| drew davidson |

Why Create a Media and Game Center?

By Drew Davidson, Ph.D.

First Published in On The Horizon. Special Issue. Second Generation E-Learning: Serious Games. v12, n1, 2004: 10-13.


Why Create a Media and Game Center?

Game and Media Centers are increasingly being started at universities around the world. This past year, along with my colleagues, I have successfully established the Applied Media & Simulation Games Center (AMSGC). The AMSGC is housed in the Communications Media Department, in the College of Education and Educational Technology at Indiana University of Pennsylania (IUP) in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

I've written seven sections in which I discuss the ideas and initiatives that went into the creation of the AMSGC:

Why Create a Media and Game Center?

Student Involvement / Student Experiences

Hands-on / Project-based Learning

Interdisciplinary Involvement


Research / Funding / Organization

Process / Collaboration

The original inspiration for the AMSGC stems from my involvement with Dr. Sandy Stone's ACTlab (the Advanced Communications Technology Lab) at the University of Texas in Austin. Dr. Stone has created a place that serves as a beacon for motivated students to gather, learn and do amazingly creative work together.

The defining drive behind the proposal and work for the AMSGC was to create a center for the students in our departments, colleges and IUP as a whole. We wanted to create a space and place for students to do hands-on, project-based media and game work. At the same time, we believed that a center would serve as a locus and focus for this type of work on campus. It would enable IUP to better illustrate its technology and media capabilities to recruit students and win grant and research work. So, the AMSGC is here for students and faculty to apply what they learn and teach through media and game projects.

Creating a center enables us to lay the foundation for growing, both in prestige and acknowledgement, but also in advancing on our capabilities to create, and teach, cutting-edge applications and techniques. Without a center, this type of advancement could occur, but its mere existence as an entity, it has already enabled more opportunities to facilitate our growth here at IUP than would have been possible without this focus.

The name for the center is meant honor the history of media work that has been done in the Communications Media department and highlight games as a new direction of focus. Now that the AMSGC is officially recognized, we will use it as a base for us to continually draw interested students and offer them engaging learning experiences in which they work together and apply their ideas to create media and game projects.

Student Involvement / Student Experiences

As I've mentioned, the AMSGC is primarily meant to serve the students at IUP, but it also needs students to become involved. Without students there wouldn't be a center because there wouldn't be any energy or people in which to populate projects and help complete the work.

A large part of our efforts has been to run a university-wide PR campaign to garner and increase student involvement. This campaign was organized with the help of students, working to understand the general interests of the student body and how to craft the center to meet those interests. While communicating with students, we discovered several interesting and prevalent misconceptions about that center that we quickly worked to correct.

First of all, many students assumed that they had to be a communications media major. So, we made a public effort to announce the center's need and invitation for students from other disciplines across the university to get involved.

Second, students thought they had to be a production media specialist and/or a computer programmer. While we need students with these skills, we worked to communicate how we also need people who are interested in communications, operations and management and that we had work for anyone interested in participating.

Third, students assumed if they missed the first general meeting, then it was too late to get involved until the following semester. So, we made public announcements letting them know that they were welcome to join in at any time.

Fourth, students believed that it was solely a game center. While the AMSGC has a strong emphasis on creating and studying games, it is an applied media center. So, we've worked hard to also emphasize all the types of media work that can be done through the center (films, television, musical cds, games, simulations, etc.)

Finally, graduate students thought it was for undergraduates only. We quickly worked to let graduate students know that their involvement was greatly encouraged. Both graduate and undergraduate students could learn from each other working together on projects.

This PR campaign has helped us get close to 75 students from all around IUP involved in less than 2 months. We plan to build on this initial involvement so that students understand how they can participate if they're interested.

While the center definitely needs the students, it offers them invaluable experiences in return. They have the opportunity to meet other students and faculty and create engaging media and game projects and get real-world-applicable work experience.

Hands-on / Project-based Learning 

The primary reason for the center is to allow students to apply what they learn in courses through hands-on, project-based learning. We believe that this gives students invaluable learning and working experiences. They learn the ins and outs of how to collaborate on a team. They learn project management skills as they work with timelines, deliverables and the process of designing and developing media and games.

One of our goals is to highlight existing courses at IUP that can offer students the information they need to better apply themselves on projects. For instance, we are looking at courses offered in various departments around campus (Computer Science, Business, Art, Journalism, Communications, English, etc...) that would be useful and valuable to take.

Concurrently, we are planning to develop new courses that would enhance what the university already offers and give students more courses from which to choose and build their skills and knowledge.

The goal is to have AMSGC enable student to construct their own learning experiences by working directly on projects together and creating engaging media and game experiences. This hands-on, project-based work would also give them portfolio-worthy material as they move forward to begin establishing their careers.

Interdisciplinary Involvement

The AMSGC has developed out of the interdisciplinary support of students, faculty, and administrators from departments and colleges around the university. We worked hard to garner university-wide support and input.

This is a strategy with several objectives. One, we believe that applied media and simulation game projects require a wide diversity of skill sets and knowledge bases. Also, the projects running in the center will need, and benefit from, interdisciplinary expertise and involvement. Two, it greatly facilitated and expedited the political and bureaucratic processes that had to be traversed in order to establish the center. There is always the potential of opposition to the idea of a center, and having a wide base of support can help work through it. We had some initial opposition at IUP, but our interdisciplinary approach gave the proposal credibility and helped to assuage concerns. The more university-wide support we were able to show, the better our proposal was received and considered.

