Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Game Design Curriculum: Where We Are Now

To my knowledge, there are two previous attempts by the game industry to come up with a curriculum. I do promise to start writing about my own ideas soon, but first I'd like to comment on what has come before.

Tom Sloper doesn't exactly give a curriculum, but does give a list of courses he feels are necessary for a game designer to take. While I agree with Mr. Sloper on many points, this is not one of them. Realistically, there is no way an undergraduate can take all those courses and still major in anything, while still graduating in four (or even five) years. It's just too much. Also, he doesn't give the reasoning behind why those courses are supposedly important; from the list, I suspect he was considering the skills needed to design popular games. You can't design Civilization without having a strong background in history, so sure, all game designers should study history. But... what if you're working on Guitar Hero? Now those history courses don't seem so useful.

The field of game design is already broad enough that we're specializing: very few people are good at story design and level design and core systems design and technical design, even without expecting that every designer is somehow equally skilled to work on an FPS and a Tycoon Sim and a historical turn-based strategy game.

The other group working on building a curriculum is the IGDA, and they've put quite a bit of effort into their curriculum framework. This document has the lofty ambition of defining fields of study for all disciplines in game development, not just game design. As such, it is necessarily more high-level and abstract than I'm looking for here. Also, for game design it focuses on design-specific topics (core systems, emergent complexity, feedback loops, risk/reward cycles and so on) but doesn't draw any associations with existing courses in other departments. It doesn't say how much math a game designer should be taking, or how many courses in psychology or philosophy or history or what not, nor what kinds. The curriculum framework is an excellent starting place when thinking of how one would go about teaching a course with the words "Game Design" in the title, but it does not define a full liberal arts curriculum as I wish to do.

Some universities are trying to build entire game design departments with large heapings of course offerings. But if you're at a university that doesn't have a dozen game design faculty, what do you do? In the next post, I will start answering that question.

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