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College of Humanities adds emphasis in video game studies

Courtesy Judd Ruggill

A collection of video game guides for the video game The Legend of Zelda. 

The University of Arizona is joining over 400 other United States colleges and universities by offering an emphasis in game studies for a Bachelor of Arts in applied humanities by the Department of Public and Applied Humanities starting in fall 2020, according to a UA press release. 

The new emphasis in the applied humanities major will focus on the cultural, industrial and artistic importance of video games throughout the years and offer a variety of classes related to video game history and development.

Judd Ruggill is the head of the Department of Public and Applied Humanities and was involved in querying students and faculty to see what they’re interested in.

“The reason that we’re starting [a game studies emphasis] is there’s student interest, faculty expertise and really it’s time for the University of Arizona to join the many other universities around the country, and indeed the world, to offer this kind of concentration,” Ruggill said. 

Ken McAllister is an associate dean of research and program innovation and a professor in the College of Humanities. He notes that the UA program is distinct from others in that it’s a game studies program and not a game development one.

“Game development curricula are actually quite common. You go into those programs and learn how to design and build games, and you might learn how to do some project management. Our program is, in a way, on the other side,” McAllister said. “It’s about studying the game industry, and it really dives into histories, stories, industrial cultures and fan cultures. It’s really trying to understand the phenomenon of video and computer games historically and culturally.” 

McAllister and Ruggill are also codirectors for the Learning Games Initiative Research Archive, an expansive collection of over 250,000 items including but not limited to video and computer games, systems and memorabilia from recent decades. 

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According to the archive’s website, LGIRA was founded in 1999 as a transdisciplinary, multi-institutional research group that studies gaming, teaches with gaming technology and builds computer games. The collection now has the distinction of being one of the largest gaming archives in the Americas. 

“That’s kind of another piece of the ‘Why now?’ We have this tremendous resource that, really, other programs don’t. So it’s a great opportunity to put that to use,” Ruggill said. “The students can have firsthand experiences with things they’ve only read about or only heard about. And here on campus, they have a chance to interact with them.”

Classes offered for the game studies emphasis include looking at video games as artifacts and appreciating interactive multimedia entertainment, global video game cultures and their origins, the video game industry and how to make money with play and introductions to game design and development. 

“It’s also appealing in its capacity to be a double or triple major with people who are maybe looking to go into the field of law, business, art, music or computer science,” McAllister said. “All of those professional areas blend quite well with a degree in game studies where you can learn about the aesthetics, cultures, languages and histories behind this important, relatively new medium.”

According to Ruggill, the game industry is “one of the most robust of the media industries,” with jobs needed throughout the entire process of creating and playing a game.

“Typically, when people think of working in the game industry, they think of designing, programming or developing games. But there are a host of those careers besides that,” Ruggill said. “There are people who manage the design and development of games, quality assurance folks who make sure the product meets market standards before it goes out the door and community managers who manage the online communities associated with games. There are folks who work in the legal profession, because there are all kinds of legal aspects to consider, from copyright protection to intellectual property concerns.” 

For those involved in the new degree emphasis, video games are more than just a collection of artifacts or a fun pastime. 

“It’s a multibillion-dollar industry that involves so many different disciplines and fields of expertise,” McAllister said. “And on top of that, it’s fun — or at least can be — and they’re good at bringing people together and getting people to think.”

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