Saturday, March 19, 2016

Serious gaming becomes a career option - March 18, 2016

If you ask kids these days what they want to be when they grow up, you do not hear astronaut, firefighter or police officer as often as you would expect. They all want to be video game creators.

Working on a major video game, like they all see themselves doing, is about as long odds as working on a blockbuster film. The competition is fierce, and the talent expectations are astronomical.

What can you do to encourage your child’s dream if game creation is the dream, yet help them to find a way to make a living?

There is another kind of gaming in technology, serious gaming. George Mason University defines serious gaming as being a way to train or educate the player about a topic, that it might enable the player to investigate an area or the game might be advertising a product or cause.

It adds, “Serious games have been developed in a number of arenas, including defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, politics and religion.”

Recently my son and I went to an open house at the George Mason campus in Manassas and visited the Mason Serious Game Institute.

The institute is the only one like it on the East Coast and is affiliated with similar endeavors in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Singapore, Australia and Mexico.

We have world-quality training for serious gaming right here in Prince William County.

The institute offers undergraduate- and graduate-level training. And soon, some Prince William high schools will offer some serious-gaming classes in association with the institute.

The institute admits students from a wide range of disciplines – not only programming as you might expect, but also the arts, education, business and more.

The coursework is diverse. There are the expected programming classes, but also ones on game design, writing for games, story creation, character development, animation, music and sound creation, and much more.

The admissions program is rigorous. Applicants are expected to provide a writing sample that delves into why they want to be in gaming. “I’ve been playing games since I was three,” won’t cut it, said one speaker. Applicants are expected to describe a game and characters of their own design or break down a game they are familiar with.

The institute also has incubator space. Students who start a company to see one of their visions through to a product can receive a year of free rent space. The space has conference rooms and mentoring from the institute’s staff, and the institute’s contacts in the industry, including venture funding contacts.

During a recent tour, I saw a company producing a simulator to help train Fairfax County fire personnel and other first responders. Another company was a teacher that had created educational board games and was now at the institute to bring the games to tablet and phone apps.

One of the speakers during the tour was Doug Wright, Prince William County schools career technical education supervisor. He outlined plans to bring some serious gaming classes to many county high schools that would help prepare students for the George Mason undergraduate program.

The county schools have done an admirable job teaching students about technology. Robotic clubs thrive in many of our schools.

Marsteller Middle School is again hosting their event designed to introduce girls to careers in science, technology and engineering. My wife was asked to speak at their conference a few years ago and I tagged along. It is a wonderful day for kids. Information is on It will be held April 2 and girls and their adults are invited.

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