Creating a Multi-Disciplinary Gaming Curriculum: Avoiding Mistakes, Missteps, and Growing Pains

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Educators Paper

While the volume of game-development curricula has grown dramatically over the past five years, there is still relatively little information on the proliferation of these programmes. At Drexel University, game development has grown from a few unrelated, area-specific courses to become a truly multi-disciplinary, multi-course sequence that unifies the foundation skills of several departments and colleges across the university. Yet there have been numerous challenges and changes during the four-year evolution of this sequence. This paper documents the growth of the programme, the problems it encountered, and the solutions developed, in the hope that it can serve as a road map for other institutions.

At Drexel, game development does not "live" in one department, so it mirrors the true nature of game development in commercial settings. Game development is offered in a coordinated, cross-listed series of courses in both the computer science (CS) and digital media (DIGM) majors, and production courses are open to other majors as well. Computer science courses teach foundation software-development skills and offer software design courses for prototyping game concepts. Drexel's digital media major is one of the oldest such programmes in the United States. It instructs students on the foundation skills of design, art, programming, modelling, animation, audio and video production, and the use of industry tools such as Maya and 3ds Max. The gaming courses and projects bring these two majors together, with the additional participation of students and faculty from other majors including music, music industry, screenwriting and playwriting, engineering, and business.

Many problems were encountered during the programme's growth from an original two-course sequence to the current nine-course offering including: cultural and communication differences between the different majors; scheduling differences across programmes, departments, and colleges; teaching and staffing issues; course sequencing issues; introduction of soft-skill techniques; project management issues; student and staff turnover; rapidly changing technology platforms; lack of adequate texts; software and hardware access issues; and even educating administrators and parents as to what game development entails.

The gaming sequence is designed to reflect the nature of the industry and industry demands and practices. For example, the programme makes heavy use of the iterative development cycle and SCRUM methodology. However, introduction of these techniques provides unique challenges in classroom settings, where students have always been able to "get by" with less-formal structures, or where grades are based on a final submission.

The cross-discipline nature of the course offerings presents logistical challenges for reaching and informing interested students and researchers, and has led to formation of the Drexel RePlay Lab web site.

The 2007-2008 academic year was the first in which the complete complement of courses was fully offered. Despite this, the student work produced from even an abridged offering has been very impressive.

Paul Diefenbach
Drexel University