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UCI’s Game Design and Interactive Media Major: A Good Launch Point into a Demanding Yet Rewarding Industry

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UC Irvine began offering the Computer Game Science major to students in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) in 2011. The major was designed with the intention of exposing students to both the science and art behind making video games. 

During the 2010s, the video game industry was booming with giants like “The Last of Us” and “Grand Theft Auto V” being released within two years of one another. Many prospective students enrolled in this major — ready to learn the skills that would allow them to enter the video game industry straight after completing their degree. Sadly, this was not the case.

Employers did not recognize this new major when looking for applicants, and were confused about the skills the students possessed. Since they did not receive traditional training given to a computer science major and weree not exposed to the level of art that graphic design majors are exposed to, potential employers were unsure how to evaluate the proficiency and fit of those with a Computer Game Science degree.

This occurrence led ICS to restructure the major into the Game Design and Interactive Media program as of fall 2021

This major is offered under the Informatics department and prepares students to become innovative designers and industry leaders. The coursework is aimed toward helping students develop skills in game programming, visual design and interactive storytelling through a plethora of courses as well as capstone projects. These skills prepare students for successful careers.

However, the major may not be the right fit for someone if they are just interested in the field of game design and development. 

Darius Freidhoff, a third-year game design and interactive media major, was originally a computer game science major and switched over to the Game Design and Interactive Media program in his freshman year after the program was restructured. 

Freidhoff has been a gaming enthusiast since childhood, specifically playing games of different genres on various platforms. 

The ability to make specific choices and carve a unique path for himself in an imaginary, yet vivid and enthralling setting was what pulled him into the realm of video games. Freidhoff researched how to enter the gaming industry after building on his interest in the field professionally. He ended up at UCI as it was one of the few universities offering a major related to game design and development.

The university accepted the last of its Computer Game Science students in fall 2020 and began providing existing computer game science majors the choice of either continuing in the same program or switching to the new Game Design and Interactive Media program. 

“Coming into this new program afforded me a lot of opportunities, but at the same time, it can be confusing and overwhelming if you don’t know your path yet,” Friedhof said in an interview with the New University. 

Friedhof was exposed to many different aspects of game design and development through his coursework without a standard set course schedule. 

“You are free to create your own track in this major and it depends on the elective courses that you take to specialize in a particular concentration,” Friedhof said. 

Although it sounds exciting, Friedhof warned that it offers a lot of independence, so individuals who are unsure about their career path and their future in the gaming industry may face a lot of confusion when trying to select courses.

“I had come into the major with an open mind about the role that I would eventually take up in this field,” Friedhof shared. 

Friedhoof’s advice to both prospective students as well as freshmen in this major is to explore as much as they can in their freshman and sophomore year. 

“Maybe [you’ll] take the storytelling courses and decide that you want to [become] a game narrative writer or take graphic design courses and decide that a career in character modeling and graphics is best suited for you — it’s all about what you are exposed to and what attracts you, Friedhof said.” “My experience in the courses I took in my first two years helped me decide that I wanted to work in a game studio as an audio programmer.”. 

The Game Design and Interactive Media major also has strong ties with the Video Game Development Club (VGDC) at UCI. Almost all students in the majors are part of the club as it offers many opportunities to develop and refine the skills and concepts learned in class through their projects, workshops and “Game Jams” competitions that challenge student teams to build a fully functioning video game in just a week. In fact, many of the major’s faculty, such as Professor Constance Steinkuehler and her husband fellow ICS professor Kurt Squire, also frequently interact with members of the club. 

Cameron Romeis, a fourth year Game Design and Interactive Media major, believes that one of the best parts about the major is the faculty and professors teaching the courses. “All of them are very knowledgeable and relaxed, with a very learning-focused approach to each class. Professors often have worked in the gaming industry and worked on popular games themselves, so they help you understand what continuing on with game development looks like.”

In order to excel in the major, Romeis advises prospective students: “just create, create, create. The more time you spend just building your own small games and getting to know different game engines, the easier getting into the major and succeeding within the classes will be.”

Despite these opportunities offered by the game design and interactive media major, the gaming industry seems to be very competitive and hard to enter based on the experience of Friedhof and his classmates. 

“None of my friends have got a summer internship yet, even though we have been trying since December of last year. The industry is very demanding and with new technological developments taking place every year, you need to be on top of your game to enter this profession,” Friedhof said. 

Friedhof extended his graduation by a year as he wants to explore more electives to decide if audio programming is the best track for him or if he is better suited for a different career path.

UCI’s Game Design and Interactive Media major exposes its students to the world of game development through different angles given its broad range of courses covering storytelling, game programming, graphic design and everything in between. Backed by a strong club presence that enables students to hone and capitalize on the skills they pick up through coursework, this major is well-suited for anyone interested in joining the gaming industry. However, these individuals need to have a strategic game plan in mind for their future in this career path as this profession and industry are ever-evolving, competitive and extremely demanding. 

Ishan Varshney is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer for the fall 2023 quarter. He can be reached at ivarshne@uci.edu