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Arkansas Tech University’s Game and Interactive Media Design Degree


Video games have captured the imagination of kids since their inception in the 1970s. With the invention of the Nintendo gaming system and subsequent systems like Xbox and Playstation, gaming integrated into our society. Now over 70% of U.S. households have at least one gamer. What happens when you have a student who loves video games and longs to pursue gaming at the next level as a video game designer? In Arkansas, you send them to Arkansas Tech University.

ATU established its Bachelor of Fine Arts in Game and Interactive Media Design Degree in 2016. The groundbreaking degree came from the interest generated by potential students and the general public who loved video gaming and wanted a way to pursue it as a course of study. Assistant Arkansas Tech Professor Dustin Simpson says, “there were a lot of individuals who were looking for a way to turn their passion for video games and technology into a career. At the time, Arkansas didn’t really have an answer to that need.” ATU created the answer for them.

The Game and Interactive Media Design Degree is housed under the arts department at ATU. If it seems unusual for a gaming and interactive media program to be part of an arts program instead of computer programming, there was already precedent for how well the degree could do within the art department. “We find that a strong foundation in the arts is incredibly helpful when developing a compelling interactive experience, like a game,” Simpson says. “The success of the graphic design program, developed years before, demonstrated that the art department knew how to bridge the gap between art and technology. As a result, when the game and interactive media design program came along, it was the logical fit.”

For students who love video games, and the idea of designing them or other interactive media, the program has been a success. The university now has more than 100 majors in the program. When students enter, they study the initial general courses freshmen are expected to take, like English Composition and College Algebra, but they also take courses like Introduction to Art, or Introduction to Drawing, to lay the foundation for a degree where art and game design will merge. By their second year of study, students can look forward to learning about two-dimensional design, and then three-dimensional design. Game and Interactive Media Design majors will also study computer programming.

By the time students reach upper-level coursework, they’ll be fully immersed in their degree. Simpson has taught courses in nearly every aspect of game design, from 3D Modeling to Level Design, 3D Animation to Game Theory. “In our program, students learn to produce 2D and 3D art, design levels/playable experiences, learn to code functionality, and much more,” Simpson adds. Though the focus is on gaming and interactive media, students will learn much more as they combine art and technology to create new games and media.

“Often, when I meet a new student for the first time, they are eager to share their ideas, grand visions for games that need to exist. What I enjoy most about this role is giving those students the tools they need to create those games.”

Students have the opportunity their senior year to create a Senior Game Project, where their ideas and learned skills in the program come together. They’ll also create a professional portfolio in preparation for graduation and employment within a wide variety of industries. Graduates from the Game and Interactive Media Design degree are positioned to work in video game design, app development, storyboarding, or as an animation specialist or an end-user interface position. It’s a strong launching point to a career that is in demand. Jobs that fall under software development are predicted to grow by 22% in the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

The degree also fits well into Arkansas Tech University’s slate of programs. The university is ranked #1 for Arkansans studying STEM subjects and boasts class ratios of 18:1. The Game and Media Design Degree can be an in-person degree at the Russellville campus or a blended degree, with in-person and online learning. The university is the #1 online education provider in the state. The game and interactive media degree is stackable, as well. This means coursework is geared to count towards the next degree. This program stacks with the Master of Interactive Media Design degree, or the Master of Arts, Fine Arts or Liberal Arts degree.

The campus of Arkansas Tech University is located in Russellville, in the River Valley and near Lake Dardanelle. It is the third-largest university in the state. If you’re interested in the Game and Interactive Media Design degree, or you know a student who might be, Assistant Professor Dustin Simpsons encourages you to visit. “We are always eager to meet with prospective students.” It might be that a video gaming hobby could turn into a career that’s at the cutting edge of interactive design and technology. And it’s offered close to home in Arkansas.

Photos courtesy of the Arkansas Tech Office of University Marketing and Communication (MARCOMM) and used with permission.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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