Getting Schooled on Game Design

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, August 4, 2005; 9:45 AM

Being a columnist is a bit like sitting over the dunking booth. Sooner or later, someone will nail you.

That's what happened Wednesday after I described Michigan State University's videogame design curriculum as "most unusual." I should have visited the rest of the nation's college and university Web sites because, as it turns out, nearly everybody is doing something similar.

"That's a very nice story and everything, but at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I have been enrolled in a Video Game Design and Development curriculum for the past two years," Jonathan Manafi wrote. "The program has been running at least that long, if not longer. You make it sound like Michigan State is the first to implement a program like this, yet no one gives the credit to a school that was one of the VERY first in the nation to provide this concentration to its students. ... Perhaps you should do a little more research before publishing an article like this."

It's a good thing we publish every business day! Thanks, Jonathan.

But wait, there's more.

Doug Larson directed me to the minor in game studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where the Department of Cognitive Science and Arts' "philosophy on gaming relates to designing better games." Makes sense to me. The program has an even loftier goal in mind: "Developing cutting-edge artificial intelligence for games, especially in the form of 'synthetic characters,' which are anticipated to someday pass the Turing Test."

So this is where the replicant revolution begins.

Eric Mankin brought to my attention a number of game-related programs at the University of Southern California. Among them is "Tactical Iraqi," a videogame designed to teach Arabic to troops before they ship out to Iraq.

The games put troops in real-life situations involving the use of Iraqi Arabic, and is designed to teach its users proper verbal and non-verbal cues to avoid offending their interlocutors.

In the press release accompanying the game, Marine Maj. Rodney Choi said he would use the game at the Expeditionary Warfare School at Quantico, noting that it is "a tool that might save lives."

Mankin saved me the trouble of rounding up USC's other video-game-oriented programs by furnishing me with an article he wrote for the school's Trojan Family Magazine.

The Virtual Worlds Gaming and Simulation Laboratory at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland is opening this fall, the school's Laura Massie told me. ("Hope you don't mind the reference to one of your competitors, the Wall Street Journal, in the attached story!" she wrote in her e-mail. What, me worry?)


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