March 9, 2007

New Initiative Offers Game Design Minor and Courses

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Though computer games are typically viewed as a leisure activity, The Game Design Initiative (GDIAC) presents gaming in a more serious light. Along with offering three game design courses, this fall the College of

Engineering introduced a game design minor. According to Prof. David Schwartz, computer science, this minor is available to any Cornell student.

“The courses … have enough variety that virtually every major has an entry point, especially since a number of classes have limited or even no prerequisites,” Schwartz stated in an e-mail. “As a result, a Cornell ‘game student’ must still pursue a core degree, which will help them in their career if games aren’t going to be a focus.”

Though it has been difficult for game design to gain recognition as a true academic field, the game design courses require students to devote a large quantity of time and work to the subject.

“[It’s] a lot of work, but it’s work everyone loves to do,” said Ben Humberston ’09, a game design student and incoming president of the student-run Digital Gaming Alliance. Humberston said he works up to 15 hours per week on a single project.

“I just couldn’t stop. You always want to make it better,” he said.
Many students in the game design program share Humberston’s enthusiasm for the subject.

“The people who are involved with [game design] are really, really passionate about it,” said Dora Fraeman ’07, a member of the Cornell team who designed the winning game at the Games 4 Girls Competition at the University of Illinois.

Though the most enthusiastic members of the game-design community are often computer programmers, GDIAC tries to draw students from the fields of art and music as well.

“We expect Cornell applicants to have rich backgrounds, and so I believe we should offer multiple opportunities within the same class,” stated Schwartz.
“We have had many students not only program, but work on art, music and story all in the same project.”

However, according to Fraeman, GDIAC’s emphasis on the technical side of game design means that at times the program is lacking in the more artistic areas.

“It seems slightly lacking in the other fields of game design because there’s such a focus on the technical side,” she said. “I think of other schools. They’re going to spend more time … on the artsy stuff.”
Humberston agreed.

“You look at the enrollments, and it’s always 90 percent programmers,” he said.

One of the draws of the program is the opportunity to apply computer science to create an interactive work of art.

“What you create is so much more tangible,” said Humberston. “You want to see your own soul in the game … Nothing is so very human and aesthetically pleasing.”

Since the establishment of GDIAC, students’ games have become more complex and creative with each passing year, according to Humberston.

Humberston cites a recent student creation called “Kaedyo: Living Ink,” in which the background of the game looks like a notebook and players have the opportunity to create their own playing field by drawing on the ‘pages.’

“The program has solidified,” said Humberston. “Every year the stuff is just
better and better … Every game builds off the one that comes before it.”
Schwartz said he was excited about progress that GDIAC has made over the past three years.

“I’m deeply proud of the fact that all I started with was a single e-mail to my department chair,” he stated. “Nothing would have happened without the support of the Department of Computer Science and nearly 400 (and growing) GDIAC students who made a whole lot of games.”