One University of Utah Program That's Not Playing Games

Apr 10, 2015

In the early 1970s University of Utah graduate Nolan Bushnell founded his video game company Atari and began working on the iconic game Pong.

 

Today, students and faculty of the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program at the U of U push forward with Bushnell’s innovation spirit. 

 

Associate Director of the EAE program Roger Altizer said instead of just building entertaining games, he asks his students to think about game development more philosophically.

 

“We have people asking important questions about what games mean to society or what are the ethical questions driven by games,” Altizer said. “We have people who run labs up at the hospital, where we’re building games to help disabled people use sports equipment. Having that kind of research really feeds us to be able to ask interesting questions of our students and get them to think about games in non-traditional ways. That's where the excitement happens right, when you're trying something new.”

 

For it’s creative work revolutionizing the idea of what games mean in our daily lives, the EAE program has earned top rankings from the Princeton Review, with the No. 1 graduate, and No. 2 undergraduate game design programs in the world.

 

In January of this year students released the game “Bad Air Day,” based around the poor air quality along the Wasatch Front. Altizer said the EAE program wants to continue to make games that go beyond entertainment and provide players with a life experience.

 

“It’s important to think about games as a medium just like we would film or books. Originally, books were merely religious artifacts, right? The first books were all bibles, and now books are the way we store human knowledge,” Alter said. “The same is true of games. Games are the medium in which we experience things, where you’re no longer a passive observer. We actually have brain scans that show that when you’re playing a game, the brain is on fire, it is doing things that are dramatically different than when you’re say, watching a movie or reading a book.  We’re just on the front end of this of really understanding what games do differently than other mediums.”

 

The program has also been dedicated to bridging the gap that has traditionally existed in the gaming industry, between the creative artistic side and the more analytical programming sector.

 

“When we began the program, we talked to a lot of companies out there, and they said that was their number one problem, getting their engineers and artists to collaborate,”Altizer said. “They were across the hall from each other, but it might as well have been the Grand Canyon. We said, ‘Oh, that’s a problem we can tackle, we’re happy to take that on.’”

 

The future of the program will continue to promote the concept of ubiquitous gaming. Altizer said this idea aims to have gaming be a part of more aspects of our lives. 

 

“Ubiquitous gaming is this notion that you will see games in non-traditional places. The theories and the ideas behind games are going to start to leak into all sorts of other things that will help to motivate us to live the way that we want to live, and make doing things easier. From learning to weight loss, you're seeing a lot more game elements embedded in everything.”

 

For more information about the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program at the University of Utah, or to check out some of their projects from current and past students visit their page here.