| drew davidson |

Games by Degrees: Playing with Programs

By Drew Davidson, Ph.D.

First Published in On The Horizon. Special Issue. Second Generation E-Learning Part 2: Serious Media. v13, n2, 2005: 70-74.


How would you like to major in videogames? As the Director of the Game Art & Design Program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, I get to meet a lot of students who are eager to do just that.   In fact, it's one of the most popular new degrees offered at Art Institutes around the country. This trend extends across higher education in several ways that I wish to explore here. Currently, I see three major ways that game degrees are being offered: one, in institutions that were started with a strong focus on degrees in game design and development; two, as degrees offered by career-focused, for-profit institutions; and three, as degrees being offered at traditional universities. Let's take a look at how this is playing out.

Before I begin though, I should clarify that the focus of this article is on programs of study, majors and specific degrees.   I am aware there are various schools, departments, centers and individual professors who offer courses or concentrations of study that focus on games, but I want to explore specifically how institutions are capitalizing on student and industry demand by offering officially accredited degrees in the study of games. For more information along those lines, you should read Kurt Squire's two-part article on "Gaming in Higher Education" (link in References). Also, this is not meant to be an exhaustive listing of all degrees and programs currently being offered (for that, see the Gamasutra, IGDA and Education Online Search links below in References). Instead, I am focusing on several inter-related areas and providing a variety of examples across the board. And lastly, this article is not going to fully explore the different foci of all of the various programs. In general, all of the programs offer a mix of courses on a continuum ranging from a vocational teaching of skills to help students get a job in the game industry to an interdisciplinary teaching of concepts and exploring games as an object of study. That said, it should be noted that there is pedagogical debate when considering the merits of vocational and interdisciplinary teaching philosophies.

Career-focused, vocational higher education has been around for some time at various trade schools and for-profit institutions.   Historically, these institutions mostly offered Associate degrees focused on a career in a specific industry. For instance, you could get a degree in graphic design or animation. The philosophy behind this type of educational institution is to provide students with a practical foundation of skills that will enable them to get a job in the field of their choice. Recently, these institutions have been successfully attaining accreditation in order to offer the more advanced degrees of Bachelors and even Masters. With these degrees, students get a solid general liberal arts education along with a career-focused emphasis to help them get a job. Even so, a major drawback of this type of education is that it can potentially limit the student with such a specific focus.   By being encouraged to study in one particular industry or field, students fresh out of high school are somewhat unrealistically expected to have a sense of what they want to do with the rest of their lives.   While some 18-year-olds may know with certainty, most are still growing into themselves as young adults.   That said, I think that moving towards offering more advanced degrees enables these institutions to offer students a more well-rounded education and expand their post-graduation job opportunities.  

A concurrent trend in higher education is the creation of more career-specific majors being offered at traditional accredited universities with interdisciplinary focus. Granted, these universities have always had colleges that offered various degrees with a career focus. Schools of Business and the Sciences offer programs that are often focused toward specific fields and industries, but to exist at a university, these programs are required to have a strong liberal arts foundation. So, the theory is that students will inherently be better prepared for the "real" world by getting a good, solid education at a university, regardless of their major.   But currently, universities are feeling the pressure to maintain, or even grow, their enrollments.   Now we are seeing universities developing and offering more contemporary degrees to attract students with their educational reputations and more focused programs of study.  

The relatively nascent phenomenon of videogame degrees makes for a great case study of both of the trends mentioned above.   Universities and colleges offer, or are beginning to offer, degrees (Associates, Bachelors, Masters and Doctorates) in videogames.   The manner in which these institutions are offering these videogame degrees varies enough to merit some explication.

Let's start with schools that focus almost solely on videogame degrees. DigiPen focuses on computer science as it is applied in real-time interactive simulation   (RTIS) programming and 3D computer animation. They have 5 departments (Art, Computer Science, Game Software Design and Production, General Education, and Mathematics and Physics) offering 6 degrees (an Associates and Bachelors of Science in RTIS, a BS and MS in Computer Engineering and Science, and an Associates and Bachelors of Art in 3D Computer and Production Animation).

