The cultural impact of video games and gaming has been well researched, with the literature revealing a video game culture that reflects capitalist, racist, sexist, and Western-oriented values. There is, however, a scarcity of studies that investigate how video game education programs, as places of cultural production, approach teaching about social issues and the impact of games on society. Through the lenses of critical theory, this study explores in what ways and whether social issues are included and social consciousness is practiced in the curricula of two post-secondary game education programs, one at a university and one at a vocational school. This study employs a case study methodology and interviews with 19 students and 12 faculty members from these two programs. The findings of this study position game education closely to the gaming industry's business practices and values, with social issues being at its margins. The social issues that are occasionally, indirectly, or reactively addressed are related to attracting certain audiences and making profit gains, designing serious games, or the general principles of ethical design. Issues such as the diversity of in-game characters, disability and accessibility are very rarely discussed. The findings also show that game education is ageist, with issues of older adult players and characters rarely mentioned, and with very little interest on the part of instructors in adding curricula on this issue. Both students and instructors believed that social issues are not at the forefront of game education due to its technical nature, lack of time, and lack of instructors' competencies to discuss these issues. The only female faculty member who participated in this study emerged as an outlier, regularly addressing social issues in most of her classes. Most faculty members and students in this study believed that game education should be more socially and culturally sensitive, with equity and inclusion being an integral part of the curriculum. Younger participants, including students and some younger faculty members, highlighted the impact of games on players more frequently than others and were more welcoming to changes in game education. One group of college student participants was very vocal about having game education that is socially and culturally sensitive, emphasizing issues with sexism that all female student participants from the college experienced, occurring either online or at their school by peers and instructors. This study showed that game education perpetuates the values present in gaming and the gaming industry. It also demonstrated that game education can and should be a venue where the cycle of hegemonic cultural reproduction can be challenged, disrupted, and broken.
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Thesis advisor: Cassidy, Wanda
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