Lab offers useful exposure for game designers
In a room filled with computer monitors, video game controllers and white boards covered with numbers and other programming jargon, William Jeffery sat at a small table with his headphones in on Thursday afternoon.
Jeffery, a media arts and technology senior in the game design specialization, works in the MSU Games for Entertainment and Learning, or GEL, Lab.
“I’ve been a gamer my whole life, so I’ve been playing (video games) since I was a little kid,” Jeffery said.
The lab is an association of College of Communication Arts and Sciences faculty and students from various colleges who research and develop video games, GEL Lab Director Brian Winn said. Winn chooses the roughly 15 students who work in the lab from a pool of students in the game design specialization, which is open to media arts and technology, studio art and computer science majors, he said.
“Obviously, it’s a job for them, but it’s a local job in an area that they’re interested in pursuing as a career,” Winn said.
The game design specialization has doubled its incoming student capacity from 20 to 40 new students per year since it launched in 2005, Winn said. The specialization is a two-year program, and students typically are admitted during their junior year.
The lab works on various video game projects lasting from a few months to two years, some of which are designed to be released to the public and others for internal testing, Winn said.
“We’ve had students who have had a lot of success in the industry getting jobs and building careers in game development,” he said.
Jeffery was offered a job after completing a project in one of Winn’s classes and said the opportunity to work in the GEL Lab gives him an advantage compared to other students. One day, Jeffery hopes to design for an established video game company that produces big-name titles, he said.
“We get to be a part of these projects from these companies, and it’s opportunities you wouldn’t normally get as just a student in class,” said Jeffery, who currently is working on a driver’s safety game for Ford Motor Co.
The game design program has gained a reputation despite its infancy, as MSU was ranked the 5th best undergraduate school for video game design in 2011 by The Princeton Review. Winn credits the success of the program to faculty who are experts in the video game field, among other things.
“I think one of the real strengths that we have is the interdisciplinary nature,” he said. “We’re bringing in students from the three majors, and they’re working together across the two years about how to make games.”
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, WKAR and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences are hosting a video game design workshop for middle school students to inspire the next potential batch of GEL Lab workers.
The workshop is aimed to teach them about the value of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math, WKAR communication manager Jeanie Croope said.
“By introducing this to young kids now, it’s something they can really relate to and perhaps say, ‘This makes doing those silly story problems in math a little bit worthwhile,’” Croope said.