Getting into the Game

Stout major taps booming video game market

Bailey Berg, photos by Andrea Paulseth

NOTHING SAYS “VIDEO GAMES” LIKE WICKER AND DEER HEADS. Stout’s video game development program Director, Diane Christie, plays Rock Band with her kids.

Several decades after bursting into pool halls and living rooms, video games are now taking a place in academia. Even UW-Stout has adopted Video Game Development into its curriculum as a full-fledged major, the first school in the UW system to do so.

While traditionalists in education might pooh-pooh this newer field of study, calling it a bid for colleges to cash in on a fad, others believe that video games – which, by the way, already rival movie tickets in sales – are poised to become one of the dominant media forces of the new century.

Diane Christie, the program director at Stout, said that despite the economic downturn, video game sales are on the rise. “It’s not just PlayStation 3’s or Wii’s anymore. Everything is going digital. People want mobility, but also something fun and easily accessible. Just look at your mobile phone. How many games are on there?” 

Suddenly, the idea of a degree in video games is one that might even persuade the parents who grumble about the high cost of video games to write a tuition check. These days, there are companies that pay big bucks to computer science geniuses who can develop the next mind-blowing game that will generate a big following.

But video game development has come a long way. No longer is it just Pong, Mario Cart, or some game involving blowing things up. Christie said, “There are a lot of serious games nowadays. Games can now be used for education and training. The US Government has their soldiers play video games before going to Iraq. They play the game, have situations to face, and if they don’t do well, they play the game over again. There’s no downside of doing it wrong, you just do it again, and learn from mistakes.”

Even pilots and police officers start out learning with big video game simulators. Christie explained, “There are a lot of careers that you just can’t start out doing it right away. You need to start with a simulator because the stakes are too high to start rookies on the real stuff off the bat.”

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