My View: A game-changing major
March 22nd, 2012
06:25 AM ET

My View: A game-changing major

Courtesy Stephen Mease/Champlain University By Ann DeMarle, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ann DeMarle is director of the Emergent Media Center and associate professor of communication and creative media at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.

(CNN) - 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.

At Champlain, our students’ serious-game projects include “Breakaway,” the U.N.-sponsored, episodic, anti-violence game played in more than 140 countries, and “Ludicross,” a flash-based racing game that helps individuals with cystic fibrosis practice breathing.

For those who doubt the value of majoring in this new field, consider that there are countless serious games in business, politics, government, health care, education and many other areas. And it is recent college graduates who are creating them.

Some game programs focus entirely on the latest digital and mobile technologies, but my students also learn sociology, history, literature and more subjects typically considered the liberal arts. They also are gifted in math and logic, prerequisites for majoring in game development. Like liberal arts majors, game students often exhibit a breadth of curiosity and find their passion outside the traditional lines of the entertainment game field.

One of our top students decided to change his major to education with a specialization in Japanese and then worked in Japan teaching English as a second language. Game majors gravitate heavily toward Japanese study, thanks to manga and anime, the Japanese equivalents of comics and animation, respectively. Another student with a passion for science went onto lead the interactive division at the Boston Museum of Science.

As game development matures as a discipline, I have no doubt that this new generation of digital storytellers will earn respected positions not only in academia but also in all areas of enterprise. They will do so by mastering the art of storytelling in a brand new way - by constructing well-considered, creative media solutions that positively affect society through engaging yet-to-be-determined media platforms.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ann DeMarle.


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Filed under: After High School • Technology • Voices
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. car games facebook

    Heya i'm for the primary time here. I found this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I am hoping to offer one thing again and aid others such as you helped me.

    March 31, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  2. Jessy

    The problem with some people entering colleges and universities these days is that they assume that the purpose of college, drilled into their heads by commercials and maybe their ignorant parents, is to help them make the most money. College is never about money. It's about specializing in a career you LOVE. You enter college because you want to specialize for the joy of it just like how I enrolled into Embry Riddle to be a professional pilot as I love flying with a passion and I want to learn everything about it. Unfortunately, some go to college just because their eyes are covered by dollar signs and as a result they fail to realize the number one reason why going to college for just money is a bad idea: you end up being miserable and you're stuck with debt.

    Think about it. I'm aiming for a Master Degree in Professional Aeronautics and I'm starting from the beginning. Of course, I transferred my credits from my medical college which helped a lot. But such an endeavor will no doubt cost me $100k in student loans.

    If I wanted to make the most money, then I wouldn't be in college. I found out that being an Air Conditioning repair man or a Lawn Care worker in Miami, FL. nets you more profits than what a doctor earns.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Aasim Soomro

      Good response. Thank you.

      March 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Loscar727

      awwww thats so cute and innocent... Well tell that to the art majors that are in debt up to their eyeballs and can't get a job making more than 11.50 an hour. Now they are so angry that they waste valuable time Occupying Wall Street. But, I'm sure they love what they do.... I went to grad school in order to develop a skill that will make me more money immediately after college and throughout my career. I love what I do, but I love life in general cause I am comfortable, have no debt, get to travel often, surround my self by similar people, etc. So Mr. Idealist, would you fly a plane for 11.50 an hour with 100k in debt? Knowing that your only escape from the rest of your life is flying?

      March 23, 2012 at 4:57 am |
  3. Thomas

    Perhaps this type of eductation is better suited for a trade school than a university.

    March 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  4. Josh

    "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".

    College, for me, was about getting a piece of paper that said I didn't fail such awesome classes as "History of Rock and Roll" and "Greek and Roman Mythology" so that I could eventually go for my graduate degree in Biotechnology....

    March 22, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Ath

      Glad I'm not the only one shaking my head at that statement. I never finished and while it's occasionally brought up (15 years later) and there are a few companies that REQUIRE a degree, it's not worth the time or effort for me to go back. I was able to learn those skills quite well on my own. College isn't for everybody and short of engineering, MD, and other professional degrees is not the be all end all. I (and my husband) pull down 100K+/year in technical fields w/o degrees.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm |