Getting into the Game
Stout major taps booming video game market
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.”
And more and more companies are in need of individuals with video game majors, and not just big corporate companies in New York and Los Angeles. “Before we started this, we called companies and asked how likely they would be to hire individuals with this major,” Christie said. “We asked, ‘are you looking for people?’ ‘What’s the outlook?’ We received all positive feedback, saying ‘Yeah, we’re going to need a lot more people like that,’ or ‘Yeah, we need more students that are going through that kind of curriculum.’ ”
In Wisconsin and the four surrounding states alone, more than 100 companies are in need of individuals with knowledge on video game production, and the burgeoning market is famished for new talent.
The curriculum at Stout is split into two concentrations, one side is art, the other computer programming. Depending on which side a student is on, each concentration has its own core classes that qualify them into the art area or the computer science area. Then there is a block of shared classes, where students study everything from the culture and sociology of video games, to the different genres, all in an effort to get to know the industry.
Christie warns the weak at heart, “It’s not an easy major, its a very difficult major. If anyone comes in saying ‘Oh I like playing video games, so I must like doing this,’ they’re in for a surprise. It’s a lot of work.”
For more information on Stout’s Game Design and Development program, visit www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsgdd.