AU Game Center is a unique multi-disciplinary academic research center operating through a partnership between the School of Communication and the College of Arts & Sciences with core activities of the center are clustered in three interlocking areas:
- World-class academic programs exploring games and interactive media in a variety of contexts that are based on experiential education approaches and innovative production experiences;
- Critical research, artistic exploration, and in-depth analysis of games as a media form;
- Field-defining service and policy initiatives as they pertain to games and game education.
Explore the Game Center.
The common theme that runs through all of this activity is the idea of "games plus." Beyond games as recreation or games as commercial media, the Game Center explores the use of games for diverse purposes and contexts, including education, health, community, policy, and politics — the profound impact on segments of the human condition beyond entertainment. Through this unique lens, as well as its engagement with and activities in the capital region, the AU Game Center offers a wholly unique and timely opportunity to explore and understand games and their profound impact on our world.
The academic programs housed through the Center directly and through partnerships with other academic units represent a broad spectrum of curricular opportunity with regard to the study of games. AU offers both an MA in Arts in Game Design and MFA in Games and Interactive Media directly through the Center’s partnership with SOC and CAS. These programs are nationally recognized in the top 25 annually by the publications including Princeton Review and Animation Review.
The MA program is a tightly focused 2-year degree that explores game design, research, and production through a series of foundational courses, electives and a culminating capstone experience.
The MFA Program focuses more broadly on games as a form of interactive art, with crossovers into experimental media, film, and interactive storytelling. As an MFA, this program focuses its 3rd year on the creation, production, and dissemination of a major thesis work in this area.
Graduates from these programs are found not only at game design and development studios, but at a wide variety of policy think-tanks, museums and cultural institutions, educational environments, and more as they apply games broadly to a wide variety of fields and domains. Both of these degrees are centered on an approach deeply focused on experiential education: students learn to make games by doing so, and work with faculty, staff, and other professionals creating games as a part of their studies.
In addition to these core programs, the Center also partners with the AU Department of Computer Science to offer a track in Games & Playable Media as a part of the MA in Computer Science, with the AU Department of Literature to offer a track in Game Development as a part of the MA in Literature, Culture and Technology, with the Film & Media Arts Division of SOC to offer a track in Games and Interactivity as a part of their MFA, and more. The Center also works with doctoral students in the SOC PhD program in Communication Studies when their interests and research overlap with games as a media form. Lastly, the Center also offers a graduate certificate in Game Design as a one-year credential for students and professionals that are engaging with us from other fields of academic study
Research & Creative Practice
The research and creative practice activities of the faculty and student body of the Center are broadly multi-disciplinary, as is common (and even required) in game design and development. Work at the Center spans several interlocking fields including game design, game development, game production, game art, game studies, and more. This means that simultaneously faculty might be exploring technical elements of how games are made or new ideas on how to incorporate cutting edge technology such as artificial intelligence or augmented reality, while others are examining the effects of games on local communities and how they can be used for tools of interaction and empowerment for transforming a “smart city” into a “playable city.”
Work at the center can at times feel very tightly game-focused as new experimental titles are created to address critical current topics like the spread of “fake news” or examining how games can speak to complex issues such as depression and anxiety, while at other times it might focus on the incorporation of game technologies like virtual reality and simulation in areas such as health-care with very little focus on a game-centric experience. Active research ranges from highly technical and computationally focused approaches through artistic and humanities focused design and analysis.
Throughout all of this work we examine the effects these media have on individual players, communities, and society, and we explore these questions through a combination of creating our own games, exploring the games of others, experimenting and extending games as a media form in combination and crossover with other kinds of interactive expression, and analyzing and situating this work in the context of the larger media landscape. Our research and creative practice is also heavily informed by our environment and the life and energy of Washington DC and its role as our Nation’s capital. Games at the Center address topics such as policy and governance, the simulation of complex problems and relationships as they pertain to education, health, defense, and politics, interactive explorations of mental health, existentialism, and much more.
Service & Policy Initiatives
The AU Game Center is also home to a faculty and staff that is engaged in supporting games in higher education in ways that have helped not only the university, but the entire field of games in higher education move forward. As a few examples, consider the following: Professor Benjamin Stokes served as a program officer for the MacArthur foundation’s Games and Learning program, which funded multiple studies across the United States regarding the use of games as a platform for education, and helped establish a position on games and learning at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) during the Obama administration. He is also the co-founder of Games 4 Change, the most widely recognized and successful non-profit engaged in furthering the exploration of games as catalysts for social change and the betterment of society. The annual G4C summit in New York is a cornerstone of work in this academic space around the world.
Professor Mark Nelson publishes the yearly list of Institutions Active in Technical Games Research and the Researchers Active in Technical Games Research, which is used by multiple universities as a means to find colleagues and collaborators all over the world. Professor Andrew Phelps, director of the Center, currently serves as the President of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) that he co-founded in 2015 and which now represents over 350 colleges and universities world-wide as a professional organization focused on the growth of games in higher education. The former director of the AU Game Lab, Prof. Lindsay Grace, serves as Vice President of HEVGA. The AU Game Center is regularly the primary site in the DC area for the Global Game Jam. These are but a few examples of the kinds of impact that the AU Game Center has on the larger field. Faculty from the Center regularly partner with government agencies and think-tanks as reviewers and experts given our location and expertise. In this fashion, the Center works to help create a better global climate and environment for the study and understanding of games.
Center Synergy, Culture, & Practice
The three elements described above – academics, research, and professional service — work together to create a culture of highly impactful, energetic practice. New projects and collaborations are constantly being explored through a variety of synergies. What starts as a class assignment can quickly turn into a research project, research projects produce games and experiences that become case-studies in our curriculum, and students get real-world networking and internship experience through service initiatives and outreach activities. Which is all to say that the culture of the Center is one of making, one of doing, one of exploring.
The general modality of our work is to build things, and through that process to better understand games as a form of media, their capabilities and effects, their players and their interactions, and the world that they are created in and that they reflect. We learn through creation and experimentation, and in that work we draw across a wide number of disciplines, from computing and engineering through communication and the arts. The Center does not focus on disciplinary boundaries, but rather seeks to explicitly act as a place of collaboration, creation and exploration that ignores disciplines-as-barriers and instead acts as a nexus for colleagues across the university and around the world. When referring to "games +" within the Center, this means not only extending the purpose of games into other domains and areas, but also to partnering with a wide array of scholars, practitioners, and experts to better inform our creative activity and produce new knowledge.
The Witch's Way by Game Center Director A. Phelps with D. Rusch will be featured in the ICA 2022 Conference Interactive Artifacts Exhibition.
Game Center partners with DC Public Libraries and Institute of Museum and Library Services on creating neighborhood games using Hive Mechanic, a game engine developed at the center.
Game Center Director A. Phelps with D. Rusch presented on representations and externalities of magic at the Vienna Future and Reality of Gaming Conference.
Catch prof Ben Stokes moderating Layers of Place: Bringing Communities Together by Augmenting Places with Stories, Voices, and Technologies.
See more about Game Center Research.
The AU Game Center has a 4 to 1 Student-Faculty ratio