Course Syllabus

CS40: History of Games
Section 4812, Spring 2021 Course Syllabus

This syllabus is available in the following formats:

Instructor Photo

Instructor: Ethan Wilde (he/him/his),

Course Description

This course includes a comprehensive study of the evolution of games throughout human history, with an emphasis on early games' impact and influence on video games. Review of the technological and artistic antecedents, with analysis of how video games reflect the beliefs, aspirations and values of the cultures where they flourish. Study includes gameplay experience and analysis of notable game genres, identifying significant artistic and technological innovations. Students will investigate gameplay and create a non-digital game that is informed by the study of game history.

Recommended Preparation: Eligibility for ENGL 1A or equivalent

Prerequisites: None

Whether you want to make games or simply better your own motivations as a player of games, an understanding of the history of people playing games is fundamental. We will explore the long and many-faceted history of humans playing games in this course.

Student Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  1. Interpret the interaction of society and culture with games throughout history and construct comprehensive analyses of the impact of video games on popular culture.
  2. Analyze how technological innovations furthered the use of video games as a platform for artistic expression.
  3. Compare and contrast video game styles and genres throughout time.

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the history of games throughout human history using chronological reasoning.
  2. Demonstrate higher-order thinking skills including evaluation and use of evidence about issues, problems, and explanations for the influence of video games on popular culture.
  3. Explore problems in the history of game design and, where possible, solve them.
  4. Develop, test, and evaluate rival hypotheses from primary sources about the history of video games.
  5. Construct sound arguments and interpretation about video games and popular culture; and evaluate the arguments and interpretation of others.

Topics and Scope:

  1. Understanding Games and Culture
    1. The relevance of games
    2. Children's games
    3. Games and human nature
    4. Definitions of games
    5. Games as closed systems
    6. The field of play
    7. A working definition of games
    8. Elements of traditional games
    9. Terminology of traditional games
    10. Applications of play
  2. The Historical Origins of Game Forms
    1. Games, play and culture
      1. Prehistoric games
      2. Knucklebones
    2. Ancient board games
      1. Mancala
      2. Royal Game of Ur
      3. Knossos
      4. Games of ancient Egypt
      5. Games of ancient India
      6. Games of ancient China
      7. Games of ancient Rome
    3. History of playing cards
      1. Chinese origins of playing cards
      2. Mamluk playing cards
      3. Cards in Europe
      4. Suit systems in Europe
      5. Tarot cards
      6. Prohibitions on cards and gambling
      7. Hanafuda cards
      8. Mahjong
    4. Development of war games
      1. Games and warfare
      2. Rome and war
      3. Gladiator game
      4. Jousting
      5. Yabusame
      6. Buzkashi
      7. Aztec flower wars
      8. Koenigspiel
      9. Modern war games
  3. The Evolution of Games
    1. The rise of commercial board games
      1. The Industrial Revolution and game publishers
      2. Snakes and Ladders
      3. The first American board game
      4. The Mansion of Happiness
      5. The Game of Life
      6. Education and games
      7. Monopoly
      8. The advent of narrative gaming
      9. Dungeons & Dragons
    2. The morality of gaming
      1. Milton Bradley
      2. Parker Brothers
      3. 20th Century: competition, collapse and consolidation
  4. The Birth of Electronic Gaming
    1. 1940s - 1960s: Pioneers
      1. William Higinbotham and Tennis For Two
      2. Steve Russell and Spacewar!
    2. 1961 - 1972: Early visionaries
      1. Ralph Baer and the Odyssey
      2. Nolan Bushnell and Computer Space
  5. 1972 - 1976: Atari and the Rise of Arcade Games
    1. Al Alcorn and Pong
    2. Competition emerges
  6. 1977 - 1979: An Industry Matures
    1. Video games become a consumer project
    2. Gaming in Japan and the growth of Nintendo - Hiroshi Yamaguchi
  7. 1980 - 1982: High Water Mark
    1. Golden age of arcade games
    2. Game designers recognized as creative artists
  8. 1983 - 1985: Crash and Recovery
    1. Demise of Atari: lessons learned
    2. Nintendo in Japan and North America
      1. Nintendo's NES and its impact
      2. Shigero Miyamoto
    3. Legal status of video games: significant legal decisions
    4. Behind the Iron Curtain: Alexey Pajitnov and Tetris
  9. 1986 - 1991: The Console Wars Continue
    1. Nintendo vs Sega
    2. Yuji Naka and Sonic the Hedgehog
    3. Differences between Japanese and North American consumers
    4. Gunpei Yokoi and the Gameboy
  10. 1992 - 1994: The Arrival of 32-Bit Consoles
    1. Controversies, Congress and the ESRB
    2. Sony and the PlayStation
    3. Evolution of PC Games
  11. 1995 - 1999: 64-Bit and the Birth of Online Gaming
  12. 2000 - 2001: Sony, Sega, Sims and Sixth Generation Consoles
    1. PlayStation leads the pack
    2. Demise of Sega: Death of Dreamcast
    3. Xbox and GameCube arrive
    4. Will Wright and The Sims
  13. 2001 and Beyond: Challenges in the New Millennium
    1. New platforms and business models emerge
      1. Social, mobile, and free-to-play
      2. The Wii and its broad appeal
      3. Rebirth of casual gaming
    2. Serious games as a creative platform
    3. Online software distribution
    4. Indie games go mainstream - Markus Person and Minecraft
    5. Edu-gaming
    6. Gamification
    7. Ethics, controversies, and challenges
      1. Violence in games
      2. Inclusivity: race, gender, and LGBTQ+
      3. Industry workplace issues
      4. Addiction
  14. Games in Film, Television, Music and Print
    1. The fear of technology as expressed in films about AI and games
      1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
      2. Tron
      3. WarGames
    2. Utopian and dystopian visions of virtual reality in film, books, and popular culture
      1. The Matrix
      2. Black Mirror "Santa Rosa" episode
      3. William Gibson
    3. Commodification and popularization of game characters in music and popular culture
      1. Character franchises of Nintendo and Sega
      2. Integration of popular music in console titles
  15. The Aesthetics of Video Game Design
    1. Ludology vs narratology
    2. Game aesthetics shared with other art forms
    3. Playtesting and the aesthetics of interactivity
  16. Non-Digital Game Design
    1. MDA: mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics
      1. Mechanics
      2. Dynamics
      3. Aesthetics
    2. Game design documents
  17. The Future of the Video Game Industry