Similarly, Full Sail offers several degrees around videogames. Most directly, there is a BS in Game Design and Development. Two related degrees offered are Associates in Science in Computer Animation and Digital Media, and also a BS in Entertainment Business.  

An interesting corollary can be found in the videogame courses offered by both the Game Institute and the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. The Game Institute does not offer any degrees directly but specific courses are taught to help students develop the skills they need, and in conjunction with Edmonds Community College, they offer a Certificate in Game Development. The Academy of Game Entertainment Technology offers certificates in Game Programming and Level Design. Similarly, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment does not offer advanced degrees, but students can earn a Diploma of Computer Game Development. Also, 3D Buzz is a website that offers tutorial-based training for anyone interested in trying to further develop their technical skills in relation to the games industry.

Next, let's see how some of the institutions that come from a career-focused education perspective and are now offering videogame degrees . The Art Institutes offer two degrees that focus on the game industry; a BS in Game Art & Design and a BS in Visual & Game Programming. At the University of Advancing Technologies you can get a BS in Game Design or in Game Programming. UAT also offers a MS in Simulation and Game Studies.   The Academy of Art University offers Associates, Bachelors and Masters of Fine Arts in Game Design and Animation. All of these vocational institutions are adding games degrees to their portfolio of degree offerings.

Now, let's explore how some of our traditional universities are beginning to offer videogame degrees and programs of study. The School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology offers a variety of degrees. There is a BS in Computational Media, an MS in Information Design and Technology and a Ph.D. in Digital Media. The Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University offers a Masters in Immersive Mediated Environments. The International Centre for Digital Content at Liverpool John Moores University is offering an MA in Digital Games. The Savannah College of Art and Design offers a BA, MA and MFA in Interactive Design and Game Development. Arts, Computation and Engineering at the University of California, Irvine are offering an MFA with an ACE concentration. The Computer and Information Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania offers a MS in Engineering in Computer Graphics and Game Technology. Worcester Polytechnic Institute is offering a BS in Interactive Media and Game Development.   The Fine, Digital and Performing Arts Department at Shawnee State University offers a BFA in Game and Simulation Development Arts. The Electronic Game and Interactive Development Program at Champaign College offers a Bachelors degree in Electronic Game and Interactive Development. The Utrecht School of Arts offers a Bachelors of Art and Technology in Design for Virtual Theatre and Games. The University of Arts, Media and Design in Zurich offers Bachelors in Game Design. The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University offers three certificates in Art Creation, Level Design and Software Development.

There are also universities that are offering programs with support from the industry. Electronic Arts is working with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Southern California and the University of Central Florida. The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University offers a Masters in Entertainment Technology. The Interactive Media Division of the University of Southern California offers a Minor and Major in Video Game Design and Management as well as a Masters in Interactive Entertainment. The Digital Media Division of the University of Central Florida is starting the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and will offer graduate certificates in videogame development. Ubisoft is working with the Quebec Ministry of Education and the Université de Sherbrooke and Cégep de Matane to create Ubisoft Campus to offer programs in video game development.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The above institutions are only an overview of some of the more noted programs. As I mentioned briefly above, along with these degreed programs there are various schools, departments, centers and professors who are offering courses or concentrations of study that focus on games. In many of these instances, there are already plans to start the process of turning these fledgling efforts into accredited degrees as well.   For example, the Interactive Entertainment Group in the Computer Science Department at Northwestern University is working toward a degreed program. Rochester Institute of Technology and Ohio University are both developing degrees in games. And both the HyperMedia Lab at the University of Tampere and the Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen are also working toward degreed programs.

This trend in education is attracting industry and governmental attention and support as well. The International Game Developers Association has and Academic Advocacy group that has developed a Curriculum Framework to serve as industry-suggested guidelines for game-related educational programs. And the Microsoft Research group has put out an RFP to collect and develop Computer Game Production Curriculum.   The Washington State Skills Standards has set up skills standards and recommended curriculum standards. The IC2 Institute has published a Digital Gaming Technology Forecast for the State of Texas. And Lauren Gonzalez has written a thorough editorial on the relationship between the game industry and academia for Gamespot.com, an industry-tracking website. These efforts illustrate industry interest in educational goals, that has the potential to help students develop the skills they need, but is also problematic in having curricula potentially become to industry-specific at the cost of a overall well-rounded education.

With the growth of the videogame industry, I believe we will see many more institutions offering degrees to entice students with the job opportunities in this field. This focus comes with the risk of students obtaining a unique degree that may seem too industry-specific to enable them to transfer their skills to jobs in other industries. Although this risk is being offset through requiring solid liberal arts and general education coursework in these degrees. Also, many of these programs explore how games fit into our culture as a whole, enabling students to bring their expertise and experience to a variety of fields. And so, while games will one day be superceded by some other popular field, these degrees can remain viable by adjusting their focus to continue offering programs of study that teach students the concepts and skills of working with the interactive and inter-related media found in games.

As we move forward, I see the trends of these degree offerings from for-profit institutions and from traditional universities dovetailing into a more general trend of both entities absorbing the best of each world. As I mentioned briefly above, there is debate over the merits of vocational versus interdisciplinary educational. Interestingly enough, while researching the programs for this article, I found that all of them are offering a various combinations of the two. For-profit institutions will continue to attain regional accreditation, becoming universities with a career-focused, vocational foundation and a strong educational offering as well. Traditional universities will enhance their interdisciplinary academic heritage with career-focused degrees that offer students more choices.

In the end, the students benefit most from this developing educational trend. This paper has focused primarily on game programs and degrees. But as the world becomes ever more hyper-mediated, I see our educational institutions continually updating their offerings in order to stay current. This makes economic sense for the institutions, but it also allows for our pedagogy to keep improving as we expand on the concepts of what higher education entails.   Students will reap the benefits as they learn what they need to know to survive and thrive in our society. In his article in this issue, Ian Bogost posits that our educational systems need to change, and in one way, we can already see it happening, as more and more institutions are opening their doors to the study of games. Students are now able to go college and play with games, learning how they work and how games can fit into their careers.



3D Buzz

Academy of Game Entertainment Technology.

Cégep de Matane.

Center for Computer Games Research. IT University of Copenhagen.

Computer Arts - New Media. Academy of Art University.

Computer Game Development. Academy of Interactive Entertainment.

Computer Graphics and Game Technology. University of Pennsylvania.

Design for Virtual Theatre and Games. Utrecht School of the Arts.

DigiPen Institute of Technology.

Education Online Search. "Game Development Training."

Electronic Arts.

Electronic Game and Interactive Development. Champlain College.

Entertainment Technology Center. Carnegie Mellon University.

Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. University of Central Florida.

Gamasutra. "Education."

Game and Simulation Development Arts. Shawnee State University.

Game Art and Design. The Art Institutes.

Game Design. University of Advancing Technology.

Game Design. University of Arts, Media and Design in Zurich.

Game Design and Development. Full Sail.

Game Development. Edmonds Community College.

Game Institute.

Game Studies. HyperMedia Lab. University of Tampere.

Gonzalez, Lauren. "Redefining Games: How Academia is Reshaping Games of the Future."

Guildhall. Southern Methodist University.

IC2 Institute. "Gaming: Technology Forecast."

IGDA. "Curriculum Framework."

---. "School Listings."

Information Technology. Rochester Institute of Technology.

Interactive Design and Game Development. Savannah College of Art and Design.

Interactive Entertainment Group. Northwestern University.

Interactive Media. University of Southern California.

Interactive Media and Game Development. Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

MA Digital Games. Liverpool John Moores University.

Masters in Immersive Mediated Environments. Indiana University.

Microsoft Research. "Computer Game Production Curriculum RFP."

Quebec. Ministry of Education.

School of Literature, Communication and Culture. Georgia Institute of Technology.

School of Telecommunications. Ohio University.

Squire, Kurt. "Gaming in Higher Education, Part I."

---. "Gaming Opportunities in Higher Education, Part II."

Ubisoft Campus.

Université de Sherbrooke.

Washington State Skill Standards. "Electronic Game Content Production.."



| drew davidson |