Video game imaginaries (Master in Film and Screen Studies)

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Program details
Subject: Video game imaginaries
Course: Second
Semester: 1
Modality: Compulsory
Professor: Mario Barranco Navea


The video game is much more than a medium. Its logic helps us to understand key nuances of our contemporaneity. Today we are immersed in a constantly expanding game, based on interfaces, avatars and rankings. The world is more gamified than ever. Therefore, studying the deep links that video games have with cinema (and vice versa) will not only give us the keys to a historical feedback, but will also help us to elucidate a contemporary diagnosis of today’s intermediate aesthetics.

We will not be tackling an archaeological and nostalgic work on the medium’s past, but rather an investigation of its characteristics and singularities through underground titles, with special attention to independent and experimental productions by authors such as Brendon Chung, David O’Reilly, Jonathan Blow, Terry Cavanagh, Arnt Jensen… Without forgetting the emblems of the industry (Miyamoto, Kojima, Molyneux), the course will immerse itself in the most radical and innovative side of recent video games in order to establish a practical dialogue with cinematographic forms.

During the classes, game dynamics, discussion of texts and debates will be proposed. In addition, games will be played to make the concepts discussed “playable”. We will not only think with games, but we will make “playing” itself a way of thinking.


Students are expected to learn to identify the basic concepts of game studies and to be able to extrapolate them to other fields such as film or performance, so that they can take advantage of their application in design tasks for transmedia and interactive productions, in the construction of staging and in the development of complex dramaturgical schemes. On the other hand, the course will facilitate a criterion of analysis and an aesthetic approach to the videoludic image, guaranteeing that the student establishes bridges with other audiovisual images. In this sense, microanalysis, narratography and semantics will be applied to the video game image, with the idea that the student will learn to dissect the aesthetics and poetics of the video game.


  • UNIT 1: Ontology of videogames: “The mechanics is the message”.
    • Fundamental concepts of the videoludic medium. Audio/visual and video/play. Distinction between rule and mechanics. Ecology vs. economy of the virtual environment. Constitutive rules, operational rules and optional rules. The imaginary, the symbolic and the real in the videoludic interface. Deconstruction of video game imaginaries. Origins of the video game: from figurative abstraction to the new retro, from hyper-simulation to emergent mechanics. Structures and mutations of genres: from the shooter to the walking simulator, from the infinite puzzle to the sado-playfulness of Masocore.
  • UNIT 2: The video game in the cultural history of the 20th century
    • Structuralism, post-structuralism and the emergence of cybernetics. Representation vs. simulation. George Steiner’s Pythagorean genre. Game theory (John Nash, John Von Neumann). Chronos and Aion, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Anti-tragedies of the video game: the myth of Sisyphus.
      Introduction to the key discussions in Game Studies: ludology vs. narratology, kinaesthetics and proceduralism.
  • UNIT 3: Anthropology of video games: “In the beginning, it was the game”.
    • Ethno-ludology and anthropology of (video) games. Huizinga and Caillois. The mythical basis of the video game: the mechanics as ritual, the game as performance of the myth. The mystical video games of Tale of Tales and thatgamecompany. From Aristotelian dramaturgy to ironic determinism (Stanley parable, Loved).
  • UNIT 4: The video game in Game Studies. Videoludic narratology
    • Jesper Juul: emergence and progression. Player: flow theory and abduction. The cybertext: Espen Aarseth. Narratology: Janet Murray, Markku Eskelinen. Time, mode and voice in video games.
  • UNIT 5: The video game in Game Studies. Proceduralism
    • Operational aesthetics and Ian Bogost’s approach. Unit operations. Rhetoric of persuasion. Educational games, persuasive games, newsgames. The configurative model of genres.
  • UNIT 6: Video Games in Game Studies: Worlds of Fiction
    • Rule and metaphor. The nomothetic metaphor. Possible worlds (Planells). Intension and saturation. Perspectivism in video games: trans-spaces and composability. Perspectivism and genres.
  • UNIT 7: The Video Game in Game Studies: Deleuzian aesthetics and speculative realism
    • Ludodiagram and metagame. Speculative games. Narratography. Transmedial aesthetics. Walter Benjamin’s aura and the simulation of singularity. Permadeath, one-life games, only one player: the existentialist video game. Abstractions of the conceptual video game. The puzzle image and the videoludic mise-en-scène.
  • UNIT 8: Cinema and Video Games (I): “Ritornelos and palindromes”.
    • Beyond adaptations: From digital mannerism to modular and fragmentary structures. Mind game films, puzzle films, data-base narratives. Rule, repetition and prolepsis as the basis of videoludic cinema. Synergy of the video game with the cinema of loops and temporal paradoxes. Time travel as Deus in Machina. Gamified horror. From Resident Evil to It follows. Cyber-lore and creepypasta: performative construction of collective myths.
  • UNIT 9: Art of the video game: “The dynamics are the message”.
    • Hybridisations of video games with contemporary art: from performance to playable theatre, from situationism to relational art, from land art to the neo-drift of Pokemon Go. Serious games and curious games. Political simulators and Molleindustria titles. New aesthetics of the prosumer. Gameplay as a genre. Hackplayers and gamer techniques. The emancipated gamer. Machinima and modding. From Slapstick to Slapglitch.
  • UNIT 10: Ludoensayism: the video game as an audiovisual essay
    • From structural cinema to algorithmic cinema. The parametric video essay and deformativism. Second life and Chris Marker. Documentary machinima. Desktop films and transmedia montage. The Beginners Guide as a paradigmatic ludo-essay.
  • UNIT 11: Cinema and Video Games (II): “From dramaturgy to systematics”.
    • Table-top films. Synergies between video games and auteur cinema. From Raul Ruiz to Jacques Rivette, from Shane Carruth to Hitoshi Matsumoto. Replications: molecular character, grey goo, time collapse and replay-fusing. The interactive film (from Dragon’s Lair to Quantic Dream). Cinematic experimentation in Blendo games titles (Thirty Flights of Loving, Gravity Bone). Games of continuity and framing, anamorphism and playable point of view: from Portal to the creations of Logan Fieth. The VR horizon.


