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Princeton Review Ranks American University's New Game Design Program in Top 25

Cherisse Datu and Tory Hargrove

Professional Fellow Tory Hargrove (right) and Student Fellow Cherisse Datu are part of the JoLT initiative, which seeks a link between game design and disruptive leadership.

American University is one of the top schools to study video game design for 2015, according to new international rankings from The Princeton Review.

In its first year of existence, AU’s game design master’s program is ranked 21st in the world. AU’s program is offered through a partnership between the AU School of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences.

“For a program that is less than one year old, this is a major recognition and an affirmation of what we are doing here,” says Game Lab director Lindsay Grace. It’s justified by the accomplishments of AU Game Lab faculty and students.

Some of these include:

  • Central participation in the White House Educational Game Jam; USA Today featured AU’s game.

  • Launch of JoLT initiative in game design and disruptive media leadership, through a $250,000 Knight Foundation philanthropic grant.

  • Collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a pop-up arcade event attracting more than 4,000 visitors in a single day.

  • Partnered and sponsored events with the Games for Change Festival and the Global Game Jam.

  • Professor Grace gave two talks, and two Game Lab students presented at the Game Developer's Conference (GDC) this March, which drew over 24,000 people.

  • Faculty and students published more than 15 articles, showed creative work more than 20 times, and participated in more than 25 talks and panels around the world.    

  • American University has invested significant resources in the development of the Game Lab as part of a university-wide commitment to multidisciplinary, team-based, high-impact research.

The Princeton Review, one of the nation’s best known educational services companies, partnered with PC Gamer magazine to produce the “Best Schools for Gaming 2015.” The sixth-annual list is published in the May issue of PC Gamer.

“For students aspiring to work in the burgeoning field of game design, these are truly the ‘cream of the crop’ institutions from which to launch a career,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's Senior VP-Publisher. To make its selections, The Princeton Review weighed more than 60 data points. Criteria focused on four areas: curriculum, facilities, technology, and career services.

AU’s program is atypical in several ways. First, it is underpinned by a focus on persuasive play, which aims to employ the power of play to create socially responsible games that enrich people’s lives.

Students who pursue the master’s degree at AU develop skills beyond traditional game design and development by learning to tailor play design to meet specific goals in player impact. During the second year of the degree program, students intern at the AU Game Lab Studio and build a professional portfolio by working on real world projects for external clients.

AU’s location in the nation’s capital allows for unique partnerships and collaborations with cultural institutions and governmental agencies that have national impact.

The demographic makeup of the student cohort is also unique.  Compared to an industry that is 89 percent male, the AU cohort includes five female and seven male students. Students come from across the United States, and Africa and South America. In October 2014, AU hosted nearly 100 participants at its second annual Game Diversity summit to promote wider accessibility and participation in game making.

The Studio is part of the AU Game Lab, which serves as a hub for professional education, persuasive play research, and practice. The Studio provides contract work for external clients in need of game development that will engage and influence around a campaign, a concept, or a brand.

The MA in Game Design was developed under AU’s Persuasive Play initiative, which aims to employ the power of play to create socially responsible games that enrich people’s lives. In persuasive play, game design is created in a way meant to transform players’ interests, activities, or opinions into meaningful action. For example, in the field of K-12 education, persuasive play games are helping educators find more effective ways to engage with broader and more diverse students. AU’s Persuasive Play Initiative is led by game designer and researcher Lindsay Grace who is also the director of the AU Game Lab.