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Starcraft for Credit?

January 28th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 18 Comments · Blizzard, Education

According to Starcraft Wire, Berkeley is giving students a chance to earn college credit by playing Starcraft.

From the course description:

What may look like complex topics are just ways we want you to think more deeply about the game to derive a greater satisfaction from playing. Furthermore, this understanding should have applications in real life, to further synthesize new information from limited inferences. The primary goal is for students to learn, enjoy the art of competitive StarCraft, and have fun. Overall, students will be applying critical thinking, quick decision-making, and game theory skills throughout the sessions. Students will also learn what to look for in a replay or game to learn most effectively.

I don’t buy it. At least not as anything serious.

First, look at the syllabus. This outline meets none of the standards for a basic university syllabus, though Berkeley’s are, admittedly, a little lacking in the usual syllabus matter. There’s not even a course number yet.

It’s not listed anywhere on the Berkeley website. Neither is Mr. Feng. That’s because this is apparently a DeCal course – a student initiated class in Berkeley’s democratic, alternative education program. There are also classes listed in playing outside, Firefly, and Chinese for restaurants. The Starcraft course is nowhere on the official DeCal list, though.

And there are limitations on the DeCal’s utility for students. “DeCals do not count towards any degree requirements.” The credits may count, but only as electives.

There’s nothing wrong with this sort of thing, I suppose, and it may be news to the Starcraft community. But I figured I would puncture this bubble before anyone else decided to pick up this non-story. This is not some great victory for games in academia – it’s a guy who got the business school to sponsor people talking about his hobby.

EDIT: Gamespy is claiming that, even if this is a light student led thing, that “we could be witnessing one of the first efforts to bring the study of video games into the upper echelons of academia.”

This is so far from being “one of the first” that it’s ridiculous. Berkeley has game design courses already. Stanford has had game themed courses. NYU, too. All taught by full time faculty. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were five or six game themed university courses in my Metro area. This Starcraft class is on the leading edge of zilch.


18 Comments so far ↓

  • Alan Au

    Not to legitimize this (although it’s arguably better than “sleep for credit”), it’s true that people learn lessons from playing games, Starcraft included. However, it isn’t always clear that the things they learn are either desirable or transferable.

  • Troy

    I have no problems with games in academia or courses that focus on games as texts or art or media. As a cultural creation, they are certainly worth examining and may have a place in other courses – literature, history, education, etc.

    And who knows – maybe this course will be able to make a serious connection between Starcraft and Art of War (one of the required texts).

    My only point is that a student conceived and led class is not really news, since it doesn’t appear that the standards for course development are all that rigorous at DeCal.

  • JMHawkins

    There is potential though. Looking back to the “Designing an Economy” post, I could envision a great course based on playing a handfull of games with different economic systems (and different flaws that gamers exploit), and then trying to design your own. Maybe link it up so the polysci students taking the “game economies” class work with compsci students to actually implement it.

    I think we’d be better off if more elected officials had some experience with this.

    But you’re right, that’s not what this is.

    Full disclosure, my alma mater (another UC school) really did offer “Underwater Basket Weaving” as a class. It was actually a scuba class in the PE department. The school had a decent Oceanography program, so maybe learning to do detailed work with your hands while scuba diving wasn’t totally useless…

  • Troy

    Hey, John. Welcome to the comments. Review of WPP almost finished.

    And sure, if this was more than a single game it could actually be a good discussion of design or something. Comparing strategies for economic management, how resource distribution affects play style, etc. A class about Buffy will cover more material because it’s longer and deeper.

  • Justin Fletcher

    I’m sure Henry Jenkins and Kurt Squire would be intrigued by Gamespy’s claim.

  • James Allen

    They have “the study of video games into the upper echelons of academia.” It’s called a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and it contains courses on programming that includes programming games. Gamespy is retarded; I had already removed Gamespot from my daily visit list. Et tu, Gamespy?

  • Neil

    I think much more useful information can be learned from watching people play games than by actually playing them.

  • JonathanStrange

    Like what? That they drink Diet Cokes, mutter to themselves, and are indifferent to their surroundings?

  • Scott R. Krol

    The Air Force Academy used to (and perhaps still does) use Starcraft for classes on logistics.

  • JMHawkins

    Along the lines of what Neil was saying, yeah, I think the best info would come from watching how players react to the econ rules. Just playing it yourself, you learn about the designer’s theories on economics, but if you watch others play it, you see how they optimize, adapt, work around, game the system, etc. Seeing a carefully designed, centrally planned MMO economy crash because a guild finds a way to “farm “the system ought to give economic planners a little food for thought.

    As Morgan used to say in Alpha Centauri, “Human behavior is economic behavior.”

    Scott, my friend the ex-F-14 pilot would probably say “sounds just like the Air Force.”

  • Leord

    Thanks a bunch for sourcing us. Lots of sites have started reporting on it (right after us, what a coincidence!), and lots of them didn’t link the first reports, so kudos for good research!


  • Leord

    Oh, also, an interview with Mr Feng is coming soon at SCW, for further info!

  • Alan Au

    To clarify, I have no problem with the class itself, and I think there are definitely lessons to be learned about the gameplay mechanics and strategic decisions (e.g. the value of recon and tempo).

    My complaint is with the course description (which I believe overpromises) and with the implication that this is somehow pioneering the use of games in academia.

  • Bruce

    I have a question: you linked to a Berkeley syllabus about forestry as an example of some terrible syllabus-izing. What exactly is wrong with the thing you linked?

  • jinstevens

    Awesome debunk, Troy! You’ve gained a new reader.

  • Troy

    Bruce: I linked to one of their good syllabi by mistake. Changed it to an intro Math syllabus that really keeps things simple.

  • Alan Au

    FYI, here is David Sirlin’s report on the first class session:

  • Richard Yeh

    DeCal sounds like the Experimental College at UC Davis, an ‘alternative’ program unaffiliated with the university itself for teaching courses from martial arts to dance to DJing. A Davis student once started a Super Smash Bros. Melee class here.

    Big whoop.