Specifically, we noticed that the following college areas had vested interests as to the perceived area of study of a media and game center; computer science, business, math, art, and communications. We worked as best we could to include all of these areas and create a collaborative effort with our proposal.

In the end, interdisciplinary involvement helps to ensure that we create truly engaging media and game experiences across a vast range of genres and subjects areas. It exposes students to faculty outside of their majors and fosters a culture in which working together is encouraged, and the benefits are seen in the creation of a projects that sum up the strengths of all involved.


It was a great help to have a strong mission statement and center focus developed early in the process. Having both of these, facilitated the approval of the center by giving concepts for people to discuss and to which they could give their support. It served as a solid first reference to give to faculty and administrators and helped introduce them to the idea of the center.

Our mission statement is composed in two parts; one focusing on the bigger picture and the other on the benefits for the students involved. Our mission statement is:

AMSGC is dedicated to exploring current and emerging multi|media technologies |

including all communications media | audio | video | graphics | etc. | to enhance communication experiences and environments | the interdisciplinary juxtaposition of entertainment and education, teaching and technology | critical thinking | conceptual foundations | concrete skills

AMSGC students will get | a conceptual understanding of communications media | theory and practice | a practical knowledge of the development of multi|media | humanities and technologies | an interdisciplinary grounding in their field | experience and expertise | a grasp of how to apply what they have learned

Our center focus is a series of connected concepts which is also composed in two parts:

playing | learning | working | communication and media | applied theory | open source | enabling people to use technology | exploring concepts and developing skills | empowering people for change

AMSGC succeeds through collaboration | through groups of people working together to achieve more than one could alone | learning how to communicate | collaboration internally and externally | with each other | with other groups | with the world |

The expressive mission statement and center focus have served as a spark for our ideas, shaping how we develop the goals and objectives for the center.

Research / Funding / Organization 

To advance our initial focus of having the AMSGC provide a new learning outlet for students, we are organizing research initiatives to encourage faculty involvement and start a process of securing regular funding and projects in which students will have the opportunity and responsibility of working with clients. This affords research opportunities for faculty, and good PR for the university as well as providing learning experiences for the students.

We are also developing processes to work with internal and external projects, and organize how students get trained and promoted from working on volunteer-based projects to client-based projects.

For our volunteer-based projects, we have set up an ongoing project that is essentially a student-operated and student-run multimedia station. This station will serve a dual purpose of enabling students to get together and work on projects as well as being a training ground. Students will have the full support a faculty advisors and technical equipment as they work with timelines and deliverables. They will also learn the process of project management and how media and games are designed and developed. Newer students will be working under more experienced students who will mentor and provide support. Students who stay involved and are interested can take on more responsibilities at the station and begin leading station projects.

Client-based projects are ones that are funded through grants or contracts. For these projects, faculty will be able to work with students from the station who already have experience and are prepared to accept the opportunities and responsibilities of working with clients. These funded projects will offer students the work experiences with financial compensation and direct interactions with industry professionals and other clients.

So, the AMSGC will help coordinate faculty research efforts, which in turn will give students great learning experiences working on projects through the center.

Process / Collaboration

As seen in the AMSGC focus, collaboration is a keystone to the center. Throughout the entire process what has enabled the initial approval, and will allow for our opportunities in the future, is our openness to collaboration.

It has been crucial in developing our growing community around the university, and on local, national and international levels. By simply looking to include anyone who is interested and working to create a system that helps organize and maximize everyone's contributions we are trying to foster an environment in which students learn how to share their expertise and experiences as they work together applying what they've learned.

To help shape our efforts we've created two advisory boards. The internal board is comprised of students, faculty and administrators from around the university. The external board is made up from leaders from areas of education, academics, game development and media. These boards help expand our community while also helping to guide our growth.

We are strengthening our community by reaching out to create affiliations and connections with other centers, labs, universities, companies, organizations and associations. One of our goals is to create a synergy of connections and a workforce that will attract more industry development in this region. The network formed through these connections enables each node in the network to benefit from the articulations and in turn the entire network benefits from the successes of all the nodes.

Part of the inspiration for the process of this special issue comes from the collaborative focus of the center. Interestingly, collaboration is a cornerstone of the open source ideal of working together as most popularly seen in the creation and maintenance of the Linux OS. All of the contributors have worked closely together as a group sharing our expertise and helping each other write our articles. In a very real way, this issue was co-authored and co-edited by all involved.

Which leads us forward. We envision this collaborative, hypertextual issue as the first iteration in a process with subsequent conference sessions attended by some of our contributors along with others to add new perspectives to these ideas. Those sessions could then lead to other special journal issues with more people sharing their expertise and experiences, which in turn could lead to more conference sessions with more people, and on and on. You are cordially invited to participate and share your thoughts and ideas.


(1) ACTlab http://www.actlab.utexas.edu

(2) Applied Media & Simulation Games Center http://www.iup.edu/amsgc

(3) On The Horizon http://www.emeraldinsight.com/oth.htm



| drew davidson |