Dr. Kevin Moberly on a Possible New Program for Old Dominion
Think about the different disciplines that go into making a video game. Sound technicians need to create musical scores and sound effects, graphic designers to create box art and menu design as well as character and asset design, 3-D modelers to create in-game assets, programmers to give the game life, movement, physics and controls, writers to give the game a story, and a business team to manage a budget and also decide a market area. This can make a video game a great venue for an interdisciplinary degree track.
Dr. Kevin Moberly hopes Old Dominion University will soon have a degree track, or set of tracks, that reflect professions in the video game industry. He has already started teaching game related courses, such as ENGL 395, which is a topics class that examines games for their narrative and mechanics.
This isn’t your average class and it doesn’t come with an average syllabus. Tests are “Boss Fights,” extra credit becomes “Achievements,” and assignments are “Quests.” The class is designed to emulate games and stimulate that type of thinking. Dr. Moberly feels that changing the name of class structures can get gamers into a “hacker mentality, where they will try to use, bend or circumvent the rules to get the best possible score that they can.” He also feels that this class “can help gamers not just play games but [help them] think critically about them.”
Before every ENGL 395 class, the students are required to play a game that will be part of class discussion that day with certain chapters of the course texts. Some examples are “Asteroids,” “Legos,” “Loondon,” “Scary Girl,” “YouOnlyLiveOnce” and others. Each game serves to exemplify a certain element of game design or game narrative.
In class, the discussion of the game “Loondon,” and whether or not it fit the minimal criteria for being a game, led to diverging views among gamers about what games really are and what makes a game. For example, some said that a story or dialogue was required for a game to be fun, but “Tetris,” “Pong,” “Minecraft,” and “Flower” all say otherwise. In times like these, Dr. Moberly would point to course texts for an answer or a better understanding of the problem.
At the end of the course students are to present a game they made themselves for their final exam. Dr. Moberly doesn’t expect students to make the next “Journey” or the next “Halo” but instead will grade the game on the reflective essay of the student that will accompany it. The course is meant to expose students to elements of game design and classical applications of examining narrative on this new-ish media.
Regarding the curriculum, student and gamer Larry Chapman said, “I think it’s awesome. Right now, video games are to us what books were before the industrial revolution. I think the professor wants to emphasize the importance of gaming as a medium and how it’s progressing our idea of communication.”
When asked about the possibility of a game centric degree path, Chapman said, “Oh yeah, a game development program would be amazing for my desired field. As an English major, I see a lot of potential in video games being used as a vessel for storytelling, and I also think other majors such as computer science and art majors would see potential in such a program as well.”
Both Chapman and Dr. Moberly feel that a degree program would be helpful to not only students but to the game industry. As a student, Chapman realizes that getting work in the game industry is largely based on having work to show to your employer, however without a specific degree program, it can be difficult to make a game and carry a full course load simultaneously.
Dr. Moberly said “the gaming industry is stuck in a rut” with constant rereleases of games and feels that an academic focus on gaming might be able to save the gaming industry from itself in this regard.
By: Sean Burke