Gaming the System: A look at PM’s innovative Art History of Video Games course

December 16, 2021

Joey Versoza, like all artists, had a vision. He wanted to design a class that explored Ancient Greece and pre-digital gaming, the art of light, the context of technology and modern video games. And, he’d be teaching not to college computer science majors, or graduate students pursuing an advanced degree, but to high school students interested in taking a high school art elective course.

With permission and freedom from the Purcell Marian High School administration, Mr. Verzosa's Art History of the Video Game class was born just in time for the Fall semester.

From a theoretical class Mr. Versoza dreamed of, to hands-on experience for 27 high schoolers, students in the class are diving into complex debates about if technology determines content or if content is driving technology.

Lecture and dialogue is in tandem with creative group-work in class, and of course, homework. Throughout the course, students have used the MiSTer FPGA devices to play versions of “Oregon Trail”, “Mystery House”, and “Colossal Cave Adventure” on the Apple II Core and study their make-up, origin, and design.

“This is a wildly diverse class. You have the star senior quarterback here and the quiet sophomore writing fantasy novels in her spare time. And, students of all levels of academic achievement. Video games are accessible and inclusive, and this class demonstrates that. And the fact that this is an elective, and in one bell 27 students are all here because they want to be…This indicates to me an agreement that this media has just as rich a history, and is just as complicated, theoretical and poetic, as canonical art history”

Mr. Joey Versoza

Because of the generosity of donors, and the support of Cory Carlson and Marc Duddleson of My Life in Gaming who hosted the stream to help raise funds for the art program at Purcell Marian, Versoza was able to purchase MiSTer FPGA devices for use in the classroom. From there, students created their own text-based games using Google Slides, inspired by the computer’s role in pushing video games into how we interact with them today. Students then used game screens from their last projects as inspiration for the games musical composition, which they created using a web based music composition app. Each student created a unique composition fitting the theme and game concept they had created.

Game art and music concept created by Aaron Howard, Class of 2022.

“I think a lot of people came into this class and thought it would be all video games and playing video games. Then we got into the Ancient Greece stuff - and it almost seemed too old to be about video games. We really got into it and understood it went deeper than we thought, and really liked the class- learning things we never knew like the details that go into the complexity of creating video games and how that’s continuing to evolve today.”

Ari, Class of 2022

Beyond creating their own art, Versoza is thrilled that the class is meeting his main objective - pushing students to be thinkers and move beyond passive consumers of media, to critical thinkers when it comes to the role media plays in their lives.

Special thanks to the 110 non-alumni donors who helped fund the start-up costs for this class including providing funding for MiSTer devices,raising $5,000 new dollars for the Art Department and in sharing their words of encouragement for this class.

Ruendy, Class of 2023, created the logic game “The Orb” in the class.

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