  1. Read approximately 25-30 pages a week from instructor-provided reading materials
  2. Create two (2) timelines of periods in the history of games, such as the rise of home gaming consoles
  3. Prepare five (5) written documents that address the influence of historical facts, relevant court cases, social movements, and technological advances, on specific games or trends in the history of games, three to seven (3-7) pages each
  4. Regular participation in nine (9) biweekly and eight (8) weekly online discussion forums
  5. Playtest six (6) online versions of traditional and/or modern games and provide analysis on game mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics
  6. Midterm and final exams

Class Meetings

Spring 2021 Schedule

Class Delivery Day and Time Platform
Online Meetings  Weeks start on Wednesdays Canvas shell

Live weekly Web conference (optional)

Wednesdays, 10:00am - 11:00am Zoom

All class materials for each module will be released online in Canvas on Wednesdays throughout the entire semester. A weekly live meeting will be held on Wednesdays, 10:00am - 11:00am. Attendance at the live web conferences is optional but highly recommended. Every student must either attend the live web conference or watch the entire screencast recording of the web conference. Use the Zoom link above to join live only on Wednesdays, 10:00am - 11:00am. To view any weekly lecture's recorded screencast, visit the Screencast page for any week in the Modules section.

Instructor Contact

Ethan Wilde


Phone: 707-527-4855

Spring 2021 Office Hours
January 25 – May 17, 2021

Day Time Location
Mondays (online) 12:00pm - 6:00pm Online: Email or Skype ethanwilde

» Reserve a future office hour appointment

I typically respond to emails within 48 hours, weekends excepted. I never respond on Sundays.

