You're about to go to college and you already know what you want your bachelor's degree in: computer game programming, design, and development. Most adults laugh when you tell them of your choice of major. Your parents? They look at you in horror.
Your contemporaries, however, know what you're talking about and they applaud your choice. Computer game programming and design isn't just a "real" subject nowadays—it's a degree type that’s in demand, with a job market that’s growing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for software developers ("the creative minds behind computer programs") is strong; between 2016 and 2024 the job market will grow 24 percent—much faster than the average for all job types. For multimedia artists and animators (those who produce the visual effects for computer games), the market will grow 8 percent, which is about the same rate as for all jobs.
Perhaps when your parents hear that information, they will understand that you aren’t simply going to college to play computer games (in fairness: that is what you did in high school, and middle school, too).
Just because you like playing computer games doesn’t mean you have what it takes to succeed in video game design and development. The computer gaming curriculum at any college or university is far from fun and games. It's a rigorous, demanding, and serious field of study. And it's got panache.
Though the field of computer game programming and design is still new (and for many colleges is still under construction), there are certain commonalities among the best college programs that are already in place and accepting academic candidates. Computer game programming, or computer game design, or video game design — academia hasn't yet settled on a final designation for the field — is a combination of computer science, math, engineering, and art skills. Students need to learn graphics, interaction, and AI programming; graphic design, art direction, music and sound effects, and 2D and 3D animation; the business aspects of game development and marketing; and the fundamental principles of gaming and the player experience.
But computer game programming (as opposed to computer science alone) cannot exist in a vacuum. And that's why history (including the history of games), philosophy, and, of course, literature—even and especially sci-fi literature—are thrown into the mix of required subjects. It takes a whole lot more than coding skills to build a believable, enveloping fantasy world.
The game design major is growing in popularity. In part that's because so many people love games. Even more alluring, however, are the rewards that can come with the degree. Job prospects, as mentioned, are lucrative and plentiful for well-trained and skilled graduates. Starting salaries are impressive (for students with a bachelor’s degree in computer game programming and development, the average salary is around $100K per year) and even before that, internships and summer job opportunities are enticing.
Media companies and corporations are throwing money at undergraduate gaming programs, and the colleges and universities you would expect to be the leaders in the field are indeed the ones with the most desirable degree programs: MIT, Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Princeton.
And just as there is competition among students to gain acceptance into these programs, smaller name schools are competing to have their programs rank among the top echelon schools in the field. Parsons School of Design at the New School, Drexel, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic University, and Stevens Institute of Technology all make the list of the best schools. In fact, there are more small schools than big names on the lists of the best programs for game design. Schools with existing specialties in computer science and engineering are the schools that have successfully created programs in gaming.
If you want to test the waters before you commit to a school—or if you've graduated in another field and want to see what all the fuss is about—there are reputable online courses available. Try the University of Baltimore or the Savannah College of Art. Some of these classes are even free of charge.
A degree in computer game design is definitely not a game. It's hard work, it's cutting edge, it's the wave of tomorrow. If you think you have what it takes, go for it: get in on the ground floor and soar upward.
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