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  • Michigan State University Launches Serious Game Design MA Program

    [10.30.06]
  • Michigan State University is recruiting students now for the Fall 2007 launch of the Serious Game Design masters degree program (SGD-MA) and Serious Game Design Graduate Certificate.

    Degree participants Carrie Heeter and Brian Winn have provided a full description of the course, as follows:

    "The MSU SGD-MA aims at the heart of serious game design, that magical region where theory and content intersect with game design. Game design for entertainment already requires diverse, multidisciplinary expertise. Serious game design calls upon vastly more disciplines and introduces new team roles. The diagram below shows that intersection. Outside of the Theory, Content, and Game Design circles, representative example knowledge domains are listed. Depending on the goals and constraints of a particular serious game, different specific knowledge domains play a lesser or greater role.

    The MSU SGD-MA program is designed to prepare game designers, theory experts, content experts, and researchers for careers in serious games. In principle, creative tensions between game design, content, and theoretical perspectives are natural and important. In practice, unnecessary conflicts arise because each “camp” knows their own domain well and knows little or nothing about the opposing two perspectives. Our program teaches game designers, theory experts and instructional designers, and content experts about each domain and how these perspectives converge around serious game design. With extensive common ground, team members can move quickly to exploring the essential creative tension of the game they are designing. We expect the result to be much improved teamwork, communication, and products both as students in the program and in their future professional lives.

    Any one of the three perspectives (theory, design, or content) may be the project leader. In practice, who is in charge will depend on how the serious game is funded. Some games for learning are directed by instructional designers. In other development models, a game design company may hire pedagogy and content consultants. Games for health funded by the National Institutes of Health tend to be theory driven. Theoretician-researchers hire what they refer to as “craftspeople” (game designers) to apply their theories, often under close supervision. The United Nations World Hunger Food Programme served as content expert and hired Deepend and Playerthree to produce and program the “Food Force” game. Creative control and negotiation are aided by common goals and common ground.

    The MSU SGD-MA is a masters degree program instead of an undergraduate degree because we want our students to enter with expertise. Desirable undergraduate majors are as diverse as the multidisciplinary expertise needed for serious game design. Students may enter the program with degrees in game design, computer science, art, psychology, education, advertising, journalism, music, and interactive media. The SGD-MA is a natural graduate degree to compliment a BA or specialization in game design. Alternatively students may enter with a background in a content domain such as environmental science, medicine, or political science, with a desire to create serious games in that area. We actively seek a mix of students from different backgrounds and with different serious game design career objectives. We anticipate that some of our students will already have professional experience in media-related fields, returning to an academic setting to 'retool' so they may understand better the complexities of serious game design.

    What our students will have in common when they arrive is a desire to create and study games which change the world. Students from diverse backgrounds complete four core required courses which introduce concepts, vocabulary, methods, ethics, process, funding and business considerations, and critique of a wide range of exemplar games:
    · Foundations of Serious Games;
    · Serious Game Theories (a wide range of education, psychology, and communication theories with implications for serious game design);
    · Serious Game Research Methods (design research including playtesting and impact research or knowledge construction research for students planning to go on for a Ph.D.) ;
    · Serious Game Design and Development (closely guided process and methods of putting it all together)

    In the fifth core course, Collaborative Serious Game Design, student teams work more independently, and with faculty serving as coach or client.

    The program integrates project work, beginning with small individual projects the first semester, moving to one large guided team project the second semester. Course work culminates in a collaborative game design capstone course. The final step is an independent serious game project. No longer guided within the structure of a formal course, an individual or, more often, a group of students propose a project and develop it, guided by a combination of faculty and industry mentors and real world clients. Here too students can team up, each playing the role are preparing for.

    Students will be encouraged to identify and deepen a specialization by choosing their elective courses in that domain (such as artificial intelligence, museum studies, cognitive psychology, epidemiology, or education). The core courses provide common ground, but deeper expertise in a chosen area helps students define and prepare for a specialized role in serious games. Example specializations include museum studies, education, artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, advertising, communication, HCI, professional writing, and content domains.

