NYU Game Center to Offer MFA

Who knew? NYU has a has an academic department devoted to the study of games. The NYU Game Center is connected with–not surprisingly–The Tisch School of the Arts, and has a quest to study game playing as a “cultural form and game design as a creative practice.” I was in Manhattan last Thursday and stopped by the NYU Game Center to attend a discussion led by the school’s founder, Frank Lantz, and with faculty avatars Eric Zimmerman, Jesper Juul, and Katherine Isbister.

On my way to the lecture area in the Game Center’s sub-street level offices at 721 Broadway I passed students engaged in their problem sets, in this case, working out maneuvers for sword swirling samurai from their game consoles. As I learned later, games are serious business, and a topic worthy of academic focus.

It wasn’t difficult to sense, thought, that there’s still some residual embarrassment about this study of rules, levels, game personnas, and whether to put the sword in front of or behind the magic chalice. One of NYU’s accomplishments is actually to include the “g” word in their program–not necessarily the way other colleges refer to their programs.

This faculty conducts research and studies in areas related to human-machine interactions, apply their results in new game projects, and then feedback their experience into more research. It’s not all that dissimilar to a day-in-the-life of their colleagues in, say, computer science, engineering, architecture and other disciplines involving design skills and craft.

Lantz, Zimmerman, Juul, and Isbister

As Zimmerman put it, “I like to think about the games that are produced as the residue of an ongoing investigation into a number of issues I’m interested in.”

Some of these investigations involve, well just about everything in liberal arts–aesthetics, storytelling, psychology, mathematics, logic, history, and culture.

It was a little scary, though, when the gathered speakers lapsed in academic-ese, referring to games as mere artifacts of their interests.

Honestly, though, this faculty group does like making games. Zimmerman and Lantz ran GameLabs, an NYC-based game development group for many years, and Zimmerman is now involved with physical games–you can see some of his recent work here.

And even though the Game Center will be offering an MFA starting in Fall 2012, this group of professors actively debated the role of the academy in games. This then transformed into a discussion about walled scholarly communities as virtual worlds with their own rules, like a game, and our attraction to academic degrees is precisely because of its artificiality.

I left before the discussion about games as metaphors for life itself reached level 10. So … if you’re interested in game design and theory, and want to be around incredibly active minds, then the NYU Game Center is for you.