half-time, two-quarter program links critical interrogation of representation in video games with hands-on work in board game design. We will explore the relationship between game design and power across gender, race, queer, trans, indigenous, age, disability and other axes of identity. As critics, we will gain fluency in bringing theory to practice by analyzing the material and formal qualities of digital, board, and story-based games. As creators, our studio work in board game design will provide a foundation for design of all types of games. Design labs will introduce us to the use of rapid prototyping as research, preparation and writing of technical documents, and design process/product development from a user experience perspective – skills and knowledge essential to successful change and entrepreneurial work of any type.   

During class sessions, we will seminar on the design and structure of selected physical and digital games, and engage with hands-on design challenges. We’ll also play games selected because they manifest key themes or design features relevant to our work. Weekly reading and writing assignments, including academic analyses of games played in and outside of class and also technical writing (game descriptions, rules and documentation), will support completion of the hands-on work in analog game design. Overall, program intent is to inform and articulate our thinking about design, and about identity and social justice issues, in and through games and game creation. This inquiry will mesh with exploration of ways game creators (including ourselves) can inspire ideas and actions in players – the prompting of meaningful play and thought through attention to representation and user experience.   

We welcome those who aren’t (yet) experienced as game players, designers, artists, or activists. This program is appropriate for those with an introductory level of knowledge and skills and is open to more advanced students seeking breadth in their studies. Willingness to learn technical and sequential design practices and to engage with topics related to identity, difference and power structures in society is essential. Listening and learning across diverse lived experiences will be vital to our work toward equity, responsibility, community, and the development of capacities that can contribute to work for social justice and transformative change.  

Analytical work during both quarters will include digital and story games. Creative practices during fall quarter will involve assessment, modification and design of physical games – primarily board games – individually and in groups, with support for positive and inclusive collaborations. In winter quarter, students may undertake more open-ended, ongoing and fully collaborative projects, or individual projects within peer support groups. Although faculty will not provide instruction in digital game design, students with relevant experience or capacity to undertake some independent technical learning may propose digital projects during winter quarter. Fall quarter study of board game design offers a valuable foundation for students who may wish to pursue video game design projects in winter quarter. 

New students who have previously studied design practices and relevant topics such as representation or cultural studies may be admitted in winter quarter with permission from faculty. Some preparatory reading/playing may be required over winter break. 

Credit equivalencies of the program may include: digital media studies, analog game studies, cultural studies, introductory board game design, and technical writing.  


Signature Required

New students who have previously studied design practices and relevant topics such as representation or cultural studies may be admitted in winter quarter. Some preparatory reading/playing may be required over winter break. Email faculty for details and permission.

Course Reference Numbers
So - Sr (8): 20128

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (8): 10154

Academic Details

education, game design, general design, interactive digital media, technical writing, social justice advocacy


Program participants should expect to purchase some game design supplies (roughly $25-$35, dependent on project choices) and to pay as much as $50 each quarter for games.


In Person (F)
In Person (W)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
SEM 2 C3105 - Workshop