MU students learn to design video games

By Caitlin Cernovich and Tammy Ritterskamp

Josh Fraser, instructor of the Animation I class, discusses the animation of simple shapes. (Lance Edwards/Missourian)
Try telling the students in the University of Missouri’s Computer Animation I class that playing video games is a waste of time. They hope to make a lucrative career out of designing those games. The Entertainment Software Association reports that 75 percent of heads of households play computer or video games and the average game player’s age is 30.
MU has offered courses in animation and design for a year now, but this is the first year students have been able to major in the field of information technology.

Ryan Sextro, Animation I student, creates a pool table during lecture. (Lance Edwards/Missourian)
The degree program hasn’t been figured out completely. But sophomore Ryan Sextro isn’t worried that he’s stepping into the unknown. “[Computer Animation I] is a good introduction to what people do in the real world in terms of graphics design and programming.”
A gamer himself, Sextro’s dream job is to some day work in animation graphics for video games and movies. So why did he choose MU?
“I think the other schools that have dedicated video game programs are a little limiting because here you learn not only the graphics side, but you also learn everything else that a computer programmer could possibly do. You’re not limiting yourself to just graphics programming and video games.”
While only a handful of colleges currently offer video game design classes, the number of programs at public and private schools is growing. According to USA Today, in 1994 the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA, became the first accredited university to offer a four-year degree in video game creation. This for-profit, private university runs one of the most successful programs in the country, according to Wired.com.
The timing of MU’s new game degree is in sync with the industry’s growth in job opportunities, which just might help Sextro get his dream job. In a world where more teenagers play video games and surf the Internet in their free time than watch TV, the job market for “techies” who are able to program and design video games is wide open. According to Wired.com, designers can make $50,000 a year right out of college and twice as much if they help produce a hit video game.
The ESA reports “U.S. computer and video game software sales grew eight percent to $7.3 billion,” putting it in the same ballpark as movies ($9 billion), and “more than doubling the industry since 1996.” Consequently, it is no wonder that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports there are marketwide fears that as the baby-boomers age and retire, their technology-heavy jobs will be left open with no one available to fill them.

Jeremy McKnight, Michael Rosenbloom, and Keith Seyer discuss their Animation I project. (Stefanie Zimmerman/Missourian)
MU instructor Josh Fraser teaches his Animation I class the basics of using a PC to animate objects like spheres, cones, and cubes. Sitting in a computer lab, students first watch the professor’s examples projected onto a screen then practice on the computer in front of them. From here, Fraser’s students will move on to Animation II, and may eventually take the Game Design course and other relevant courses the faculty hopes to make available in upcoming semesters.
The Information Technology degree will be a “quality program,” says Adrianna Gilpin, an advisor in the Computer Science Department at MU. There will be lots of mathematics and programming required, and while students will have traditional classes, their programming and design projects will undoubtedly carry over into time outside of class. “Most students say they enjoy it,” says Gilpin.
Sextro says his group is already working on a final project for Animation I. They’re aiming to create 5,000 animated frames in order to produce a four-minute cartoon of two fighting pirate ships. “It’ll take all semester,” says Sextro.
The ultimate goal in creating the new MU degree program was to increase student enrollment in computer science and get students more excited about information technology. Gilpin makes this goal sound achievable. She says the program is growing quickly in both size and quality. Forty-three students are currently enrolled in the program. Gilpin expects to see that number double in the next few months.
But not all the classes the students want to take are currently available because of a shortage of faculty with expertise to teach them. The Computer Science department is working on that problem and may need to restructure its curriculum.
Some students, such as senior Grant Hoberock aren’t looking to Fraser’s animation class to improve their job prospects. “I’m just taking this class for fun.”
Hoberock says the companies looking for game programmers and movie animators aren’t coming to job fairs at Mizzou anyway. He says they do their recruiting on the West Coast.
But according to Got Game, a new book published by Harvard Business School Press, just growing up playing video games will put Hoberock and his MU peers at an advantage in any business field. The authors cite research suggesting gamers will be “better workers, better team players, better at risk management, and better leaders.” The book points out that 80 percent of managers under the age of 34 have considerable experience playing video games.

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