Aug 31, 2018
This fall, St. Edward’s University is launching a minor degree in Video Game Development, giving St. Edward’s students of all majors an opportunity to add video game development skills to their resumes.
The minor is the latest addition to the university’s Video Game Development program, which is taking shape under the guidance of the program’s director, Robert Denton Bryant, who has more 30 years of experience in writing and video game development. As he builds the program, Bryant is leveraging the program’s location in Austin — which is the third top city for game studios in the country — to create connections between students and local game studios and businesses for internships and class projects.
Bryant believes the minor, which requires 18 hours of coursework, will give job seekers an edge in whichever professional path they choose.
“The video game industry needs all types of expertise, and hiring managers across all sectors are also looking for college graduates with a breadth of interests and skills,” said Bryant, director of the Video Game Development Program. “We're excited about the minor because it allows students to take the key courses in the Video Game Development major.”
In light of the new academic offering, St. Edward’s University sat down with Bryant to learn more about how he is evolving the Video Game Development program, as well as get his thoughts on nerd culture, diversity in the gaming industry and the Austin gaming community.
St. Edward’s: Why is it important to view nerd culture through an academic lens?
Bryant: In the liberal arts tradition, we learn to critically assess everything, question everything. One of the least examined areas of culture is people’s relationship to nerd culture, because you’re just supposed to love Star Wars. Nothing frustrates me more than when my people, the nerds, get together and say, ‘What do you mean you haven’t seen Solo: A Star Wars Story? What’s wrong with you?’ Well, nothing is wrong with this person. I want our students to be able to conduct an analysis of the nerd canon, of all of these imaginative worlds they love. I want them to do all of the things that we do when we take a literature course.
St. Edward’s: One of your goals is to bring students with various majors into the Video Game Development program. Why?
Bryant: The video game industry needs all types of expertise. For example, they need game economists, a game designer who designs and manages the economy in a virtual world such as World of Warcraft or EVE Online. The money in the game economy has value, so you need experts who can ensure that the virtual economy does not suffer from hyperinflation or other troublesome conditions. Although I haven’t yet had any Economics or Finance majors come in and say, ‘Hey, I want to do a video game minor,’ I think that would be another powerful major-minor combination. We're excited about the minor because it allows students to take the key courses in the Video Game Development major, and it’s only 18 hours. Hiring managers like the idea of minors because it gives them a better sense of a job candidate's educational pursuits and breadth of expertise.
St. Edward’s: Is the video game industry making progress in terms of racial and gender diversity?
Bryant: We are making progress, but we as an industry can do a lot better. And the progress begins with increasing diversity in the studio. We need to stop thinking about gender diversity as binary because it’s not binary, it’s a spectrum. We do everything we can to encourage diversity and acceptance in our program. One of the things that I’m really proud of is that about one-third of our roughly 90 Video Game Development majors are women. We work really hard to walk that talk, where any type of person can feel welcome to add their voice and their own cultural references to the medium. After all, when Star Wars or Lord of the Rings nerds only make games for other Star Wars or Lord of the Rings nerds, the games are all the same. And I say that as someone who loves Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
St. Edward’s: How do you view the broader video game community in Austin?
Bryant: Austin has a rich heritage in games, starting with Richard Garriott’s success with Ultima franchise. His studio, Origin Systems, help to plant the seeds of a thriving industry and culture here. Austin is third, behind northern and southern California, in the number of game employers. There are so many great events that come through town, like RTX, Classic Game Fest, and SXSW Gaming, where players and creators can meet face to face.
What truly makes Austin special is that it has such a strong creative community. It’s a rebellious, do-it-yourself community, and we have a giant independent game scene. Every month, there’s a meet-and-greet networking event called Juegos Rancheros, which takes place the first Thursday of every month. If you attend, you’re going to see several development teams showing off their latest video game builds. They want you play them and they want your feedback. It’s a great win-win situation for the independent game community.
St. Edward’s: What are your plans for the Video Game Development program at St. Edward’s University?
Bryant: I’m eager to put St. Edward’s on the map in video game development through partnerships with the community. The university and our students are very enthusiastic about working with small businesses to design and build video game projects that will help these entities with their organizational goals.
As our program grows and becomes more established, we’ll add faculty members who bring more areas of expertise. Jeremy Johnson recently joined us as Visiting Assistant Professor. He has a completely different experience with games than I have. I’m excited about having his students in my classes. What will they learn from Jeremy, and how will they challenge me?