Questioning the Value of Game Design Degrees

Gamesblog has posted an editorial questioning the value of a video game design degree. Part of me really wants to take this seriously (since at least some of the many design programs springing up worldwide must undoubtedly be half-baked). Unfortunately, this editorial doesn’t do the question justice at all.

Let’s start with the first argument (paraphrased): innovative designers come from different disciplines, and therefore have a fresh perspective. That’s certainly true in many cases. But wait: last I checked, a college degree was useful for expanding one’s horizons. Does a game design degree prevent students from concurrently taking courses in philosophy, art, psychology, or computer science? More to the point, couldn’t a good design course encourage interdisciplinary study? Ours certainly does. Many MIT CMS undergrads double major in computer science, and/or sprinkle film and TV studies, creative writing, and marketing courses into their schedules. Our design courses often require students to explore a range of design considerations, including business, engineering, social, and cultural issues. The idea that a game design degree precludes a broad perspective is simply laughable.

The author also notes that none of his long-term game designer pals have game-related degrees. Really? Maybe that’s because game design degrees didn’t exist until just a few years ago. Maybe we should eliminate all biochemistry degrees, since early biochemists enjoyed more “fundamental” educations.

Lastly, the author claims that “in most creative industries, people from the outside have the brightest ideas…” I don’t know what to make of this. Are creative writing majors automatically less likely to write a good book than other people? Are film studies majors less likely to produce an innovative movie? The author commends the value of these programs with one hand, but effectively denigrates them (and all programs like them) with the other. You’d be hard pressed to find many people who think that film studies programs have somehow sucked the creativity out of Hollywood, so I’m not sure why game design programs should be any different.

A better editorial might have questioned design programs that fail to incorporate computer science, film studies, creative writing, etc. It might have explored the importance of practical design experience (I feel that any program worth its salt strongly encourages students to take summer internships with game companies, and builds practical, long-term game development projects into the design curriculum.) It might have raised questions about game design theory, which is still a rather nascent thing, and therefore somewhat difficult to teach. These would have been interesting things to discuss.

2 responses to “Questioning the Value of Game Design Degrees

  1. Good criticism. The article was long on polemic and short on evidence. Seems like people are desperate for a scapegoat.

  2. Chris Drouin

    Speaking as someone who is involved as an undergrad in WPI’s new game design major, Interactive Media and Game Development (IMGD), I can honestly say that these folks are full of it. I’ve been very pleased with the program’s structure thus far. It mandates a tremendous variety of different subjects – music, literature, art, computer science – and there’s a (required) course specifically tackling social and cultural issues in games.

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