Beginning in fall 2012, New York University's Game Center will begin offering a Masters of Fine Arts degree
for those interested in game development as a creative form. The new degree marks an interesting evolution for New York's distinguished games education program.
"There are just too many students who are passionately interested in it," Frank Lantz, the program's director, tells Gamasutra of the need for an MFA in games. "One of the most exciting things is you see students who you know that seven, eight, 10 years ago, would have been going into film, theater or music, and they're going into games."
"They have the same mindset; they're young, they're passionate, they're creative, they want to change their world. They're driven and ambitious, and they expect games as a field to be the thing that they're going to make their mark and do great work in," Lantz adds.
He says the Game Center has long wanted an MFA program on offer, but evolution within the context of a larger organization tends to take time. Even still, it happened fairly quickly from the time that Lantz and academic colleague and game designer Eric Zimmerman decided to move forward with the idea.
They hope to see game design students doing hands-on development within an artistic and critical context. In that regard, the MFA program isn't much different than any diverse development team: Students may have different areas of focus or varied creative specialties, but they are all participating in the practice of game development.
"We want to strike a balance... having people with a mix of different skills, but [without being] hierarchical," Lantz explains.
Lantz isn't of the belief that a game design degree of any particular type is necessary for everyone in the industry: "To me, the role of the university is to be complementary to what's happening in the industry. The industry itself is incredibly vibrant and thriving, and it's very innovative, coming up with new ideas and exploring new things."
"I'm not a pooh-pooh-er of the game industry; I don't think it's moribund or lacking in innovation... what the university can do is proivde a different kind of context for people who are interested in exploring possibilities in a deeper way, outside of the particular context of the game industry," he adds.
The academic environment can provide qualities in common with a traditional development team, but with more experimental opportunities -- equally important and interesting, in Lantz's view.
"It's an opportunity to get a little more space for trying out new ideas, and thinking about the future, and doing that kind of design research and innovation. And I think that's how we want to contribute; we want to be a place people think of as a breeding ground."
The implementation of an MFA program for games in New York is an interesting educational development, given that having games as a field of study for higher education is a relatively young concept to begin with. Traditionally, programs for game design are seen as offshoots of digital media, programming or computer engineering degrees.
"Games are still kind of a dirty word in many ways," notes Lantz. "They have this outsider status; for us, it was really important that we create a program that was built from the ground up around the idea that games are important in and of themselves. It's dedicated to the idea that games are a creative form."
That particular focus on games as creative form is important, Lantz says -- that games are worthy of study in their own right, rather than interesting solely because they can be used to model behavior, teach children or to address real-world issue.
"That stuff is cool, but we felt it was important to create a program where games could have a place in the university and be important in the same way that literature, movies and music are."
And the timing is right: "If you look around, you recognize that games are something that is happening now. People are devoting their lives to playing these things, to talking about them, writing about them, making them an important part of culture. I think it'd be foolish for anyone to claim otherwise," Lantz adds. "And as an important part of culture, we should be figuring out how to make them better."