Video Game Development as a Degree

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Video game developers never have been in such high demand as the emergence of video games themselves becomes the preferred medium for a diverse array of consumers.

This phenomenon is akin to the wave of film schools and film students in the ’60s — although most scoffed at the time, these institutions and individuals would go on to bring film to cultural heights never thought possible. Video game developers who go to school for their craft are poised to make a similar breakthrough and prove their discipline belongs in academia.

Just as Steven Spielberg and his peers were members of the first generation to go to school specifically for making movies, a new crop of talent is going to school for the sole purpose of designing video games.

As with the previous generation with its new medium, there is limitless potential for video games to grow and evolve under educated leadership.

The specifics of earning such a degree still fluctuate depending on the school

Michigan State University, one of the more traditional schools to have a video game program, offers a master’s degree in telecommunications, which includes a course in “serious” game design (this is defined as games with a purpose beyond entertainment).

The degree description says these “serious” games increasingly become more common in the military and corporate training, which corresponds to the increased need for personnel to design such games. Students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, from computer science to political science, all are welcomed to apply for the degree.

Video game degree programs are especially popular in cities where studios have design hubs, including Los Angeles and Seattle, which ideally creates a steady stream of new employees coming into the workforce every year. An example of this phenomenon is students in the game-development degree program at the University of Southern California going to work for Electronic Arts’ Los Angeles design office. No such pipeline, conversely, can hurt an area with a thriving game industry.

For example, a community such as Austin, Texas — a large game design hub — lacked any specific degree program at a nearby university. With companies acknowledging the need to hire people who graduate from specific game-related programs, the broad degrees large universities offer often aren’t as attractive to employers.

Austin Community College (ACC), however, is beginning to lay groundwork for such a system that has worked so well elsewhere. By offering a certificate in video game design, ACC fills the need for a specific program.

The University of Central Florida, by contrast, has a specific video gram program, as well as a major local work opportunity called the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA).

As of December 2006, FIEA graduated its first class of master’s degree candidates, most of whom will go on to work at the nearby Electronic Arts’ Tiburon, Fla., studios.

The common theme with video game degree programs is their prevalence is based on the community’s need for those particular skills. It’s only a matter of time, however, that the need for video game programmers reaches beyond finding someone to design the city trash cans in the next “Grand Theft Auto” entry.

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