Course Web Site

Students will use the Canvas course web site to access all course content, for reading, assignment instructions, submitting assignments, viewing classmates' work, sharing resources, and viewing grades. The Google Chrome browser is recommended for viewing the Canvas-powered course site. Internet Explorer is not recommended.


  • A personal computer, either at home, work or on the Santa Rosa or Petaluma campuses.

Required Software + Services

Important Dates

Day Class Begins: Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Day Class Ends: Friday, May 28, 2021

Last Day to Add without instructor's approval: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Last Day to Drop with refund: Sunday, January 31, 2021

Last Day to Add with instructor's approval: Sunday, February 7, 2021

Last Day to Drop without a 'W' symbol: Sunday, February 7, 2021

Last Day to Opt for Pass/No Pass: Sunday, February 28, 2021

Last Day to Drop with a 'W' symbol: Sunday, April 25, 2021

Dropping the Class

If you decide to discontinue this course, it is your responsibility to officially drop it. A student may be dropped from any class when that student's absences exceed ten percent (10%) of the total hours of class time. It is strongly advised that if you need to miss more than one class/homework deadline in a row that you contact the instructor to avoid being dropped from the class.


Students who fail to complete the requirements of the first and second class modules may be dropped by the instructor. Students must view and participate in online materials released each week in the Modules section of the course Canvas website.

Pass‐NoPass (P/NP)

You may take this class P/NP. You must decide before the deadline, and add the option online within your student portal or file the P/NP form with Admissions and Records. With a grade of C or better, you will get P.

You must file for the P/NP option by February 28, 2021. Once you decide to go for P/NP, you cannot change back to a letter grade. If you are taking this course as part of a certificate program, you can probably still take the class P/NP. Check with a counselor to be sure.

Instructor Announcements

The instructor will post announcements on the “Announcements” page in Canvas throughout the semester. Canvas notifies students according to their preferred Notification Preferences.

Late Policy

Please make a plan before the course starts to allow yourself the necessary time each week to complete the required reading, watching, online discussion posting, and assignments. The official Course Outline of Record for this three-unit semester-length course stipulates that each student is expected to complete 157.5 hours of learning for the class. This works out to 9 hours per week for each of the seventeen weeks of regular instruction along with 4.5 hours for Finals Week. If you plan accordingly, you can avoid submitting assignments late.

All assignments are due at 11:59pm Pacific time on the Tuesday corresponding to the due date. A late submission will receive a 10% penalty for each week it is late. Submissions more than two weeks late are not accepted without prior written arrangement.


There will be online midterm and final exams. The material comes from the online reading, viewing, class lectures and supplemental materials. If any exam is missed, a zero will be recorded as the score, unless you have made prior written arrangements with me. It is your responsibility to take the exams by the due date.

Grading Policy

Click the “Grades” link in Canvas to keep track of your grades. I grade once a week and post grades and comments in the Canvas gradebook.

Grades will be assigned as follows:

Letter Grade


Points Total


90% - 100%

900 points or more


80% - 89%

800 to 899 points


70% - 79%

700 to 799 points


60% - 69%

600 to 699 points


59% or lower

599 points or less

If taking Pass/No Pass you need at least 70% of the total class points and to complete the midterm exam and the final exam to pass the class.

Grading Breakdown



Grading Category


600 points

Timelines + Written Documents


150 points

Playtesting Reports


100 points

Discussions + Attendance (Participation)


10 points

Syllabus Quiz


70 points



70 points

Final Exam


1000 points

1000 points possible

Standards of Conduct

Students who register in SRJC classes are required to abide by the SRJC Student Conduct Standards. Violation of the Standards is basis for referral to the Vice President of Student Services or dismissal from class or from the College. See the Student Code of Conduct page.

