Press Start to Play: America as a Gamer's Nation - HIST5104

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


This module explores the history of play in the United States of America across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The module pays keen attention to the interface of technology with the emergence of mass consumption, modern media, increased leisure time and shifts in family life in a US setting. It encourages students to reflect on the deeper meanings behind the practice of play by engaging with significant theoretical discussions (such as Huizinga's magic circle, or Chapman's (hi)story-play-space). Play is explored through its relationship with matters of class (1890's Coney Island and segregated amusements), race (African-American Jackie Robinson as the first Major League baseball player in the 1940s), and gender (the 1950’s Barbie Doll).

The module also explores how 'play’ and 'games’ can be seen to shape popular views of history and the past. Through the lens of modern video games, sessions tackle how the frontier West, the Cold War, and the War on Terror have all been 'gamified.’ Through project work, it encourages students to dissect the presentation of America and American history in specific game products, and tackle some of the myriad problems with ‘playing the past’.

The interdisciplinary module draws on literature from (Historical) Game Studies, Media Studies, Cultural Studies and Cultural History.


Contact hours

Total contact hours = 30
Total private study hours = 270
Total study hours = 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Critical Analysis (2000 words) 20%
Game Brief (Digital Portfolio inc. 2500 words) 40%
Essay (4000 words) 40%

Reassessment methods:
100% coursework

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

Judith Adams (1991) The American Amusement Park Industry (Twayne)
Justine Cassell & Henry Jenkins (2001) From Barbie to Mortal Kombat (MIT Press)
Adam Chapman (2018) Digital Games as History (Routledge).
Johan Huizinga (1938 [1955]) Homo Ludens (Angelico)
John Kasson (2003) Amusing the Million (Hill & Wang)
Carly Korucek (2015) Coin-Operated Americans (Minnesota UP)
Michael Newman (2017) Atari Age (MIT Press)
Carroll Pursell (2015) From Playgrounds to Playstation (Johns Hopkins UP)
John Wills (2019) Gamer Nation (Johns Hopkins UP)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate awareness of the key themes, debates and issues regarding the history of play and recreation in the United States of America in the twentieth century and beyond
2. Demonstrate the ability to critically analyse modern technological media from a cultural and historical perspective
3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of historical game studies theory
4. Recognise how the history of play and leisure relates to issues of gender, class and race
5. Be able to historicize, analyse and deconstruct a range of play products

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1.Effectively communicate ideas and arguments.
2. Demonstrate their ability to present ideas in written work in both essays and in smaller assignments, as well as critically reflect on their work and the development of their transferrable skills.
3. Demonstrate their ability to analyse, synthesise and precis secondary and primary literature and objects;
4. Demonstrate their ability to work independently;
5. Demonstrate their ability to produce work for a deadline.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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