    “Change the world with us” is not just a slogan. Like often cited academics James Gee and Janet Murray, Michigan State University faculty in the SGD-MA program are enthralled by the potential of games. Gee’s third major book about games is unabashedly titled Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul. In Janet Murray’s keynote at the 2005 Digital Games Research Association conference, The Future of Electronic Games: Lessons from the first 250,000 years, she argues that playing games helped humans develop symbolic thought, differentiating us from chimpanzees.

    The MSU SGD-MA program is housed in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media. “TISM” faculty also teach an interdisciplinary undergraduate specialization in game design and development. We are joined in offering the serious games MA degree program by faculty from eleven other departments including Advertising, Communication, Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Computer Science, Education, Epidemiology, Horticulture, Journalism, Museum Studies, Neurology, and Professional Writing.
    Serious games are an exciting new frontier, a wild west of great potential and unexplored territory. Academics, government, foundations, think tanks, and industry come together in the exploration. On October 17, the Federation of American Scientists released a report based on their 2006 Summit on harnessing the power of video games for learning. The report identifies a road map of research questions about games, learning, design, and research to help realize the potential of games in transforming education. Two days later the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced $30,000 in prizes for games for health. Three days later the MacArthur Foundation announced plans to spend $50,000,000 on grants and initiatives to increase understanding of digital media and learning.
    Serious game design is an emerging discipline. MSU faculty are actively involved in the design of and research about serious games. The content of the SGD-MA courses will change each semester as we (SGD-MA faculty and students) and others learn and grow the field. We are at a formative point the evolution of serious games, where faculty and students, industry and real world clients can come together to co-create the future of the field.

    We embrace the hope but do not unquestioningly accept the hype that serious games can be a panacea. All of our faculty are scientists, designers, or both. We intend to explore, understand, clarify and enhance purpose-driven games. MIT Comparative Media Studies director Henry Jenkins writes in his blog about the need for serious game designers to provide tangible evidence of their games’ impact: "…The reality is that the people who are pouring money into serious games want results. The educational system demands assessment data. Governments and foundations demand proof that they have made valuable investments and not throw away their money."

    Far more than proof for the sponsor at the end of production, assessing the impacts of a serious game throughout the development process is likely to be critical to successful design For serious games, iterative playtesting needs to playtest intended outcomes such as fun, learning, emotional and attitudinal responses. One fascinating issue to be addressed on the serious game frontier is what kind of formal, formative evidence ought to be collected and presented once a design is complete. Clearly full scale formal academic experimental research is excessive and prohibitively costly to validate a short, unfunded serious game. Over time, as a field, we will develop answers which will become standard procedures.

    Michigan State University is reaching out to serious game industry professionals to advise us on curriculum (what do you want your future employees to know), to consider our students for internships, and most important of all, to consider teaching weekend or online one credit special topics courses on key aspects of serious games. Serious games are a frontier where academia and industry can and should work together. We know we have much to learn from industry. And our students need exposure to real world projects and people.

    The Serious Game frontier is a natural place for academia and industry to connect. Academic theories play little role in the design of entertainment games. Serious games by definition have an agenda, whether to teach, train, enlighten, or persuade. Rather than being driven by the potential of selling to a mass market, serious game development is often funded by the organization whose agenda the serious game is created to address. Examples include corporate and military training, grassroots and governmental agencies whose mission is to promote healthy life styles, environmentalism, or cross-cultural understanding. Serious games may stand alone but more often they are one component of a larger information package, created to compliment a museum exhibit, television documentary, textbook, K-12 or university curriculum, advertising or public health campaign, etc.

    Organizations may hire an independent game design company to create their serious game, or they may have in-house positions and create their own games. Dedicated serious game design companies focus exclusively on serious game design, but in-house serious game designers within other industries typically wear many hats, perhaps including web design or video production in addition to game design. Private foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, federal small business grants, local government agencies, NIH or NSF are potential sources of funding for serious games.

    The SGD-MA is designed to prepare students for industry, as well as academic pursuits, including careers in:
    · Game design
    · Educational media design and production
    · Health media design and production
    · Simulation design and production
    · Corporate training
    · Military simulation and training
    · Interactive media design and production
    · Advergaming
    · Digital media consultant
    · Academia (background for PhDs in mass communication, education, computer science, psychology, digital rhetoric)

    Potential students and industry professionals who would like more information about participating are invited to visit the MSU Serious Games website."

    By Beth A. Dillon
    May 6, 2021 05:04:07 AM PST

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