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Multi­discipli­nary & Innovative Courses


Games and History: Playing with Time and Culture


Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies,  University of Helsinki


Related Degree Programmes:

Historian kandiohjelma

Historian maisteriohjelma

Kulttuuriperinnön maisteriohjelma

Magisterprogrammet i kultur och kommunikation





990-1490 EUR Learn more




Derek Fewster

Target students

The course is designed for all interested students with some previous studies in History. It is recommended for students in their third year or beyond.

The participants should also have a certain amount of experience from video games, organised role playing and/or board games (such as dealing with rule books, using game interfaces, grids or network providers [e.g. STEAM], and familiarity with basic structures and options of video games.)

Students’ access to one or more games on the STEAM or some other game platform during the course is a necessity. Sufficient digital resources will be arranged for the students to be able to do the course assignments.


This course takes a look at the continuously evolving field of board and video games from a historian’s viewpoint. Working with lectures, workshops and student presentations, it examines games as design, historiography, teaching aids and elements of historical and cultural consciousness.

The aims of the course are threefold. First, to provide the participants a basic cultural history of board and video games, as related to concepts found in modern Game Studies. Second, to present and discuss historical culture, images and presence in modern video and tabletop games. And third, to provide participants with ideas and tools for analysing, planning, producing and understanding historical interpretations and representations in the world of games.

The final part of the course consists of a seminar where participants will present a team work paper on some related game or subject for public dissemination.

Learning objectives

The students will learn how games have developed in history, the concepts of game studies, how modern game design works, how to assess historicity in games, how to analyse relevant games as a form of historical communication, and how to utilise games in education as a form of historiography.

The course does not as such deal with sports games, children’s games, card games or gambling, but rather contemplates the used historical contents in games, the choices made by the game designers, the possible educational aspects (conscious or not), the style and the ambiance present, and the recent trends in video and tabletop games somehow displaying elements of historical or cultural recreation, rendition or education.

Please note that when dealing with video games, the course will focus on the PC platform instead of the world of consoles.

Course format and teaching methods

Lectures, demonstrations, board game workshops, and seminars with the team-working students presenting a study and dissemination on a set game or some related subject.

The format will require students to access games and work on their assignments outside of the common lectures and workshops. If possible, the course will make 1–2 shorter excursions within Helsinki to relevant localities directly after the lectures.

Means and criteria of assessment

1. Participation during lectures (20%).

2. A submitted and evaluated case study for the seminars, presented as a team work of two or three cooperating students. Each group will thus both submit a written text/powerpoint (30%) and give a 20–30-minute presentation of the game (30%).

3. A written report from the board game sessions (10%).

4. An individually submitted free essay of at least 8000 characters (ca. 3 pages), discussing personal reflections on the subject of ‘Games and History’ in relation to the readings and lessons presented (10%).

Grading scale: 5 = excellent 4 = very good 3 = good 2 = average 1 = poor 0 = fail.

All of the written assignments of 2–4 must be submitted for a passed result. An attendance rate of at least 80% of the lectures and seminars is also required.

Course Schedule

Location: City Centre Campus

Monday August 7, 2017      Arrival in Helsinki

Tuesday August 8, 2017    HSS Opening ceremony & Welcome Party (afternoon)

Wednesday August 9, 2017
10-12 Introduction; Games and history I (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Games and history II (Fewster)

Thursday August 10, 2017
10-12 Introduction to Game Studies I (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Introduction to Game Studies II (Fewster)

Friday August 11, 2017
10-12 Guest lecture: Adventures, Nationalism and Moral Lessons: A Cultural History of Board Games in Finland – The National Perspective (Henna Ylänen)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Guest lecture: Video Gaming, History, and Religion (Heidi Rautlahti)

Monday August 14, 2017
10-12 Brief Cultural History of Games (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Brief Cultural History of Games II (Fewster)

Tuesday August 15, 2017
10-12 Guest lecture: Historical Culture and Consciousness – Mediation, Genre and Game Mechanics (Ylva Grufstedt)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Guest lecture: Interactive Narratives – Historical Storytelling (Ylva Grufstedt)

Wednesday August 16, 2017
10-12 Principles of game design: hidden structures (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Time concepts and remediation: Fallout, Dishonored, Battlefield 1 & Mass Effect (Fewster)

Thursday August 17, 2017
10-12 Historical Consciousness and Culture in Elder Scrolls Online (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 The Witcher – A Wild Hunt for the Modern and the Medieval (Fewster)

Friday August 18, 2017
10-12 Western games: remediating history and myth (Markku Reunanen)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Preserving and studying the history of video games (Markku Reunanen)

Monday August 21, 2017
10-12 Video games: Examples & demonstrations I (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Video games: Examples & demonstrations I (Fewster)

Tuesday August 22, 2017
10-12 Board Game Session, a workshop on table top games (Fewster)
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Board Game Session, a workshop on table top games (Fewster)

Wednesday August 23, 2017
10-12 Sessions with student’s presentations
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Sessions with student’s presentations

Thursday 24, 2017
10-12 Sessions with student’s presentations
12-13 Lunch
13-15 Concluding discussion, extra time after this for compulsory online student feedback in computer lab, Also deadline for submitting written assignments.

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