UW-Madison faculty leads new Higher Education Video Game Alliance

July 1, 2014

by Marianne Spoon

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is playing a key role in launching the Higher Education Video Game Alliance, a national platform to create more collaborations and sharing among video game scholars, video game industry professionals and the public.

Launched today at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, the Alliance — comprising video game design programs from an initial 13 universities — will share best practices, highlight the cultural, scientific and economic importance of video games, and better prepare students for professions in game design.

The membership-driven group will act as a forum to align efforts and information in a drastically growing sector, says Constance Steinkuehler, the alliance's first executive director, UW-Madison associate professor of education and co-director of the Games+Learning+Society research group at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

"Video games are a $21 billion industry, more than Hollywood and the music industry, and universities serve as a mainstay for talent development," Steinkuehler says. "What are the best ways to cross-pollinate industry and higher education for great jobs in game design? Who gets which jobs and based on what criteria? How can we get research and development at universities to be more represented in industry and in the public conversation about games? These are some of the questions we hope to answer."

As video game programs in higher education transition from being seen as fads on campus to more established fields akin to film studies, Steinkuehler says there's a need to share insights across these groups, which are often studying similar areas but are unable to coordinate with each other across departments and disciplines. To help unite scholars, the alliance will focus on beginning a yearly conference, surveying game programs and placements across its membership, improving methods of measuring employment in video game sectors, connecting higher education programs to policy and public conversations, and coordinating workforce training in line with current industry trends.

Ultimately, the alliance fits into larger conversations about economic competitiveness.

"Game development programs are growing the next generation of America's STEM leaders: providing excellent career training, serving as incubators for game design and technology innovation, and advancing state-of-the-art game research," says Mark DeLoura, senior advisor for digital media at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Efforts to increase the connections between educators and professional game developers will help to further strengthen American competitiveness by enhancing the collective power of these programs."

In addition to benefiting universities, the alliance will provide industry with more access to expertise and game design research.

"Every year, thousands of college and university students across the country choose to pursue their passion by majoring in game design, opening the door to an exciting and fast-growing array of careers in the video game industry and beyond," says Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, the trade association that represents U.S. video game publishers. "By bringing together our nation's leading game design programs, the alliance will help showcase the critical role our industry is playing in driving innovation across numerous sectors of the economy. We are proud to support its mission and applaud the leadership of its impressive founding members."

Other universities with leadership roles in the alliance include the University of Southern California, Rochester Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and New York University.