Nerding Out

After making the case for video games at Emerson College, I looked to other schools to find student leaders in established game programs and inquired about their experience. Luckily, I didn’t need to look far, as Northeastern University was recently a site for Global Game Jam 2012, a game development initiative where students are placed in teams and crank out a game over a sleepless 48-hour Red Bull-induced weekend. Over 11,000 students across 48 countries registered for this event which produced over 2000 free games — the educational equivalent of making a Film I over the weekend. Sound familiar? This is exactly the kind of production Emerson College would be able to participate in if we had a competitive game program. I witnessed three teams of programmers, writers, audio designers, and visual artists produce and present three original games and spoke with them about their experiences.

Zachary Fand, president of the Northeastern University Game Development Club, said the difference between games and other mediums is that “[games] don’t simply narrate a user through the experience, [they] bestow an emotion or theme through a series of interactions.” In his club’s biweekly meetings, students discuss game design and ideas, network, hone skills, and listen to guest lectures from the industry. For Matthew Michaud, a freshman programmer from Wentworth Insititute of Technology, this was his first time working with a team of artists at the Northeastern GGJ site. After what Michaud referred to as an “amazing” experience, he said he hopes to “bring tears to the eyes of any gamer” who plays in his alternate realities. Michael Andryuaskas, an aspiring game producer, said he learned many leadership and project-management lessons and argues that games “have reached a level of intellectual complexity that can classify it as ‘artistic.’”

Ian Schrieber Global Game Jam director and freelance game programmer, designer, and educator at Savannah College of Art and Design (online) and Colombus State Community College, says he’s “heard stories of first-time jammers with no experience [in games] deciding after the weekend to change their career to games.” When asked about bringing a game curriculum to Emerson College, Schreiber said the college’s difficulties include competition from the over four hundred schools that are already ahead of us and potential internal struggles. “Some faculty still think of games as frivolous, as if a game development curriculum will cheapen the rest of the university,” said Schrieber. In getting quality faculty on board, he points administrators to the IGDA Curriciulum Framework — a conceptual guide for game-related educational programs. For students, he recommends we teach ourselves by being proactive in our own projects, as “experience is the best teacher!”

Northeastern’s Creative Industries (CI) Program began four years ago where Mark Sivak currently teaches programming and design while watching the program grow steadily. All students in this program participate in two co-ops or internships within the industry, and any student from any major in the university can take on a CI minor. Sivak describes the program as grueling because all CI degrees are combined majors with little room for electives. He believes games have a place in every school. “Games are an incredibly hot topic not just in entertainment, but also for education, rehabilitation, business, and advertising. Games are here to stay.”