12 Places You Can Study Video Games

by Ali Rapp on Jul 27, 2012 at 09:30 AM

As video games continue to be economically profitable and an area of interest for millions of people across the globe, the need for educational programs in the area of game studies grows. If you've ever wondered how or where you can study games as a major, a minor, or as a graduate student, but didn't know where to begin looking, make this your starting point.

We've compiled a list of twelve respected educational institutions across the U.S. that offer game studies-related degrees. Some schools focus on game development and design, whereas others offer humanities and social science-based research for people who enjoy theory and culture. Whatever your interest, you should be able to find a place that accommodates it here.

Note: Game Informer does not endorse any of these educational institutions, and it does not have a vested interested in their success or their failure. These are not the only institutions in the United States, much less in the world, that offer game studies-related educations, and our listing them here should not appear to be any kind of guarantee of their quality or personal fit for you.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Type: Private university research program

MIT has an interesting humanities-based program in its comparative media studies department. Students wanting to study video games from a more critical-cultural standpoint can take courses such as Social  and Cultural Facets of Digital Games, and The Role of the Gamer, though more technical courses such as Fundamentals of Computational Design are also available. MIT's program is in charge of several high-profile research groups such as the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, which fosters international work on global digital culture, and the Education Arcade, which explores the educational potential of games. The comparative media studies department also offers a master's degree program.

Location: Redmond, Washington
Type: Institute of technology

DigiPen is a technological institute based in Redmond, Washington, meaning it's close to dozens of game companies including Nintendo, Bungie, and Valve. It provides few opportunities for a liberal arts education, and requires students to pick a major before they even begin classes, but is a good option for people who know exactly what they want to do and who want to focus on coding and design rather than humanities-based research. DigiPen currently offers bachelor's degrees in digital art and animation, game design, computer science in real-time interactive simulation, and computer engineering. It also has two master's degrees: An MS in computer science and an MFA in digital arts. DigiPen is nationally – but not regionally – accredited, which means it may be difficult to transfer credits from DigiPen to other educational institutions, and degrees received by DigiPen may not be accepted by some companies and schools.

University of Southern California
Location: Los Angeles, California
Type: Private university research program

USC offers a BA and MFA in interactive entertainment. Undergraduate students study primarily the technical aspects of game design through courses like Design and Technology for Mobile Experiences and Usability Testing for Games, but are also required to fulfill the university's requirements for general education (such as writing, foreign language, and diversity). USC has produced significant research on head-mounted displays for simulation games, educational games that teach U.S. American history to high school students, and games that help policy makers understand the psychological development of children.

New York University
Location: New York, New York
Type: Private university research program

NYU's Tisch School of the Arts runs the Game Center, a hub for game courses and programs for students of the university. The Game Center is starting a new MFA degree focusing on game design, programming, visual design, and criticism. Also offered is a minor in game design, which allows students to major in another primary subject (for example, journalism), while still being educated in game design, game production, and game scholarship. The Game Center hosts events open to the greater NYU student body, as well as to the public. Events include major eSport tournaments, master classes by big-name game developers, and the New York chapter of the Global Game Jam, a 48-hour game creation festival.

University of Advancing Technology
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Type: Private institution of technology

UAT is a small, private university that focuses almost exclusively on education and careers in technology. However, students are required to supplement their degree with general education classes such as basic public speaking and social science courses. Degrees offered are A.A.s and B.A.s in game design, game art and animation, serious games and simulation, virtual modeling and design, and a B.S. in game programming. Undergraduate students are required to complete either an innovation project, a portfolio, or a related capstone project. Students are also required to complete an internship before graduation. In addition to its undergraduate degrees, UAT also offers an MS in game production and management, and runs its own scholarly publication, the Journal of Advancing Technology.