The active participation and involvement of the students in the sessions of the subject will be taken into account for the evaluation (up to 20% of the final mark). On the other hand, the bulk of the assessment will consist of the delivery of a final project which may be a written text, an audiovisual piece or even a prototype or video-play project (80% of the final mark). Throughout the sessions we will see some practical approaches (applications for prototyping and design of mechanics, examples of videogame dossiers, game-makers that allow the creation of flat games, etc.). These small incursions into the practical dimension of videogame design will offer options for those who want to do a practical work, without prejudice to those who want to write a traditional written essay.

In any case, the final work should reflect a reflection on video game language and preferably on the intermediate relationship that the video game maintains with other languages (cinema, theatre, animation, performance, architecture, etc.). To this end, aspects seen in class on the relationship between cinema-video games, rule-mechanics, interface-metaphor, representation-simulation, etc. should be taken into account.

Possible formats are:

  • Analysis or written reflection (between 8 and 10 pages maximum).
  • Video essay or video creation (between 5 and 10 minutes minimum).
  • Design or prototyping of a mechanic (Between 8 and 10 pages of project maximum)
  • Video game or gameplay essay (Between 3 and 5 levels or scenes)


AARSETH, Espen J. (1997). Cybertext. Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
ADAMS, Ernest; DORMANS, Joris (2012). Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design. Berkeley: NRG.
BAUDRILLARD, Jean (2012). Cultura y simulacro. Barcelona: Kairós
BOGOST, Ian (2012). Alien Phenomenology or What it’s Like to be a Thing. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
CAILLOIS, Roger (1967). Los juegos y los hombres Fondo Cultura Económica, México.
DELEUZE, Gilles (2002). Diferencia y repetición. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu.
ELSAESSER, Thomas. (2018). “Contingency, causality, complexity: distributed agency in the mind-game film” New Review of Film and Television Studies, 16(1), pp. 1-39.
HUIZINGA, Johan (2012). Homo ludens. Madrid: Alianza.
JUUL, Jesper (2013). The Art of Failure. An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge: The MIT Press
MUMFORD, Lewis (2010). El mito de la máquina. Técnica y evolución humana. Logroño: Pepitas de Calabaza.
SICART, Miguel (2013). Beyond Choices. The Design of Ethical Gameplay. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
STEINER, George (1967). Lenguaje y silencio: Ensayos sobre la literatura, el lenguaje u lo inhumano. Connecticut: Yale University Press.


Bibliografía complementaria

AARSETH, E. (1999). “Aporía and Epiphany in Doom and The Speaking Clock. The Temporality of Ergodic Art”, Ryan, Marie-Laure (ed.), Cyberspace Textuality. Computer Technology and Literary Theory. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
BAER, Ralph H. (2005). Videogames in the Beginning. Springfield, Nueva Jersey: Rolenta Press.
BINMORE, Ken (2011). La teoría de juegos. Una breve introducción. Madrid: Alianza.
BOGOST, Ian (2006). Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. Cambridge: The MIT Press. (2007) Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
CAILLOIS, Roger (2006). El hombre y lo sagrado. México: FCE.
ELSAESSER, Thomas (2013). “Mind Game Films. El trauma en la trama”, L’Atalante. Revista de estudios cinematográficos, Vol. 15.
FRASCA, Gonzalo (1999). “Ludology Meets Narratology: Similitude and Differences between (Video)games and Narrative”, Parnasso, 3
GARIN, Manuel (2012). El gag visual y la imagen en movimiento. Del cine mudo a la pantalla jugable. Tesis doctoral. Barcelona: Universitat P. Fabra.
JENKINS, Henry; FORD, Sam; GREEN, Joshua (2013). Spreadable Media. Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press
JENKINS, Henry (2009). Fans, blogueros y videojuegos: la cultura de la colaboración. Barcelona: Paidós
KARHULAHTI, Veli-Matti (2013). “A Kinesthetic Theory of Videogames: Time-Critical Challenge and Aporetic Rhematic”, Game Studies, nº 13, Vol. 1.
PLANELLS, Antonio J. (2013). Los videojuegos como mundos ludoficcionales. Una aproximación semántico-pragmática a su estructura y significación. Tesis doctoral. Madrid: Universidad Carlos III.
ZAGAL, José P.; ALTIZER, Roger (2014): “Examining ‘RPG Elements’: Systems of Character Progression”, en Foundations of Digital Games Conference. Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
VV. AA. (2003) The Video Game Theory Reader (ed. M. J. P. Wolf y B. Perron). New York: Routledge,

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