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Degrees in Game Design Threaten American Colleges?
posted by: Shawn Rider
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date posted: 03:14 PM Wed Dec 7th, 2005
last revision: 01:53 PM Thu Dec 8th, 2005

Click to read.Editor\'s Note: This article was written by Shawn Rider, the Editor-in-Chief of GamesFirst! and an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Media Study, SUNY at Buffalo. He teaches new media design and critical approaches to video games and game design. As part of an effort to provide an academic response to video game criticism, we\'ve also published this article, written by Laurie Taylor, currently a lecturer and PhD candidate studying video games at the University of Florida.

[color=\"yellow\"]An academic response to video game criticism:[/color]

Jack Thompson jokes wearing thin? We understand. After all the coverage Thompson has gotten, we\'re pretty bored with his ranting. But the game world needs a new hysterical voice to mock and deride, which is why we are happy to present Ted Rueter, Assistant Professor of Political Science at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana. Dr. Rueter has written an editorial in College News against colleges adopting game design courses and degrees of study, which, he says, \"kidnap American education.\" Needless to say, we disagree.

Dr. Rueter is alarmed at the large number of courses and degree programs teaching videogame design. These have extended beyond trade-schools such as Digipen and Full Sail to major American institutions, such as Carnegie-Mellon University (home of the Experimental Gameplay Project), Georgia Tech (home of Grand Text Auto), University of Southern California (home of the Interactive Media Division), and many more. He claims that schools are \"cashing in on a fad that is destructive to society.\" He goes so far as to call game design courses \"a sign of the coming apocalypse.\" Referring to EA\'s support of USC\'s Interactive Media Division, Rueter writes:

This is where Rueter first indicates that his arguments are not valid. He calls EA out for leading the charge to institutionalize violent videogames, but then mentions games made by (respectively) Rockstar, Blizzard, Activision and Midway. One would imagine that he could have at least thrown in The Godfather or Lord of the Rings, after all, both of those games feature loads of violent content.

But that would have undermined Rueter\'s argument: The Godfather is based on a legendary film that has been taught in college courses for decades. Francis Ford Coppola is a legendary director in modern cinema, and any mainstream film program would be elated to spawn the \"next Coppola.\"

Lord of the Rings, as a movie or a game, is not any more violent than the novels. Tolkein\'s vision of a raging world war is full of drama and gore and terrible things. Peter Jackson\'s vision is vivid and exhilerating, and appeals to audiences far and wide. Of course Rueter would claim that the videogame is worse, citing some mumbo-jumbo about interactivity, reward and repetition that he doesn\'t really understand.

It\'s painfully obvious that Rueter has never really played the games he is lashing out against. This is a classic case of a moral agenda taking precedence over research. It is as bad as academics writing essays after \"observing\" gameplay: You either play the game or you don\'t. And Rueter doesn\'t. Which, in my book, puts him squarely in the \"disregard\" pile.

But that\'s not really sound reasoning. Rueter writes that the \"central problem with videogames is their violence,\" so let\'s take up that claim: In some way, Rueter believes, videogame violence leads to the degradation of society. The logical way to refute Rueter\'s claims is by taking his evidence to task, which is exactly what Game Politics did:

Game Politics questions the studies Rueter cites about the harmful violent effects of videogames. But no study has produced any really compelling evidence that videogame violence leads to real-world violence. In fact, the Free Expression Policy Project has long held that the studies that have been performed are seriously flawed:

This statement from the Free Expression Policy Project brings up some other questions which Rueter should (but hasn\'t) answered: What about studies of literature, art, and film? All of these creative endeavors have produced scores of violent material. Should students not be allowed to study Beowulf? Should students be protected from the performance art of Chris Burden? Or reproductions of Picasso\'s Guernica?

Aside from the violence issue, Rueters brings up the issue of gender roles and their portrayal in games. He mentions that Nintendo\'s games often feature \"males striking dominant poses\" on the cover. And he notes, \"Many games are based upon a scenario in which a woman is kidnapped or has to be rescued.\" This is patently false. Some games feature a woman in need of rescue. But most do not. Again, this is a point at which Rueter ehibits his naivete about games and gaming.

I am not going to say that there is no issue of gender identity in games, and I wholeheartedly endorse efforts to get women involved in gaming and the games industry. In fact, quite a few women do play games, and even more girls are being raised playing games. So to assume that gamers are all male is erroneous and offensive. And to block game design from becoming a mainstream discipline is to force game development to remain an exclusive old-boys club, away from which it is trying to evolve. The industry recognizes this challenge, and has made movements to correct. (See our recent news about the upcoming Women in Games International Conference.)

I will grant Rueter that not all games are worthy of critical study, but that is the precise reason why game design must be incorporated into the academy. If games are to grow and flourish as an art form, we need the input of academic gamers (like the folks at Academic Gamers). Existing projects like Experimental Gameplay and the work coming out of USC\'s Interactive Entertainment Division have already pushed boundaries: In fact, most of the games available from the Experimental Gameplay Project are not violent in nature, and they are some of the most intriguing new gameplay concepts we\'ve seen. Would a major game publisher have created these games?

Absolutely not. In fact, EA has stated that part of the reason for their support of USC\'s programs has been the inability to develop experimental game concepts internally due to significant market pressures. It is within the scholarly bubble that the most radical experiments can take place without pressure to sell or conform.

I know that games are in their infancy as a creative form, but it has been a spectacular infancy. What awaits just over the horizon is surely a new era of media experience, one that will allow us to share and experience our stories unlike ever before. Limiting the freedom of individuals to practice and study the form will only slow its development. It will not prevent it. Rueter and his ilk have much more to gain by working to educate young developers to create better, more interesting and more fulfilling games.

Unfortunately, some academics would rather destroy than build. Higher education does need to be rescued--from the destructive nonsense of academics like Ted Rueter.

Editor\'s Note: Shawn Rider is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesFirst! and is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Media Study, SUNY at Buffalo. He teaches new media design and critical approaches to videogames and game design.

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