UCF Starts Video Game Grad Program

By MARK HARPER Education Writer Last update: September 05, 2005 ORLANDO --
Growing up in Daytona Beach Shores, Bob Simon only saw the ocean during morning hours.
The sun's glare was about the only thing that kept him from his video games. He doesn't have that problem today.

By the numbers
75Percent of heads of households who play computer or video games.
32Percent of parents who play games with their children weekly.
63Percent of parents who believe games are a positive part of their children's lives.
SOURCES: Entertainment Software Association2005 Sales, Demographics and Usage Data

Did you know?
Although some studies show that playing video games can lead to obesity and aggressive behavior in children and teens, other studies suggest there are some benefits from video games.
· Playing video games can ease pain and distract the attention of patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
· Children with learning disabilities can develop spatial ability from playing video games.
· People with arm injuries can use the games to increase their strength and dexterity.
· A popular dance game may help children with attention- deficit/hyperactive disorder and reading problems gain the ability to memorize words better and break them down into syllables. The same game provides exercise that help obese children lose weight.
— Compiled by News ResearcherPeggy Ellis
SOURCES: The Charleston Gazette;British Medical Journal Simon, 23, has discovered a place that's kept dark at all times. Better yet, he's found a place where his passion for video games is his homework. He is one of 13 students at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, a graduate program that started last month at the University of Central Florida.
"I love the program," Simon said. "I've been to public schools, private schools, home school and two colleges. So far . . . I love it."
The university and city of Orlando have spent $6 million renovating a space in the former Orlando Expo Centre, across Livingston Street from the TD Waterhouse Centre. With high, industrial ceilings, rounded hallways and dark workspaces filled with chairs and desks on wheels, the academy resembles a video game development studio.
That's exactly what it was designed to do, said Executive Director Ben Noel, who's on loan from his job as vice president and chief operating officer of Electronic Arts-Tiburon.
With studio credentials, Noel and the academy's faculty can provide an insider's perspective on the $7.3 billion industry with students eager to land jobs as game designers, programmers and producers. The UCF academy is the nation's first graduate-level program devoted solely to video game design, although the field is starting to attract interest in academia.
Full Sail School of Film, Art, Design, Music & Media Production in Winter Park is offering a bachelor's degree in game design and development, and Keiser College of Daytona Beach started a video game design associate's degree last week. Meanwhile, many other schools are offering courses in video game design.
Noel said Full Sail and Keiser are "vocational schools who at the end of the day are for-profit. The only requirement is a GED and a willingness to pay."
The UCF academy requires a bachelor's degree at an accredited college or university and more.
That -- Noel hopes -- will help UCF produce industry leaders.
Electronic Arts -- or EA, the world's largest video game maker -- was expanding its Maitland studio but having difficulty finding qualified employees. Bachelor's degrees weren't proving to be the proper preparation, Noel said.
"They're not ready," he said. "They were disenchanted that they couldn't deliver."
So EA collaborated with Orlando area economic development officials and state lawmakers, who provided the first seed money, $4.7 million, in 2004.
The academy is expected to create a homegrown workforce that will feed EA, attract its competitors and generate startups, Noel said. Part of that strategy is in faculty recruitment.
Ron Weaver, a Tampa native with experience at Disney, said he enjoyed the perks of the video game design industry -- one in which people with two to five years' experience typically make between $59,000 and $77,000, according to one industry survey. But he jumped at the chance to teach at the academy.
"One of the biggest concerns I had was that there's not a lot of experimentation or risk taking (in the industry)," Weaver said. By teaching at the academy, he will have the run of the state-of-the-art studio and more opportunity to let his creative juices flow.
Meanwhile, students such as Simon are just hoping the 16-month program will help them get their big break.

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