Nerding Out

Video games are the quintessential 21st century art form. Artists, actors, writers, designers, and programmers collaborate to produce an interactive story representative of the digital age. The Art Institute of Vancouver, Savannah College of Art and Design, and the University of Southern California are just a few schools with game design programs. So why don’t we study video games at Emerson College?

Video games are a young medium often marketed as high-tech toys. Like film before it, video games have taken decades to be accepted by the larger arts community. Theater critics originally mocked films as less sophisticated because they began as carnival novelties. Film gradually evolved to include sound, color, and the modern storytelling techniques that grip us today. 

Comparatively, the game industry has promoted graphics and realism as the selling point for much of its existence. We’ve reached a tipping point where technology is able to realize a game’s creative vision while the market for games shifts from adolescent and adult males to everyone — games are more accessible. Add a booming indie game scene, new and reinvigorated genres, the proliferation of smartphones and tablets — where games are the top app category — and a generation that speaks digital before English, and we’re suddenly in the midst of a cultural movement.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, game sales have consistently surpassed Hollywood films since 2004. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 beat The Dark Knight’s first week box office sales. Modern Warfare 3 reached $1 billion quicker than Avatar. Or take The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which earned $450 million in 48 hours compared to Twilight: Breaking Dawn with $138 million in its opening weekend. The NPD Group, a national standard for measuring media, has reported for years that more people are playing video games than watching movies. And — not to fan flames — top-grossing games are well-received by the public and the critics. Our own Steven Schirra and Eric Gordon,a pair of Emerson professors, won Best Direct Impact Game of 2011 for Participatory Chinatown at the Games for Change Festival in New York City.

As the center for innovation in communication and the arts, it is Emerson’s responsibility to provide and nurture a video game curriculum or risk falling among art school rankings. While at Emerson, I became involved with everything under the sun only to find that what I was searching for wasn’t here. If there were a video game curriculum with facilities equivalent to what we offer for film, radio, and other programs, my time and money would have been more efficiently spent. I’ve carved my own path with the flexibility of marketing, and others will carve theirs, but we shouldn’t have to.

Emerson currently offers an interactive media specialization for visual and media arts students. This gives aspiring game makers courses in cinematography, interactive storytelling, and animation — but with the addition of a specific video game program, math and science will come into play due to the programming involved in gaming development. Every ambitious self-starter Emerson attracts would benefit greatly from these courses — we are builders. There is no greater innovation at Emerson than using math creatively. Add in game theory, history, and design courses and we not only have a more cultured institution, but one better positioned for the future of media and more representative of the greater arts landscape.