First-year students click start to play for video game seminar

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Photo by Capcom |

Rutgers is providing students with a cheat code to help find out "The Meaning of Video-Gaming."

Rutgers has been offering a course that aims to find the relationships between gamers and their video games for about five years now. The Byrne seminar offers first-year students an insight as to why video games are “so enthralling,” said Paul McLean, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology.

“The class offers a good opportunity to provide framework (for students) to think critically (about video games),” he said. “Students (are so) enthusiastic about video games.”

Although some view video games as negative, McLean generally believes the negative notion about video games are overstated. There is not much evidence that supports the notion of video game violence promoting real-life violence, McLean said.

Instead he wants students to think analytically and critically about their relationship with the “gaming culture,” and describes this relationship as a potential benefit.

Vincent Dimaya, a Rutgers Business School sophomore and former course student, said the intriguing course description lead him to enroll in the seminar.

Dimaya also disagrees with the negative view of games. He credits the first-year student environment and McLean's laid-back teaching style for why he was able to enjoy and learn so much from the course.

“The most fun credit I’ve ever earned,” he said. “Professor McLean was able to allow us to chill and not make the class so taxing that we couldn’t complete other course workloads.”

The course came into existence when McLean and his students worked together on a thesis project.

Preeti Khanolkar graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences in 2007 with degrees in psychology and sociology. At the time, she was not sure if she wanted to pursue a thesis project, but was granted permission by the Department of Sociology.

Khanolkar said she remembers reading a video game article about the upcoming release of the Nintendo Wii and their marketing place in Time magazine when she was searching for a topic to research.The article was her inspiration for the thesis project.

“(The article) spoke about wanting to turn people of all ages, including girls and grandpas, into gamers,” she said. 

After serious thought and consideration, McLean agreed to supervise Khanolkar’s project. She was thinking of researching her topic on the gender diversification of video gamers, but McLean suggested she direct her project in a different direction.

At the time, Grand Theft Auto, a game that is popular and controversial for its violent content, was the spark for her project.

"Everything in the press was really negative about (this) game," Khanolkar said.

People were quick to dismiss to any potential benefits of the video game, she said.

“Games are meaningful. They are a form of play,” she said. “Beating games isn’t just about beating the boss.”

One major benefit of video games is social bonding, she said. Khanolkar said she would not have built strong bonds with her siblings. 

“It offered a lot of social bonding,” she said. 

Khanolkar, along with the help of McLean, was determined to discover the relationship between video games and players.

Khanolkar interviewed about 20 students with 30 different questions. She hoped to learn the effects of playing video games from a young age.

One particular student stood out because he was “articulate” about his favorite video game. He told Khanolkar that he stayed awake until 5 a.m. to beat a certain game and described the moment as “monumental” for him.

During her study, she also recorded the behavior and language between gamers during their game interactions. She noticed that gamers would refer to each other by their “in-game names or characters." 

“It was an interesting switch in how they spoke during games and away from them,” she said.

Khanolkar also looked into how gamers perceived violence in video games and how they interpreted that violence. 

“It depends on the context of it, (but) I wanted to see how gamers felt about the media perception of video game violence criticism,” she said.

Khanolkar and McLean found that video games provided people with a platform to build and maintain relationships, as well as foster community interaction. 

“It was interesting to see the perception from gamers and how they related to it,” she said.

Khanolkar's thesis project was ultimately published and won a number of awards, including best sociology thesis project. She received a great amount of support from Rutgers, her friends and family, as well as McLean.

When Khanolkar discovered that this video game seminar was going to be partially based off her study, she was “super flattered," she said.

“I think it’s cool that professor McLean thought the course. (It) was important for students since he’s not much of a gamer,” she said. “He sees the value in the course.”

McLean, Khanolkar and Dimaya all hope to see Rutgers expand on this course and start a video game department. 

“A department dedicated to the creation, understanding and social implications of video games and the likes would no doubt be a worthwhile addition to the University,” Dimaya said.


Julian Jimenez

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