Washburn courses highlight video game effects

Ashley Nadeau

You can’t argue with numbers. With more than $10 billion in yearly revenue, the video game industry has grown to rival the media giants like film and music.

It’s no secret that college students are playing video games. According the the ESRB, 49 percent of gamers are between the ages of 18 and 49, but students at Washburn are doing more than just playing.

“We are the only university that offers hands on courses in video games in Kansas,” said Azyz Sharafy, associate professor of Electronic Art & Graphics. “I get students from computer science, from art and from mass media, it’s very exciting.”

Sharafy teaches his students the basics of most every technical aspect of video game creation, from beginning programming to 3D animation.

“My classes are very interactive and intense, students are really excited about it,” said Sharafy.

The courses Sharafy teaches are not only for artists, he encourages collaboration between students with different interests and skill sets.

“The good thing is when you have a class that appeals to artists and programmers is that they can work together on projects,” said Sharafy. “Whether you do movies or video games, it is not done by one person, it’s always a group project.”

Video game courses aren’t just about teaching students how to use software, they encourage students to work as a team.

“It taught me to work in a group, video games are not created with just one person and they require you to work well with others,” said Washburn student Adam Bideau. “You have to pool everyone’s talents together in order to produce the required product,” he said.

Although the majority of the video game industry is clustered near the coasts, Washburn students looking for future careers working with video games can still get valuable experience and preparation.

“I would recommend it to others for the simple fact that it will teach you the basics of what it means to work in the video game industry,” said Bideau. “Sure the engine that we were using isn’t the one that major company’s use but still it teaches you that not just one person makes a video game. You have to think creatively and objectively.”

Sharafy recommends students looking to pursue future careers in video games concentrate on building a portfolio, gaining experience in a variety of software.

“Even if you don’t make a video game, if you have an interactive website and a diverse portfolio you will be marketable in the industry,” said Sharafy. “My goal is to teach students to create the aesthetic part and give them the basics of video games so they can create something great on there own.”

For students interested in video games, but not necessarily looking to create their own game, the Psychology department offers a course looking at the good, the bad and the ugly side of gaming.

According to associate professor Michael McGuire, the course spawned from the popularity of video games as an industry and as a topic for student research.

“The course came to be after directing several independent studies. Several of my students investigated the learning potential of using video games,” said McGuire. “As their mentor I reviewed several of the articles cited in their projects and found the information to be promising and current as the popularity of gaming continues to grow,” he said.

Although video games can sometimes get a bad wrap in the media, McGuire said playing video games can also have positive effects.

“There are some basic principles at work in many “good” games such as immediate and delayed reinforcement and also positive reinforcement,” said McGuire. “The course is meant to be a primer in the area of video games and psychology.”

McGuire said the course is designed to look more at the psychological affects of video games than the psychology that goes in to producing video games.

“My hope is that students will learn more about the potential types of learning afforded by intelligent game design, the potential negative side effects of gaming, and the potential for video game addiction,” said McGuire.

Like Sharafy, McGuire attributes the importance of the class to the popularity of the industry.

“Given the popularity of gaming, I believe the importance is self-evident,” he said.

Students can enroll now in the Psychology of Gaming course offered this summer. The Art Department offers 2 & 3D animation in the upcoming fall semester.