May 16, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Getting a degree in 'Mortal Kombat'
Unlike some others, the school came up with a remedy that seems to be working: games.
Last year, the Denver school became one of the first four-year universities in the United States to open an undergraduate major in game development, by merging elements from the school's computer-science and design programs. Applications already are up, and other undergraduate institutions are following suit, preceded by a handful of graduate-level programs with a similar focus.
The trend has been met with some resistance, both from traditional computer scientists and university administrators who see games like "Mortal Kombat" and "Halo 2" as strictly entertainment. But that skepticism is passing, say academics who have devoted attention to the subject.
"It's like the film industry back in 1930s and 1940s, when the first film schools were established," said Associate Professor Scott Leutenegger, who heads the University of Denver's program. "That was not taken seriously. Now everyone thinks those programs are great."
Universities' burgeoning interest in computer and video games may be as powerful a sign of the medium's maturation as are the tens of billions of dollars now made by the industry every year. Mario and Lara Croft have long been comfortably ensconced in popular culture, but they're now moving off the floor of industry shows like this week's massive E3 conference in Los Angeles to join James Joyce and Orson Welles in the academic curriculum.
The relationship between colleges and game companies desperate for talent nevertheless remains an uncertain one.
On one side are academics who are eager to bring their own brand of analysis and research to the table, studying games and gamers' behavior as cultural or anthropological phenomena. A recent conference discussion on the issue saw several professors avowing their independence from the strictly practical needs of industry, while saying their research could nevertheless help designers.
For example, a group of game researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, teach from inside the curriculum-and-instruction department, and largely study how games can be used in learning. Other researchers study topics ranging from the economics of multiplayer games to the demographics and sociology of gaming.
"Our school is not in position of turning out people for industry," said Kurt Squire, an assistant professor at Wisconsin's Madison campus and a veteran of a similar education-focused program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's not what we do, it's not what we want to do."
Feeding companies' needs
On the other side are more practical programs such as Leutenegger's. It is these that are beginning to spring up in ever-greater numbers, both at trade and arts schools and at bigger universities.
Curriculum typically falls into categories of programming, design and art. Some schools allow students to focus in one of these areas-?indeed, some companies say they prefer job candidates who are expert at just one specialty
Page 1 | 2
8 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment