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Majoring in video games

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

Students virtually joined at the hip with video games aren’t necessarily slackers. They could be trying to get a good grade.

Video games are serious business academically at two local institutions of higher learning –– Highline Community College, where an English instructor probes the deeper meaning of the games with her students, and DeVry University-Federal Way, which offers a degree in game and simulation programming.

Though the video game industry has been around for about 30 years, its technology has barely cracked a book as an academic pursuit. But with sales in the $10 billion range, the industry can use game developers and programmers. According to DeVry, the ideal candidates for companies have  programming skills plus academic credentials and a well-rounded education.

Reed Hackett, president of the Federal Way campus of the national business and technical college, said the Seattle area has one of the largest 

concentrations of game developers in the U.S. with roughly 50 companies. And nationally, such businesses are hiring –– a 45 percent growth rate the next seven years is predicted by the U.S. Department of Labor

To fill the jobs, “there is a tremendous demand for educational programs in game and simulation programming,” Hackett said.

Graduates of the mew bachelor degree program at DeVry might find work as programmers, software engineers and project coordinators. They would also qualify in other fields such as military tactical and strategic simulations and training, automotive design and testing, training for healthcare workers, crime scene reconstruction and flight simulators, officials said. 

DeVry’s program includes math and physics, game design and multi-dimensional graphics programming. The technical elements of earning the degree are supported by more traditional general education courses, Hackett said.

At Highline, Angi Castor has tapped into what a sub-set of students who are converting their zest for video games into a desire to go to English class.

Castor added video game literature to the Literature 220 course she taught last spring. She did it because she realized she could use students’ interest in video games to get to them educationally.

“I can lead them into discussions of subjects that ultimately help them prove they’re smart enough to get into the University of Washington,” she said.

Castor got into video games partly because of her son’s interest. “I 

started playing and loved it,” she related.

In her class, students were asked in writing assignments to defend 

video games as literature. “And they did it,” passing her critical-thinking muster, she said.

Castor’s fellow instructors were skeptical about the seriousness of the class. “They thought it was a passing  fancy,” she said. But students flocked to her class and kept coming once she convinced them “I was a legitimate player and wasn’t going to put them down,” she said.

“These are the best and the brightest,” not unmotivated students or weird technoids, as some uninformed adults might think, Castor said, noting her son earned a doctorate and is now a professor at University of South Carolina.

“We’re not necessarily meeting the creative needs of these kids” through more traditional curriculum, said Castor, who plans to make a presentation, assisted by some of her students, titled “Fiftysomething Professor Meets PlayStation” during an English  educators’ conference in Yakima in October.

From a career standpoint, Hackett said game development technologies are surging in popularity and “are poised to play an important role in the entertainment industry for years to come. Similarly, simulation technologies are having an increasingly significant impact” employee training in private businesses and the public sector. The result is “strong demand for individuals who have formal educational backgrounds in these areas.”

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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