Michigan State University
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Type: Public research university program

MSU offers both a BA and a BS in media and information. Both tracks allow students to have concentrations in interactive and social media, which in turn allows students to specialize in information and communication technology, social and interactive media, or games and meaningful play. MSU also runs the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab, which has funded research on cognitive games for the rehabilitation of children with cerebral malaria in Africa, girls as game designers, and the short and long-term effectiveness of exercise games. Students in other majors like computer science can also specialize in game studies. Some of the courses include Collaborative Game Design; Story, Sound, and Motion; and The Digital Image.

[NEXT: Six more schools worth your time]

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Location: Troy, New York
Type: Private research university program

Rensselaer is primarily a math- and science-based institution, though its BS in games and simulation arts and sciences is based within the university's School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Required courses include History of Culture and Games, Designing Interactive Characters, and Experimental Game Design. Rensselaer also offers a minor in game studies, and hosts GameFest – an annual festival showcasing student-designed games from around the region. Students are encouraged to add a concentration or dual degree in art, human computer interaction, computer science, management and entrepreneurship, or cognitive science. Faculty at Rensselaer have done significant work on storytelling in games, interactive online HIV prevention tools, and hacked games.

University of Wisconsin at Madison
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Type: Public research university program

UW Madison's educational communications and technology MA and PhD programs aren't solely game studies programs. The faculty teaching and researching in the program, however, are producing important research on educational games and other games tailored toward learning and meaningful, non-entertainment goals. One of the faculty members is currently serving as a senior policy analyst at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the U.S. Executive Office of the President, where she advises on the impact of games on learning. Courses include Interactive Media and Computers in the Curriculum, Research on Online Virtual Worlds, and Gender and Technology. There is technically no undergraduate program, but undergraduate students from other departments are able to take a select number of graduate-level courses.

Drexel University
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Type: Private research university program

Drexel offers several different kinds of opportunities for students to study and develop games. There's the game and art production major, the game programming and development concentration within the computer science department, the graduate certificate in learning in game-based environments, and the MS in digital media. The university runs the RePlay lab, which fosters research on game engineering, programming, scriptwriting, and music. Students also have access to a 3D theater, a motion-capture studio, Unity 3D, and the Unreal Engine. Drexel seems to produce a significant amount of work in 3D gaming, and encourages (and sometimes requires) students to take several writing courses over the span of their college careers.

State University of New York At Buffalo
Location: Buffalo, New York
Type: Public research university program

SUNY at Buffalo offers a BA, MA, and PhD through its media studies department. All programs require students to take a smattering of courses in general media studies, though students can also get a game studies certificate. The certificate requires courses such as Designed Play and Game Design. Students are also allowed to take electives such as 3D Modeling, Programming Graphics, Machine Culture, and Interactive Fiction. Buffalo's programs in media studies are interdisciplinary, with students frequently taking courses from other departments like computer science and visual studies.

Miami University
Location: Oxford, Ohio
Type: Public research university program

Miami's Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media studies hosts a digital game studies minor, a graduate certificate in interactive media studies, and a proposed major in interactive media studies (to be possibly implemented in spring 2013). Miami has a strong, interdisciplinary course list, offering Music Tech; Digital Writing and Rhetoric; and Game Prototyping, Pipeline, and Production. Miami also runs the Mobile Learning Center, the Games and Learning Center, the Miami Design Collaborative, and the Smale Interactive Visualization Center. The Institute for Interactive Media is interdisciplinary, with faculty hailing from departments like communication studies, engineering, computer science, marketing, and architecture.

Full Sail University
Location: Winter Park, Florida
Type: Private for-profit university

Full Sail began as an audio recording educational institution and later moved into things like video production, film, and later, game development. The school offers bachelor's degrees in game art, game development, and game design (also offered as a master's program). Some of the available courses include: Character Rigging, Motion Capture, Game Planning and Architecture, and Aesthetics and Immersion. Full Sail is well connected to the industry at-large, and churns out dozens of graduates who go on to work on big franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Harry Potter. Prospective students should note, however, that Full Sail is not regionally-accredited, which means it may be difficult to transfer credits from Full Sail to other universities, and that its degrees are not universally recognized.

Header image of MIT courtesy of Francisco Diez.