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BarefootChris's avatar

Good college majors for game design?

Asked by BarefootChris (118 points ) August 4th, 2010

As an incoming undergraduate freshmen, I’m really interested in game design. While reading Extra Lives by Tom Bissell, I realized that games are really at a precipice in terms of their evolution as an art form. I’d like to one day work to create meaningful games that will bend our understanding of what a video game is.

Can anyone recommend a good major to investigate for this purpose? I’m not necessarily looking only at computer programming, but possibly becoming involved from a visual/audio design standpoint as well!

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7 Answers

ETpro's avatar

I wish my son were here to answer this. He works in the industry. He majored in Film Scoring, Composition and Music Performance at Berkley College of Music and now works for Harmonie. But he had a strong background in computer technology as well, with study of game theory and the underlying math.

I am guessing he would tell you there are numerous specialties that go into most games. Computer graphics and art is one area, music is another, as are computer software, hardware development, and game theory. Which of those appeal to you? Follow your heart.

GeorgeGee's avatar

The best major choice is to major in your intended subject. There are a number of programs in Game Art and Design at schools that include the Art Institute, Ringling College, and Savannah College of Art and Design. At these colleges you would take 30 or more courses specifically in game art and design-related topics, whereas if you majored in computer science or information science at a state university, they might only have one or two courses specifically dealing with games, and you would likely be unable to take more than one or two courses in art or design because that would be a different college within the university. Make sure you choose a college that is regionally accredited, because some small technical colleges are not. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which includes online programs, is accredited by “Middle States Commission on Higher Education” SCAD and Ringling are accredited by SACS, the “Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.” These are the same organizations that certify Princeton, UT Austin, Vanderbilt, etc.

Carly's avatar

Art theory (if you want to focus on taking the idea of gaming to a new level), creative writing (if you’re interested in telling a unique story), and studio art/graphics (if you’re more interested in the graphics production part).

If you’re more interested in developing the idea of video games, you should major in something that lets you develop your skills in “big-picture” thinking.. Critical thinking classes, such as art theory, philosophy would be great, and even some psychology classes would be good.

Most Computer Science classes will require a lot of math skills, unless they focus more on the creative side of CS, like a graphics class or basic web design would.

When it comes to good plot structure, the best thing you can do is read a lot—doesn’t have to be fiction. Read everything that interests you.. Also, when you play video games, make notes of what you think works really well, and what doesnt. You’ll eventually draw very interesting conclusions and start brainstorming some cool ideas that you can work on when you have more experience in the field.

camertron's avatar

You can’t really go wrong with Computer Science – that’s the backbone of all computer games and you can make yourself alot more attractive to gaming companies by knowing the technical components of gaming as well as being an artist. But @Carly and @GeorgeGee are right – it really depends on what aspect of game development you’d like to focus on.

A friend of a friend wrote his first 3D gaming engine when he was 16, a task requiring a ton of programming and extensive knowledge of physics in three dimensions. He’s also a great 3D modeler/artist, but that’s almost on the side for him. He’s good at all those things – computer science, physics/math, and art. I don’t know what he majored in, but suffice it to say he needed knowledge in all those areas to be a successful game developer.

Hobosnake's avatar

A LOT goes into game design. You need to give more information as to what element you want to participate in. Do you want to do the writing (as in dialog and such), the music, the framework (such as the physics and combat engines), the art, the animation, the concept (just the creativity part that gets an idea rolling, which would require more of a surface knowledge of existing video games and a spirit of innovation than anything; you could just sell your ideas*), the graphics, the debugging, the testing, the storyline, etc?

I’ve wanted to be a game designer myself, but haven’t quite answered this question yet, although considering I’m going to major in software engineering whether or not I go into game design, I’m probably going to go with the framework. Seeing as how game design is actually one of my possible elective core classes (as it is for Computer Engineering or Computer Science as well; the three majors are pretty close to one another) I think such a major is probably the way to go for multiple facets of the industry, but again, make sure you have it straight.

*revolutionary ideas in gaming are kind of complicated to apply, however, as told in the “innovation” video in this web series, which I strongly urge you to follow either way. His unfailing insight and ideas have certainly interested me so far.

Hobosnake's avatar

@ETpro Actually, I’m not sure anything but basic knowledge of hardware would really ever be used by most game designers, unless they were designing a new console or something like that, which I wouldn’t really include in game design. That being the case, I actually wouldn’t really recommend Computer Engineering, as I understand it to be much more hardware-oriented.

Also, one thing you should keep in mind throughout though is to not put all your eggs in one basket… game design is quite the dog-eat-dog industry and the expenses associated with creating a game create considerable risk to the industry, so you might want to major in something that can be used outside the game design industry as well (not that I know of any major that couldn’t be, but just something to keep in mind.

Hobosnake's avatar

If you’re going for the idea factor, here‘s a program that’s supposed to be pretty good for letting you bypass the programming itself. I haven’t used it yet so I don’t know how good it is, but you may be interested.

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