Collaborating on or copying of tests or homework in whole or in part will be considered an act of academic dishonesty and result in a grade of zero for that test or assignment, except for assignments that allow collaboration. Students are encouraged to share information and ideas, but not their work. See these links on Plagiarism:
SRJC Writing Center Lessons on Avoiding Plagiarism
SRJC's Statement on Academic Integrity

I expect each student to maintain high standards of civility and respect when communicating with each other. The following rules of netiquette should be observed in all class discussions and communications:

  • Be kind and respectful to others
  • Use full sentences
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms
  • Use language that supports others

Special Needs

Every effort is made to conform to accessibility standards for all instructor-created materials. Students should contact their instructor as soon as possible if they find that they cannot access any course materials. Students with disabilities who believe they need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact Disability Resources by calling (707) 527-4278 or visit online at

Student Health Services

Santa Rosa Junior College offers extensive health services to students. Visit Student Health Services online at or call them at (707) 527-4445.

Course Outline

Topics Assignments
1/20 Week 1 Understanding Games and Culture
  • Assignment 1: Syllabus Quiz
  • Discussion 1: Check-in Discussion
1/27 Week 2 The Historical Origins of Game Forms
  • Assignment 2: Playtest: Traditional Games
  • Outside the Box Discussion 1
2/3 Week 3 The Evolution of Games
  • Discussion 2: Evolution of Games
2/10 Week 4 The Birth of Electronic Gaming
  • Assignment 3: Timeline: Early Game History
  • Outside the Box Discussion 2
2/17 Week 5 1972 - 1976: Atari and the Rise of Arcade Games
  • Discussion 3: Arcade Games
2/24 Week 6 1977 - 1979: An Industry Matures
  • Assignment 4: Paper: Early Video Games
  • Outside the Box Discussion 3
3/3 Week 7 1980 - 1982: High Water Mark
  • Assignment 5: Playtest: Arcade Games
  • Discussion 4: Early Rise and Fall
3/10 Week 8 1983 - 1985: Crash and Recovery
  • Assignment 6: Paper: The Crash of 1983
  • Outside the Box Discussion 4
3/17 Week 9 1986 - 1991: The Console Wars Continue
  • Midterm Exam
  • Discussion 5: The Console Wars
3/24 No Class Spring Break
3/31 Week 10 1992 - 1994: The Arrival of 32-Bit Consoles
  • Assignment 7: Playtest: Early Console Games
  • Outside the Box Discussion 5
4/7 Week 11 1995 - 1999: 64-Bit and the Birth of Online Gaming
  • Assignment 8: Paper: Online Gaming
  • Discussion 6: Online Gaming
4/14 Week 12 2000 - 2001: Sony, Sega, Sims and Sixth Generation Consoles
  • Assignment 9: Playtest: 90s Console Games
  • Outside the Box Discussion 6
4/21 Week 13 2001 and Beyond: Challenges in the New Millennium
  • Assignment 10: Paper: 21st Century Games
  • Discussion 7: 21st Century Challenges and Opportunities
4/28 Week 14 Games in Film, Television, Music and Print
  • Assignment 11: Timeline: Consoles + Culture
  • Outside the Box Discussion 7
5/5 Week 15 The Aesthetics of Video Game Design
  • Assignment 12: Playtest: Contemporary Video Games
  • Discussion 8: Game Design
5/12 Week 16 Non-Digital Game Design
  • Assignment 13: Paper: Your Game Design Document
  • Outside the Box Discussion 8
5/19 Week 17 The Future of the Video Game Industry
  • Assignment 14: Playtest: Your Favorite Game
  • Discussion 9: The Future
5/24 Mon - 
5/28 Fri
Week 18 No Regular Class
(Exam online, no regular class meeting)
  • Final Exam

Note to students: the assignments listed above will become available as modules are released in sequence each week. To view course content, go to Modules.

All of the original material found on this online course website is the property of the instructor, Ethan Wilde. My lectures and course materials, including slide presentations, online materials, tests, outlines, and similar materials, are protected by U.S. copyright law and by College policy. I am the exclusive owner of the copyright in those materials I create. You may take notes and make copies of course materials for your own use. You may also share those materials with another student who is registered and enrolled in this course. You may not reproduce, distribute or display (post/upload) lecture notes or recordings or course materials in any other way — whether or not a fee is charged — without my express written consent. You also may not allow others to do so.

© 2021 Ethan Wilde.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due