Gaming as the techology of the future

When I was an undergraduate engineering student (many, many years ago), it often seemed that my colleagues and I were majoring in pinball. (FYI – pinball and foosball remain the staple of the high-tech company’s break-room – similar to the game room of my college dorm). Now, your really can major in pinball – or at least the digital version. According to a story in today’s Washington Post – Like Video Games? Now You Can Major in Them:

Carnegie Mellon University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, now offer master’s degrees in game development. The University of Southern California offers a graduate degree in interactive media and an undergraduate program in game design. Locally, the University of Baltimore is putting together an undergraduate degree in video game development

This really should surprise anyone. As I mentioned in an earlier post (For the future of the music and movie industry look to video games), gaming is a multibillion dollar industry. According to the OECD study DIGITAL BROADBAND CONTENT: The online computer and video game industry:

Computer and video games is a young industry with rapid growth underpinned by technological development. The global market in 2003 was estimated to be over USD 21 billion compared with USD 32 billion for the recorded music industry; US games revenue in 2001 surpassed film box office ticket sales. The main segments in 2003 were the console off-line (73%) and PC-offline markets (17%). Online and wireless games are still relatively small (6.4 and 3.4% respectively). However, there is a trend towards online games in PCs and consoles. New games are released with some online capabilities, and it is expected that nearly all will become at least in part online. Computer games are R&D and innovation intensive and games programming and design are highly skilled occupations. Market expansion is coming through development of online network technology, diversifying content and developing large-scale online games. The industry is also increasingly seen as strategic by major media, Internet and consumer electronics firms.

Skill development is a key element in advancing the state of the industry, nor is the US the only country confronting the issue:

A pool of qualified personnel is a key element for the game industry, and although software and related ICT-skills are widespread, games skills are to some extent specific to the industry requiring a mix of advanced technological skills, creativity and specific knowledge of online games.
Most specialist games ICT skills are not obtained from formal university or tertiary institution degree courses. This is in part due to the difficulties involved in implementing change in educational systems and in part due to the rapid changes in specialist skills requirements compared with very long lead-times to change formal tertiary courses. Furthermore, in the domain of high-skilled software most skills are not acquired in formal education but usually on the job or in firm- or sector-specific training programmes (OECD, 2004g). Large firms often have training programmes to address current skills needs and to improve their internal software development processes. They recruit experienced programmers or new computer science graduates and provide their own practical training courses. The Electronic Arts University is a good example, providing software engineering courses and programmes in their various studios.
This does not, however, mean that the industry will solve all skill development requirements. Smaller firms may find extensive in-house training too costly if it covers a wide range of specialist skills. Also there may be insufficient training for the industry because employees can leave individual companies after training. To tackle these issues the Korean government has developed a formal game industry education programme. The “Game Academy” provides two-year educational courses as well as short-term improvement courses in game design, programming and related areas and produces 250 game specialists annually. This strategy was further strengthened in 2002 with the introduction of a certification system to evaluate qualifications of game industry technicians (Korean Ministry of Culture & Tourism, 2004). Korea further seeks to attract top educators in foreign countries, and plans international exchange programmes.
Other countries have also started to provide tertiary programmes or have identified skills and job training as key issues for industry development (Forfás, 2004). For example in the United Kingdom there are approximately 22 universities offering 72 degrees/courses in games. This proliferation of courses of various qualities has prompted the UK Department of Education and Skills, Skillset, the sector council for UK audiovisual industries, and bodies such as TIGA to call for industry accreditation of university games courses (Kerr, 2004a). To support the game industry in France, the Ecole nationale de jeux vidéo et des médias interactifs has been created at higher education degree level in Angoul&ecric;me, with first enrolments in September 2004 (Kerr, 2004a). In France as in other countries there are numerous media and multimedia courses which may provide raw graduates for the industry, along with specialised computer engineers.
Issues related to gender inequality in the game industry reflect a more general issue of womens’ professional training (OECD, 2004g). An important prior step will be to raise interest in technologies and the use of ICTs. A number of policies have been implemented, e.g. the e-skills UK initiative to offer Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) or its ITBeat scheme designed to encourage girls to rethink their attitudes to careers in information technology. Another local example was the competition by Wired Sussex, first run in 2003, to encourage teams of girls to produce a game design outline (Haines, 2004a).

Least you think that gaming is just a peripheral industry, look at the spill-overs. Technology advances are driving gaming. And, as important, gaming is driving technological advances.

Technology originally developed for games is increasingly used in other applications. Games developments in computer images, graphics resolution, high-speed interactivity, and touch feedback are used in other applications. Many of these technologies had theirs origins in defence (e.g. flight simulators, pilot helmets, etc.) and medical imaging where virtual modelling developed for training and computer image construction led to developments in game creation. Until recently, this was mostly one-way, with applications developed in more established industries being used in simpler forms in the game industry.
However, with advances in consumer hardware processing power this relationship is changing. Games imaging technology has potentially significant use for architecture, design and engineering applications, and games 3D-software in a range of training programmes and medical applications where interactivity is important. This trend is expected to intensify with advances in game software and hardware technology.

Even more exciting is the potential for advances in the gaming industry to feed into the educational process:

There has been growing recognition that games, particularly because of their interactive nature, may provide useful tools for education (KPMG for the Danish Ministry of Culture, 2004). The benefits come from the use of games technologies and experience in devising educational tools, rather than coming from using games devised for non-educational purposes, as there is no strong empirical evidence that critical learning skills from games are “transferable”. In part limited direct effects of games on education may be due to few games so far being specifically developed for education, and commercial games have only limited educational aims (Kerr, 2004b).
However, research on the potential of games to serve as learning tools concluded that “video games have the potential to lead to active and critical learning.” (Gee, 2003). Pilot schemes by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) have shown that there are benefits from using games technologies in education. Research initiatives on the potential for games to be used in education include: The Education Arcade (educationarcade.org) a consortium of international game designers, publishers, scholars, educators, and policy makers investigating the educational potential of video games (the US MIT’s Games to Teach); the NESTA Futurelab projects in the UK; and the ECsupported Kaleidoscope (Network of Excellence), and the EC mobile M-learning project (see also section in the Policy Framework below). Furthermore, public interest and non-profit groups dealing with public health and humanitarian issues (e.g. UNICEF) have developed interactive games to reach the new Internet generation.

Of course, we have been down this road before. Television was touted as having great potential for education. In fact TV has had a large impact on education — it is just that TVs overwhelming use for entertainment and marketing has eclipsed its educational activities.
I suspect that gaming will do the same. The vast majority of activity will be entertainment oriented. That should not blind us to the potential for using the technology for other purposes. Those kids getting their degrees in gaming at Carnegie Mellon University and Georgia Tech might just as easily come up with the next generation’s equivalent of McGuffey Readers.

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