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Degrees in Game Design Help Gamers and Nongamers
posted by: Laurie Taylor
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date posted: 12:26 PM Thu Dec 8th, 2005
last revision: 01:56 PM Thu Dec 8th, 2005

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Click to read.Editor\'s Note: This article was written by Laurie Taylor, currently a lecturer and PhD candidate studying video games at the University of Florida. As part of an effort to provide an academic response to video game criticism, we\'ve also published this article, 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.

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

In \"Degrees in Video Game Design \'Kidnap American Education,\'\" Ted Rueter claims that teaching games is a bad thing. As a lone article, this could be dismissed as unjustified hyperbole; however, Rueter\'s article is an example of many that argue illogically against video games. Thus, Rueter\'s article alone is of small concern, but it indicates a much greater problem in the misunderstanding of games and game studies.

Rueter\'s arguments against game studies are founded on the regurgitation of arguments about every new media form: rap music, rock music, music videos, television, film, comics (Senate hearings investigated comics, as so many people tend to forget), even older media forms like novels when they were new. Vilifying a form isn\'t a new or interesting method. What Rueter attempts to add to these is that studying and teaching video games is part of the problem. As an academic currently finishing my PhD in English with a focus on video games, I\'m somewhat surprised and saddened by Rueter\'s argument. I agree with Rueter that academia needs to change, but it needs to change to better address contemporary concerns and issues, and video games are one of those issues.

First, I\'m surprised that Rueter would seek to dismiss video games without doing his research. While Rueter couches his argument in the problems of game design programs, he neglects to mention that those game design programs are often also game studies programs. As game studies programs, the classes cover the \"how-to\" of game design along with the reasons \"why.\" In fact, Georgia Tech features Professor Ian Bogost, who specializes in studying games for serious purposes-politics, education, and argument. USC houses scholars like Tracy Fullerton-who\'s argued for the use of games as simulations to serve as documentaries. Neither of these scholars nor their programs are focused on the singular mission of game design; nor are they blindly studying how to make games to make money--a fact Rueter seems to miss as he quotes industry sales figures.

Rueter cites psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill\'s claim that \"violent video games provide a forum for learning and practicing aggressive solutions to conflict situations.\" While that could be true, this ignores the other studies that cite a lack of evidence for such claims and it ignores the research methodology. Most studies of video games and violence are conducted with children in artificial situations. In fact, Rueter should have found: \"Conspicuously absent from the video game research are other designs used in the study of television violence such as longitudinal designs and field experiments. These types of research designs are more complex and expensive to undertake, so their absence may merely reflect the fact that video game research has only recently begun. However, these designs often provide the greatest ecological validity and allow researchers to make stronger predictions of social significance\" (Sherry, 2001, p. 426). Sherry\'s quote goes to the importance of studying media outside of the laboratory.

As gamers, we know that gaming itself is contextualized-like context-sensitive buttons in a game-within a particular situation. Gamers know that no matter how frustrating a game can be, throwing a controller means possibly breaking a controller. Thus, the majority of players learn to better control their anger rather than expressing it so they can continue to play. If players always reacted violently, no one would have been able to afford games in the days of slowdown, nor to play the many incredibly frustrating games. The violence of the game is thus situated within a social experience-one that may involve a great deal of trash-talking, but one that still has its own rules and teaches its own standards. To evaluate games as separate from their use and reception ignores research.

As an academic who studies games, I wish Rueter had done his research so he could comment on the problems with games and game studies. Problems which include the lack of diversity in game designers and in game characters, and the lack of young girl players--girls who could play games and become more interested in technological and science-related fields where girls are still heavily underrepresented (see Sheri Graner Ray\'s Gender Inclusive Game Design or Ernest Adams columns on Gamasutra.com for more). Race issues in games are another major concern given that most African-American characters are criminals of some sort, and given that games completely lack playable characters of certain groups. For instance, Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance was the first mainstream game I\'ve seen with a playable Latina character. Instead of addressing these and other very real concerns, and instead of offering questions or thoughts on how teaching game design could address these issues, Rueter just argues against teaching, which is a stance I think most academics would find very uncomfortable.

Second, I\'m saddened that Rueter would--in failing to do his research--fall back on such a flawed and stereotypical argument as condemning an entire media form. Studying games is the way to make them change, while ignoring games allows them to operate without enough people thinking about them. Technology, including games, can be good or bad. They are tools and should be studied so we know how to wield them. Academia has traditionally investigated forms that make academics and others uncomfortable, and forms that people dislike. While I am an avid supporter of video games as a form and many video games in particular, some video games even make me uncomfortable, like the games designed by hate groups. Ignoring games or simply being against studying and teaching games does nothing to help the situation and it hinders the potential for change.

If people want less violent video games, then people need to study games and make new games or to study games and be able to suggest different methods of gaming. Gaming is doing so, and academia is trying to help. Bioware is currently running a competition for game writers using the Neverwinter Nights world, and gaming companies are looking for new ideas. Games like Doom proved that individuals could break into gaming and Alien Hominid shows that it can still be done. Nintendogs, Trace Memory, Katamari Damancy, and thousands of other games (even classics like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?) show that games aren\'t just violent-they\'re also beautiful, friendly, and educational.

Rueter\'s argument ignores media history, who gamers are, how gaming cultures operate, how game design companies operate, and even the games themselves. Next time, I\'d like to see a researched argument on the problems in games--which do need to be addressed--rather than just a reactionary claim against an art form that has been beneficial for so many players. Higher education needs to address games and game studies programs are a first step in the right direction.

For those interested in the benefits of video games, see

Editor\'s Note: Laurie Taylor is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Florida, where she is earning her PhD in English with an emphasis on video games. She teaches video game and digital media at the university, and has published papers academically on both comics and video games.


Sherry, J. L. (2001). The effects of violent video games on aggression: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 27(3), 409-431.

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