October 4, 2022
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New major takes video games to the next level

Helicopters are flying overhead. Explosions from grenades can be heard in the distance. Soldiers gather in a fort and engage in battle against the enemy. Bullets blaze through the wind and hit their targets effortlessly. The battle ends and the good guys are left standing. Then the credits begin to roll and the professor turns on the light.

Junior John Goyette works on a video game Tuesday during a Game Design class taught by Kim Gregson, assistant professor of television-radio. Game Design will become a major this fall. Jim Ludlow/The Ithacan

This isn’t an analysis of a war movie but of video scenes from a World War II themed video game. The students are asked to analyze the world of the game and how the story functions in that world.

A new major, Game Design and Immersive Media, is set to be added to the Roy H. Park School of Communications, with classes being offered as early as this fall. The major still needs to be approved by the college itself, however, and eventually, the state.

Kim Gregson, assistant professor of television-radio, said she is positive the major will be approved by both parties and will officially start in Fall 2009. Gregson will be the program’s director.

“It’s rarely ever that anyone gets kicked back at this point,” Gregson said. “[The program] will go through the college in the fall and then it will go through the state so we will see it in the [catalog] books next summer.”

There will be classes offered in the 2008-09 academic year for students to start

exploring the areas of the major, such as Intro to Games and Society in the fall, as well as a video game analysis class in the spring. Students in the analysis class will read, write, discuss and play video games, so they can gain an educational understanding of games, Gregson said.

The major was created not only because of the impact video games have on today’s society, but also to look at how video games give people an immersive experience and how this experience is becoming more incorporated into media as a whole. The concept behind the new major isn’t foreign to Dianne Lynch, dean of the Park School.

“Two years ago I went out to Los Angeles to visit an alum named Cliff Plummers at Industrial Light and Magic,” Lynch said. “He walked me around the film industry, and he told me that Lucas Films was moving towards digital storyboarding and eventually they would be creating film sets virtually and build these sets based on the virtual shots.”

The major will fall under the television and radio department, but it is considered its own separate major and will also include classes from cinema and photography, computer science, art history and other departments, said Elisabeth Nonas, associate professor of cinema, photography and media arts.

“The game degree will include three writing courses such as Developing Story Narratives, Screenwriting and Writing for Video Games and Immersive Media,” Nonas said.

Nonas is teaching Writing for Video Games and Immersive Media this current semester as a selected topic in screenwriting class. In the class she explores the

idea of how narrative plays a big role in the digital age.

“We started looking at the Godfather book, script, movie and then video game,” she said. “We look at how the audience is involved, how the story is told and how the player is a big element to the story.”

The major will also require students to take a certain set of courses outside the Park School and have a non-communications minor in order to get a broader understanding of the subject, Gregson said.

Taking art history courses will give students an appreciation for art and culture of a certain era, so they can create games centered around that period, Gregson

said. Students will also learn computer coding, so they can talk to people in the industry and not be completely blown away by the lingo.

According to Lynch, the new degree will enable students to create all kinds of games — not just entertainment but also learning, mobile, news, instructional and flash games. It will also give students a broad sense of immersive media and its impact on society.

“The film industry is now making games alongside movies being produced so it’s possible to [go] into that,” Gregson said. “It’s possible to go into any media industry that wants to give a new experience to people.”