Video games find a place in academia

November 24, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK --"So you have these four basic types that occupy the environment: the Achiever, the Explorer, the Socializer and the Killer."

Nick Fortugno, 30, turned away from the board and faced his 14 undergraduate and master's-level students in his Thursday seminar. "Killers act like predators, and like any ecosystem, if you increase the number of killers and facilitate them, you decrease the number of achievers and socializers."

A forestry class on the ecology of the African savanna? No. A psychology course on the ways of the grade-school playground? Closer, but not quite.

Rather, in his video game design seminar at Parsons the New School for Design, Fortugno was recently explaining the basic taxonomy of players in online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft or Lineage, games that millions of people around the world play every day.

"You might think that killers are just bad for the game, right? Well they actually provide a really valuable social function: They provide something for other players to talk about," he told his students.

Three decades after first bursting into pool halls and living rooms, video games are taking a place in academia. In the past few years, a small but growing cadre of well-known universities, including the University of Southern California and the University of Central Florida, have started formal programs in game design and the academic study of video games as a slice of contemporary culture.

Traditionalists in both education and the video game industry pooh-pooh the trend, calling it a bald attempt by the colleges to cash in on a fad. But others believe that video games are poised to become one of the dominant media of the new century.

According to the International Game Developers Association, fewer than a dozen North American universities offered game-related programs five years ago. Now, that figure is more than 100, with dozens more overseas.

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