Always pressing forward to new intellectual frontiers, American
higher education is now probing an academic realm sure to produce
the words that will thrill parents: "Mom, Dad, I've decided to major
in video games!"
That's right. Mario, Luigi, and their compatriots from the world
of PlayStation and Xbox - who for years have been familiar faces of
student dorm life - are jumping to the next level in higher
education: the classroom.
Long the bane of professors who'd rather students do less game-
console thumb-clicking and more schoolwork, video games are entering
the curriculum and the realm of academic research - to the cheers of
some and the boos of others.
Indeed, "video game studies" is an oxymoron to many faculty. As a
result, the study of video games - in computer science, art, and
sociology - is often cloaked in euphemisms such as "interactive
media" or "digital arts." .
"I call it 'the medium that dare not speak its name,' " says
Celia Pearce of the Game Culture & Tech Lab at the University of
California at Irvine. "Nobody wants to call it 'games,' so they call
it something ... acceptable for the academic palate."
Recently, though, video games seem to be gaining academic stature
- perhaps enough to dispense with the euphemisms.
This fall, Southern Methodist University in Dallas will enroll 32
students in its new 18-month master's level certificate program in
video-game design. Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, is
offering for the first time a full-blown undergraduate major in
"game and simulation arts" as part of its bachelor of fine arts
A few big-name universities are toying with the serious side of
video games. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia
Institute of Technology, and Carnegie Mellon University offer
curricula on video-game criticism, games as educational tools, and
Georgia Institute of Technology started a PhD program in digital
media and a master's in information design and technology, in which
many students are pursuing video-game design.
Not everyone buys the idea. Adding video games to the curriculum
is merely pandering to students and will lead to an "intellectual
devolution," says Edward Smith, director of American Studies at
"It's just another concession to the customer," he says. "Kids
have grown up playing Nintendo. They don't read because they don't
know how to read - they don't cultivate the imagination.... They
need to be put through the intellectual rigors of a traditional
format for education. Video games are just an easy way to avoid it."
People who teach video-game studies know it'll be a challenge to
prove the validity of their field.
"There's a generational divide," says James Paul Gee, an
education professor and author of "What Video Games Have to Teach Us
About Learning and Literacy. …