Getting into the Game: Despite the Fast-Growing and Lucrative Landscape, of Video Game Designing, Minority Students Are Finding Themselves with Limited Options in the Field

Article excerpt

Malcolm Perdue faces a dilemma as challenging as the computer games he loves to play. The 19-year-old student at Atlanta Metropolitan College

wants to learn how to become a game designer. Not only would doing so be a lot of fun, designers can make $80,000 a year early in their careers.

But his school has limited options in the field. Nearby Georgia Institute of Technology and the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has an Atlanta campus, offer full curricula in game design, but SCAD costs nearly $28,000 a year in tuition alone, and Georgia Tech demands high math scores. "Right now, I am focusing on my school," Perdue says.

Indeed, minority students may find their options limited for what is a fast-growing and lucrative field. According to the Entertainment Software Association, game sales have reached $9.5 billion, triple what they were in 1996. The average age of players is 35, and 40 percent are women. By some accounts, before the economic downturn, gaming was growing at a rate of 24 percent year and had been offering 822,000 new jobs as companies such as Bandai Namco to catch up with leaders like Sony and Nintendo.

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According to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), a trade group based in New Jersey, some 80 percent of the designers are White, 4 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are Black Asked about the discrepancy, Joseph Sapp, community liaison for IGDA, says "there's a concerted effort all around to get more people involved in game design."

Yet few historically Black colleges and universities offer much in the way of computer gaming, which can involve a range of specialties from graphic de sign, to computer programming to marketing and accounting. For example, Howard University's College of Engineering, Architecture and Computer Sciences offers only two courses in game design and none at the graduate level. Many schools that do offer such courses in the field are fine art schools or heavy-weight engineering universities such as Georgia Tech or Carnegie Mellon University. Distance educators such as DeVry or the University of Phoenix are also options.

Experts are aware of the lack of minorities in the game design field and say they are working for improvements. "Gaming is a wonderful opportunity to bring nontraditional students into various fields of college study,' says Dr. Keith Moo-Young, dean of the California State University, Los Angeles College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology. "It's a great way to lure minority students into fields such as art, engineering and computer science all at once. Once you get in, you are exposed to all three,' he says.

Moo-Young's school is in an unusual position to help minorities get into gaming as its student body is diverse. Specifically, 53 percent are Hispanic, 22 percent are Asian and 9 percent are Black.

Among the school's course curricula are two sequential courses in engineering and design and programming language. Also offered are courses in cartoon animation and robotics. CSU Los Angeles also partners with nearby University of Southern California in various aspects of gaming design. The institution is ideally located in California, a major center for the industry that features such game-producing firms as EA Sports, Sony, PIXAR and DreamWorks.

Professionals offer cautionary tales, however. "There are a lot of colleges who say they are offering some design work and they have jumped on the bandwagon, but what are they offering," says Steve Waddell, founder of I Support Learning, a private education company in Olathe, Kan.

His firm tries to spark interest in game designing at early stages, such as middle school. For example, his firm goes into the Kansas City, Mo., school system and offers workshops and two-week courses in game design for 4,000 middle-school students and their teachers. If the program centers around inner-city school children in Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City or Orlando, as many as 100 percent of the participating students are minorities. …