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  • Game Curricula: Differences in Focus

    - Lewis Pulsipher
  •  There seems to be a lot of confusion -- some of it deliberate, unfortunately -- about several categories of academic programs devoted to games. I'm going to try to describe the differences between "game studies," "game development/production," and "game design."

    Game Studies

    In "game studies" you are not creating games or even ideas or frameworks for games. You are studying and analyzing games and game players the way psychologists study people or biologists study plants and animals. You want to know such things as why people play games, what "fun" is, what are the fundamental elements of games, what role story plays in games; you may spend a lot of time and effort defining just what a game is -- and never come to a conclusion all can agree on! 

    Another aspect of game studies can be evaluating the effect of game playing on the players (for example, with educational games and simulations). The person studying games may not be a lifelong avid game player, though I'd think that many are. Someone in game studies, when playing or watching a game, is more likely to think about how it works, to analyze it, to consider how it affects the players, than he is to be concerned about how enjoyable it is to play (though that IS part of the analysis). The principle "deliverables" of game studies students -- what they actually make or do -- are long academic papers about games.

    Sometimes the study of games is called "ludology", and as with any other academic discipline, there are doctoral dissertations and formal journals and conferences devoted to the study of games.

    Game studies people ponder; game developers and game designers do. As with many academic disciplines, then, game studies can ultimately illuminate how games can be improved, but its effects on game creation are indirect and distant rather than direct. If you want to actually make games, "game studies" is not where you want to be.


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