SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah board of trustees is apparently game for a new undergraduate degree, a bachelor of science in games intended to help meet a growing market demand for games and game making.
Undergraduate students who have wanted to learn the various aspects of entertainment arts and technology have been taking courses taught by faculty in the School of Computing and the Division of Film Studies.
“We’ve gotten big enough to the point where we can offer our own degree now in games as opposed to a film degree focusing on games or a computer science degree focusing on games,” said Roger Altizer, co-founder of the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program.
The program has offered a master’s degree in the discipline since 2010, which is among the top ranked programs nationwide, according to Princeton Review.
Altizer said there has been increasing demand for a bachelor’s degree, which the faculty hopes can be launched the spring of 2018, with the first degrees awarded in 2022. The degree program must also gain approval from the Utah State Board of Regents.
“As far as games as a full field of study, we believe we are early to this,” Altizer said.
Games is a growing economic force. According to industry researchers SuperData, “2016 was the biggest year in the digital games market and playable media world ever. The vast market, hitting $91 billion this year, is growing at tremendous rates and incorporating new media and platforms, expanding its reach.”
Consumers spent $41 billion on mobile games alone in 2016, led by “Pokémon Go” and “Clash Royale,” according to SuperData.
“With all the increase happening in mobile and virtual reality, it’s only to get bigger,” Altizer said.
Entertainment technology is not just for play, however.
“The University of Utah has been very supportive of games both as a field of study and a topic to make an impact on people’s lives, which is why at U. Health, we have a big games apps lab that is making serious gains to help people with their various disease states,” said Altizer, who is also director of the Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab.
The lab has developed apps for a wide array of purposes, such as helping people self identify melanomas or better manage their weight.
“It’s time we start thinking about games in the way we think about books. When we think about books we don’t just think about Harlequin romance or spy novels. We know books can be everything from an encyclopedia to the instruction manual in the glove box of your car. Games are the same way,” he said.
To that end, Altizer said he believes the degree will attract students with a wide array of experiences and educational backgrounds.
Aside from entertainment, there are expanding markets for games for social impact, he said.
“There’s a lot of great games for the refugee experience or bullying or racism. There’s games about just any social issue you can imagine,” Altizer said.
To start, the program will accept a limited number of students.
“We are intentionally trying to keep it small in the beginning just so we can make sure we do a good job and give them the individual attention they need. When we did the master’s program, our first cohort, I believe, was 17 students. Now we are admitting 75, so that was quite a bit of growth,” he said.
Games is exploding as a field of study because “everything we do tends to be about work, whether it be going to work or doing your homework or even working out. So many of our activities look like labor. They look like work. What games allows us to do is say, ‘What does it look like when the world becomes more like play?'” Altizer said.
“What if instead of working out, you play sports? Isn’t that more fun than working out? If we find playful ways of engaging with knowledge, as opposed to laborious ways of engaging with knowledge, doesn’t that make it more compelling and more curiosity driven?”
Altizer acknowledges that shift in thinking is an ongoing process, although games have long been a part of the human experience.
“There’s going to be a lot of people who push back on the idea of games. But people have been using games in their life for behavior change and learning as long as there have been people.
“Even if you think about how do you get the kids to behave on a long car ride, you play the quiet game. Who can be the quietest the longest? They’re the winner. All you’re trying to do is get your kids not to be so noisy in the darn car, right? This notion of using games for behavioral purposes and learning purposes, it’s been around forever, for just forever.”