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Current Theme (AY 2023-24)

The Symposium 2023-24 Theme - Games

For the 2023-24 academic year, the theme for the Symposium will be “Games.” Games are considered a universal part of human experience, existing through time immemorial and across cultures. The act of play appeals to young and old. Participation may occur as an individual or in groups or teams. From the amateur to professional level, humans are drawn to structured play for a variety of reasons ranging from achievement, reward, or pleasure. Pleasure, however, may be derived from playing the game or watching others play. Whether tallying in physical or virtual currencies, games and gaming generate billions into the global economy. We see gamification in fields like education, health, work, marketing, military training, and more, impacting how we approach training and learning.

This year’s Symposium will consider the importance of games and gaming from a variety of disciplines and approaches. The discourse generated will approach games expansively, aiming to highlight the many ways this pastime permeates our everyday life.


The Infinite Game: A Human's Guide to Playing Through Life

In a world where we are expected to “win” and excel at all costs, how can we learn to move from a view of success rooted in scarcity and domination to one of abundance and joy? In this course, students will look at life through the lens of finite and infinite games. A finite game is one we play to win thereby ending the act of playing; an infinite game is one we play to keep playing by morphing rules and roles over time to accommodate new players and ideas. Using the lens of finite and infinite games, this course will explore the role of playfulness in living a creative and fulfilling life. Each week, we’ll apply this lens to a different dimension of life supported by readings, written reflections, playing games, and creating games of our own.

Gamification of Health

Games, broadly defined, are widely used in society to educate people and shape their behavior around health and health care. Examples include fitness trackers that encourage users to quantify and rank their physiological functions against statistical norms; health incentive programs that create reward systems to reward or penalize certain behavior; and games, role playing, and simulation in the education and training of health professionals. Using theoretical perspectives from the social sciences, this course will critically examine how this gamification of health and health care produces norms, values, and beliefs that shape the social identities of patients and professionals alike. Students will learn through readings, in-class gaming and discussion, and a self-driven creative final project.

Play Can’t Wait: Ethics & Morality in Games

In this course, students will use analog and digital games to explore ideas about play, morality, and ethics. The course will be divided into three sections. Section One will focus on how we engage in ethical play. For example, we will consider the moral alignment framework in role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Section Two will focus on games that are specifically designed to provoke ethical responses and reflections from players. Section Three will focus on games that “back-door” ethical considerations and/or subvert morality. We will consider our relationship to games and play more broadly, investigating the ethical implications of gamification and point systems becoming commonplace in our lives. Throughout the term, students will critically reflect on their experiences playing games and will support those reflections with readings from games studies, game theory, and moral philosophy.

The Games We Play: Youth Sport in America

Following a journey through the history and cultural significance of play, the course considers how play has transformed into a $19 billion a year youth sport industry and how that growth has standardized the experience of play. We look at the benefits of participating in youth sports, but also critique how the intensity and preparation required of participants might push aside the pure joy of play.

What Is an Athlete? From the Olympic Games to Collegiate Athletics

What immediately comes to mind when you ask yourself, “What is an athlete?” Someone whose goal is to win at all costs, to spend their life training to achieve greatness? This course aims to uncover how representations of “typical” athletes are shaped by social and economic interests, while explaining the many ways that a person can be considered an athlete. Students will engage critically with sport-related stereotypes. Discussion begins with the inception of the modern Olympic Games and includes many other sports played at the highest level. Topics include media representation, social media, league rules and regulations, and branding and endorsements. Students will learn through in-class discussions, readings, site visits and guest speakers.

History of Role-Playing Games

The history of role-playing games is a multi-disciplinary study that includes the business of publishing, game studies, media studies, online communities, and issues of representation of diverse cultures and identities. In recent years, many new academic publications have taken a critical eye to this relatively new shared pastime, giving students a wealth of scholarship and different voices to study from. Role-playing games have affected our common vernacular, changed how we play many other types of games, have evolved into new forms of expression, and are currently experiencing a renaissance of widespread popularity. Role-playing games have become part of our cultural heritage and this course gives students the opportunity to learn the context from which they evolved and gain a critical eye toward role-playing's future.

Playing with Purpose: Ethical Decision-Making in the Fashion and Consumer Product Industries

This course addresses the current critical moment in history where the Fashion and Consumer Product Industries must undergo a paradigm shift to address the climate crisis. Exploring the role of the industry in causing harm and contributing positively, we delve into Speculative Design, Design Fiction, Ethics, and Social Entrepreneurship. Through immersive experiences, discussions and a world-building game, students contemplate the ethical aspects of fashion and consumer goods production. By understanding the ethical implications of design decisions, individuals gain the tools to drive positive change. We explore the transformative potential of applied ethics, design fiction, speculative thinking, and entrepreneurship, fostering a more responsible world aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the pursuit of the common good.

It's Not Easy Being Mayor: Balancing Individual Goals for a Just City with the Reality of Public Service

This course explores how to achieve a just city where its citizens’ needs are represented, they have access to social institutions and a good quality of life. Students will learn from local public servants and Drexel's Office of Government relations while managing their own SIMCity as Mayor. Students will develop goals for their city and learn first-hand the reality of achieving such goals from Philadelphia leaders.

Current Faculty Cohort