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Sunday, June 26, 2022

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Adam Hammond Adam Hammond

Off the Beaten Course: CLT 594

This course explores the historical connection between independent production and socially revolutionary art.
By SDSU News Team

Off the Beaten Course is a series that delves into SDSU's course catalog to share unique and non-traditional classes.

Course title: The Social Politics of Indie: Modernist Magazines, Punk Rock and Indie Videogames
Professor’s name: Adam Hammond

1) What inspired you to create this course?

I’ve always been interested in “indie” art. My literary research focuses on modernism — especially the bold, wild, countercultural stuff that was so far outside the mainstream that writers mostly needed to publish it themselves. My favorite music is the arty mess that came after punk in the early 80s and then exploded in the early 90s around Seattle, most of which was put out by small independent labels.

When the “indie game” phenomenon hit around 2008, I started paying closer attention to videogames. Eventually I started to see how all my interests fit together. I realized I was living through the latest outburst of the cultural energy that produced modernist literature and post-punk music.

Since they were invented in the seventies, videogames have been expensive and hard to make. Putting together a popular game has involved huge teams and huge sums of money, which has often resulted in the sorts of predictable games that big studios can be sure will sell. Recently, technological advances have made it much easier and cheaper to make games, and this has resulted in an explosion of daring, weird, challenging, ambitious games. 

I’ve been imagining a course like this for the last few years, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to offer it, since it involves so many different time periods and genres. In my first interview with San Diego State University, they asked me to describe my dream course. “This might sound a bit out there,” I said, “but you asked for my dream course, so here goes!” As it turned out, they loved it, and now — amazingly — it’s on the books!

2) What can students expect to learn from this course?

In this course, we’re going to explore the historical connection between independent production and socially revolutionary art. We’re going to ask why “indie” movements pop up when they do, and why some forms have gone “indie” earlier than others.

My main goal is to inspire students to take the lessons they learn from modernism and post-punk and then go out and make a difference in the videogame world. Videogames are an exciting form — hugely popular, and still new enough to be malleable. As the "Gamergate" controversy has been showing us for the last year, the videogame world has a long way to go, and needs all the smart, engaged people it can get.

3) What makes this course different from similar courses?

I truly don’t think there’s a course like this anywhere on the continent! The fun thing about this course is how it follows an idea across multiple art forms, time periods and continents. Usually, courses have to focus on only one art form, time period, or geographic region — but we’re really free in this course to push past all these boundaries.

4) Is there one day on the syllabus for this course you most look forward to? If yes, why?

The highlight will be the lecture on the 2011 indie game Gone Home. This is the game that brings it all together for me. It’s a very unusual videogames — it has no violence, and it’s mostly focused on a coming-out narrative — but it sold extremely well and won several mainstream year-end game awards. It’s set in the mid-1990s, and one of the main characters has discovered Riot Grrrl music — one of my very favorite post-punk subgenres, a radical feminist movement originating in Olympia, Washington.

As you walk around in the game, you listen to a Riot Grrrl soundtrack — and at one point, you discover a hidden room in the house where a character is running her own underground press, publishing a feminist magazine in the true modernist style. So it’s all there: an indie game paying homage to indie music and indie publishing.

5) What’s your favorite thing about teaching this course?

It’s an opportunity for me to unite a lot of my passions and interests, and to bring attention to an art form (videogames) that’s not always treated very seriously in the academic community — and one that both deserves and needs our serious, careful, critical scrutiny.