Monday, April 9, 2007

Games and Academia: An Unholy Union?

This week’s post is dedicated to reflecting upon gaming’s place at USC. In accordance with the College Dean’s call asking students, “How would you go about making the educational experience at USC College even better?”, in hopes of proposals suggesting change to the curriculum within the College. Given the Dean’s inquiry it would be more than fitting to take this opportunity to propose changes in the way game development and game design are studied. In undertaking this task, first one needs to contemplate gaming as an area of study at USC and what strengths and weaknesses the program has; and how to best address these weaknesses while solidifying the strengths.

Currently USC is one of few major research universities that has a gaming program and performs game research, and in fact has two separate majors dedicated to gaming. The Computer Science School offers the B.S in Computer Science (Games) which provides studies in, “game production, visual design …, computer animation, videogame programming, game hardware architectures, game engine programming, serious game development, introductory and intermediate game design”. This offers a programming intensive track strongly focused for Parallel to this offering is the B.A in Interactive Media, website shown above, offered by the school of cinematic arts which aims to, “provide leading edge research and a hotbed of ideas for future professional storytellers… [and] offer unprecedented opportunities for students to explore media convergence in an environment that leverages the natural advantages of its Hollywood setting”. For this more artistic approach the curriculum is at its core, dedicated to game design and development but focuses more on the “story-telling” tradition of games. Having two disparate departments offering degrees in gaming shows a seriousness and dedication to gaming as a viable area of academia however this also leads to confusion for the student and a thinning out of resources that could be more concentrated. I propose that the Computer Science School and the Cinema School offer interdepartmental degrees in gaming that could pool the schools resources and draw from each others strengths to create a richer experience for students without the confusion of having to choose one over the other. With these two separate departments collaborating, students are given the opportunity to see the convergence of the stronger focus on game programming from the Computer Science School and the emphasis on game design and story telling provided by the Interactive Media Division. This would allow for students with more programmer heavy aspirations to be able to have a concentration in game programming while allowing for greater understanding of the gaming universe from a research and artistic perspective and the converse for more artistically geared is also true.

The adjunction of these departments toward a more unified game study experience would also create greater funds and a more powerful presence within the University and academia in general; this would lend a hand to bold and revolutionary moves. One such action I propose would be the establishment of the first Game Library and Lab. This library would be dedicated to providing a one-stop shop for all tools necessary for gaming students to study and produce games, from books on game programming to cutting edge game consoles. The library and lab would consist of three major components: a comprehensive book and information collection, workstations for game development, design and play and an extensive selection of video games themselves. Having books, games and workstations in an integrate environment would allow for students to have the same advantages students in other fields such as Cinema Production students. The Cinema School facilities provide students with a collection of books dedicated to the art and history of film, complimented by a vast collection of films and stations at which to both watch and edit films. I am simply suggesting the same for gaming; this library would facilitate the study of game history and cultivate a love for gaming that all game designers and developers should have. Such an opportunity doesn’t exist in academia currently but as Games develop more clout in the scholarly realm, it will become a necessity and is inevitability. The libraries implementation would put USC further out in the forefront of video studies and would do wonders for the experience of students within major.

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