A decade ago, I left the computer graphics-game industry and founded the game development degree programs at Champlain College in Vermont. It has been exciting to be on the ground floor of one of the most exciting new fields in higher education, rich with potential for discovery and innovation.
Although today there are more than 500 accredited game programs at American colleges and universities, I feel we still have a long way to go to claim our place among the respected academic disciplines. Misperceptions abound. Some parents, in their understandable zeal to ensure a return on tuition payments, reject the field as frivolous. Yet others flock to us, knowing that many game students, even in this tough economy, are finding jobs upon graduation.
Both parental assumptions are a bit askew. Majoring in a field to get a job dangerously misses the point of higher education. College is about acquiring career skills, but more importantly, it is about mastering skills that allow the individual to determine his or her future and to develop an essential love for lifelong learning.
In strong degree programs, students learn much more than simply how to create games. They become modern-day storytellers, reflectively applying game design skills to a host of challenges facing our world. Technology, arts, interactivity and social understanding are in their toolboxes. Immersed in 21st-century problems, they develop critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. Working in teams, they come to understand how disciplines can work together to produce innovation and value.
Yes, they invent fun games, but they also help to blaze a trail into what many call "serious" games - games that attempt to solve problems for the public good through engagement.
Serious games represent a powerful change agent that emerged a few years ago when a student team at the Universityof Southern California created "Darfur Is Dying," a viral video game that provides a window into the experience of the 2.5 million refugees inSudan'sDarfur region.