In March 2013, The Princeton Review ranked DePaul’s Master of Science in game development No. 15 among 150 programs at universities and colleges across the U.S. and Canada. The undergraduate program also received an honorable mention, while DePaul was among the 50 schools praised for its “commitment to this professional field.”
Why is the gaming program at DePaul so good? Let’s count the reasons.
One: It’s hands-on and cross-disciplinary.
“We have everything we need under one roof—design, programming, animation, sound, even cinema—everything that goes into exceptional game design, and that’s very unusual,” says Doris Rusch (in photo above), an assistant professor in the School of Cinema and Interactive Media (CIM). “Two years ago, we came up with a curriculum that strengthens out-of-the-box thinking and gives students the abilities needed to bring a game from idea to completion.”
“And we’re project-focused,” adds Brian Schrank (in photo above, right), an assistant professor in the CIM. “By bringing designers and programmers together right away, in the first year, we teach them how to work together effectively, how to adapt to each other’s goals and limitations, and how to be creative within constraints.”
Two: It’s conceptual and real-world practical.
“In a lot of game design programs, students are basically trained for a job: they’re expected to fill a particular role. Those schools are making employees. Of course, we also prepare students for successful careers, but we do that by giving them both skills and perspective,” says Allen Turner (in photo above, left), an instructor in the CIM.
“We believe that game design—just like art and film—should be explored to its fullest extent, so we promote experimentation and exploration. How might gaming be applied to satisfy many, different purposes? Could gaming be used in education, for example, or in installation art or in heath care? We want our students to imagine all kinds of applications.
“Getting more abstract, we also expect students to think about depth and meaning in game play: What could the player learn about life from playing a game? People have been making games forever, and our program is part of that tradition of communication.”
Rusch agrees: “Games are fun, for sure, but they can also be about emotional experiences, about what it means to be human. Certainly, they can go much deeper than just entertainment. And our students get that.”
Three: It’s teachers and students making games, together.
“All the faculty make games, and none of us can do that alone, so it’s natural to collaborate with each other and with students,” says Rusch. “When I have a design idea, I recruit a team of students to help me build the game; our students have great attitudes, and they work really, really hard. We benefit from their enthusiasm and creativity; they get great experience and exposure.”
“We all trust students to work on the projects we care about. As part of that process, we reduce the students’ anxiety about sharing their work before it’s ‘perfect’ by showing them our own works in progress and asking for their critiques. The idea is to be humiliated locally, not globally: If you’re going to screw up, screw up among friends! We even incorporate students’ ideas in curriculum redesign, and that keeps our program particularly dynamic.
“For me, this engagement with students makes DePaul the most exciting place to work.”
In 2012, Doris Rusch and a student team built "Zombie Yoga," a single-player Xbox Kinect video game in which the player uses yoga poses to ward off zombie swarms. The game was among IndieCade's Official Selections, was demoed at the Games for Change Festival, and received a gold medal at the International Serious Game Awards.
In 2013 Brian Schrank led seven DePaul students in developing the virtual-reality game "Dumpy: Going Elephants," which won second place in the IndieCade VR competition. "Pedandeck," his experimental card game, was jury selected into the IndieCade Showcase at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Schrank's first academic book, "Avant-garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture," will be published by MIT Press in early 2014.
This year, Allen Turner published "Ehdrigohr," a role-playing game with a horror/fantasy setting presented through a Native American lens. The players’ characters stand up against nightmares called "shivers," which rise nightly to harrow the people. The game explores ideas of community, culture, identity and depression.