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JamesHoward

Academic career in gaming theory?

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Let me say ahead of time that I'm sorry if I'm posting this in the wrong forum. Wasn't really sure where it belonged.

I'm a 25 year old non-traditional college student. I'm in the middle of my sophomore year, and I've been groping around for a major the whole time, shifting focuses and never really being able to settle. A few months ago I declared to my friends and family that I wanted to pursue a career in the video game industry. I joined the game design student organization at my university, started studying the structure of the gaming industry and the game design process, and spent a lot of time on Sloper's FAQs trying to get a handle on where exactly I would fit into the industry. I've considered all of the career paths, from audio to programming to level design to production. I've taken the personality type tests. I've decided what it is precisely that I want to do, now I just need to figure out how to get there.

I've come to the realization that designing and developing games isn't what I want to do at all. I'm not a creator. From what I can tell, that's a quality which is either necessary or at least beneficial for any of the career paths within the game design industry. You see, theory has always been my thing, not practice. Where I actually want to be 20 years from now is in an academic environment, researching the effects of video games on society, the cultures that have sprung up around the industry, and especially the emotional attachments individuals develop with the characters and scenarios they encounter in games. I don't just want to be a critic, though. I also want to contribute to the industry and the artistic community that is springing up around gaming. I want to research new methods of storytelling, new ways for designers to create characters that have an emotional impact on their players. I want to find ways to turn gameplay into a means of personal enrichment. I guess what I'm looking for is some sort of PhD program in gaming theory, not a professional program which will prepare me for a career in the industry. Does something like this even exist? Or am I an idiot who needs to get my head out of the clouds?

Sorry this got so long and rambly.

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I would think you are looking more for a specified division of anthropology/sociology/psychology or something. The study of the people relating to games, which requires a knowledge of how games work, rather than just the pure study of computer science: game theory.

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Rob, whether or not a degree program such as you seek exists already, you can still get a degree like that. You want to go to a research university, probably get a masters along the way. There are masters degrees in games. See your advisor at your current college.

Since this is a career discussion, this belongs in Breaking In. Moved.

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This is certainly a viable choice, but you will land outside the game industry and will be received as such -- i.e. you'll be coming from the world of academia rather than a budding developer sharing his experience. That's the key word -- experience. There is nothing more respected in this industry than that, and being a "theorist" can make it hard to break through that wall. But certainly, there are quite a few of 'game theorists' out there so why don't you give it a shot? If it's what you really want to do, you can't go wrong!

Good luck and holiday cheers! smile.gif

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Another corresponding academic field is mathematics.

Most directly applicable are topics like game theory and topology.

Mixed topics include math for cryptography, math for signal processing, math for compression, or geometric and graph algorithms. Also interesting is parallel algorithms for just about anything; currently parallel graphics and parallel physics are the most popular, but parallel signal processing of all types is used by all serious research fields.

A decade ago I was a little surprised at who was funding much of that type of research. It is useful in games, but it doesn't start out in games. Oil companies want to visualize where the oil was at and the best places to dig. Medical researches need to interpret the results and want automated analysis of scans. A surprisingly tall pile of money is spent on weather analysis, studying the volumetric data of the entire globe's atmosphere is very compute intensive. Geologists (both traditional and extra-terrestrial) have a huge demand for it.


Many of these topics lend themselves directly to games; the research papers find their way into high-end games. If you are going to live in academia the research grants mostly live outside of games. Go look at conferences. Not just SIGGRAPH, but smaller conferences like InfoVis. Simulations of the world around us are useful in games but usually funded by other groups.

As a simple example, the paper "Nodes on Ropes: A Comprehensive Data and Control Flow for Steering Ensemble Simulations" is a paper from last year's Vis conference regarding some fun flow control problems. It looks like a great paper useful for certain games .... yet is about simulating floods and and figuring out how to navigate them; the research was sponsored by governments for that same purpose.



If any of those topics are not your passion, there are many more to choose from. Haptics, affective computing, computer-human interactions, machine learning, educational development, and more are all out there for academic study. Many are useful in games but don't name themselves such.

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I'm not sure if this is related, but I'm interested in similar things, and have come across many books and authors who do study on these things. Some of them include Jane McGonigal, Ian Bogost, Jesper Juul, Eric ZImmerman and Katie Salen. In fact, Zimmerman and Salen wrote a book purely about mechanics and dynamics in video games.

I know that many of these authors are not game designers in the strictest sense and did not study courses focusing on those topics. For example I know that McGonigal has a PhD in performance studies, and Bogost is a professor teaching in the School of literature communication and culture.

I also did a course at university called Computer Simulation and Games, which looked at video game culture and the future of video games. This course demonstrated that a lot of the courses like this would be very theory driven and in many ways related to literature and the study of how one communicates messages and themes through a particular medium, whether that be books or movies.

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