College plans for new gaming major

by Frankie Olito / Beacon Staff • February 9, 2012

Many students at Emerson find themselves in packed dorm rooms and small apartments to escape to the alternate realities of video games. With a joystick in hand, they are soldiers at war, drivers on a racetrack, and singers in a popular band. They become regular visitors in a virtual world.

Soon, students interested in video game design will be able to create worlds of their own through Emerson College’s proposed video game curriculum in the visual and media arts department.

Brooke Knight, an associate visual and media arts professor, said he and his department have been working on building a curriculum for five to six years. 

Knight said it is a long process because its takes time to allocate resources like faculty, space, and equipment.

“It is an ongoing, iterative process,” he said. “It takes years and careful thinking.”

Joel Jordon, a junior interdisciplinary writing and interactive media major who is interested in the program, said he understands the struggle with creating such a curriculum. 

“A video game curriculum would likely face the challenge of being comprehensive enough, because games are made up of so many different components,” Jordon said.

If the department can overcome the difficulties of creating it, students like Chris Madsen said they would be interested in participating. 

“I know that I am not alone in my genuine interest in game design here at Emerson College. I have personally met several students who share my intrigue and passion for the subject,” the junior visual and media arts major said.

After a column in the Jan. 19 issue of The Berkeley Beacon brought attention to the development of a program modeled on similar ones around the country, the reporter, Alfredo Gil, was invited to help shape the curriculum. 

This interest is not only Emerson-based, but is shared throughout the nation.

Knight referenced other colleges and universities that have a curriculum already in place, like Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of Southern California (USC). 

USC’s program, nicknamed GamePipe, is the number one video game curriculum in the country, according to the Princeton Review. Participants in the program are organized into teams and spend a year creating video games. At the end of program, students participate in Demo Day where they present their self-created video games to the public. 

“The program is amazingly popular,” Michael Zyda, director of GamePipe said in an email to the Beacon. “It saved the Cinema Studies Department from a steep decline in students.”

Knight said he wishes to model the curriculum after programs at other colleges but in an Emerson mindset.

“While there are good examples out there, a lot are trying to jump on the band wagon,” Knight said. “We want to do it right, but in an Emerson context.”

Another goal for the program is to have it fit within college departments easily, according to Knight.

“We want to work within the structures already in place, like in visual and media arts,” he said.

Eric Gordon, director of the Engagement Game Lab, a research lab devoted to the study of games, has a different view of the curriculum. 

“The likelihood of establishing a specific games program is small. However, highlighting games and play in the composition of visual and media arts is not only likely, but inevitable,” Gordon said of the potential for curriculum.

Madsen and Jordan agree that video games are gaining prominence. 

“The unique ability to tell interactive stories and showcase artistic talents in new ways has led me to believe that the game industry will continue to grow in ways beyond our wildest dreams,” Madsen said.

Jordon said he also sees the importance.

“I think video games are, for better or worse, the entertainment and maybe also the artistic medium of our generation,” Jordon said.

Knight agrees and said that gaming design is a great career path option. 

“I feel that games have become significant and deep enough of a field of study for it to warrant a real investigation at a college level,” Knight said.