Gaming industry burgeons as fruitful occupational outlet
When most college students think of video games, they probably picture those sedentary Saturdays spent huddled around the TV, hunched over colorful, button-mashed controllers.
This image is something we can all relate to, and itâs the generic way video games fit into our lives: as stress-relievers, social experiments and solitary hobbies.
But for a handful of gamers, video games play a much more important role. Since the start of 2011, demand for video and computer game developers has been increasing.
USC has been ahead of the pack for quite some time. The School of Cinematic Arts developed its Interactive Media Division in 2002, a branch that has been ranked No. 1 in national game design programs two years in a row by Princeton Review. Clearly, USC has supported, if not instigated, this national trend toward legitimizing the âvideo gameâ degree as a practical, moneymaking asset.
The last decade fell witness to a dramatic increase in the number of people vying for career opportunities in the $50 billion-plus game industry, making it one of the most prolific â and, likewise, competitive â fields of our time.
The number of employees in the game industry is currently estimated at 120,000. In 2010, the average salary for video game designers ranged from a solid $66,000 to a heftier $80,000. For programmers, salaries often exceeded five figures.
Even with the allure of job openings, however, the number of women working in the game industry remains disproportionately low. Though the number of female gamers has gone up drastically in recent years, there has been little to no change in gender ratios on a professional level. The occurrence could be attributed to several factors such as stereotypes, discrimination or simply general disinterest in forging a career out of an already typically male-dominated hobby.
But for the most part, gamers are getting more serious about their career prospects, and those hoping to get paid for a favorite pasttime have pretty much hit the jackpot.
But thatâs not to say these people arenât hardworking or properly educated simply because their career titles have the word âgameâ in it.
In response to this revolutionary trend in the workforce, universities have, over the years, begun implementing variations of undergraduate and graduate programs in the realm of interactive media and game design.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, this academic year has seen a sharp increase in the number of game design programs being offered at institutions of higher learning. There are now 343 undergraduate and graduate programs for game design, development and programming available in 45 states as well as the District of Columbia. Compare that number to the measly 200 institutions that offered similar programs in January 2010.
California is home to the highest number of institutions offering degrees in game design. So it doesnât hurt that USC is located in Los Angeles, one of the most vibrant, bustling cities in the gaming industry with endless opportunities for internships and fieldwork.
But why do so many students choose to enter this field? Besides the potential to earn high salaries, a degree in video game design encourages students to master both a highly technical and artistic craft. Essential computer skills grant them flexibility to move among different technologically-oriented careers, whereas experimentation with storylines, settings and characters allows for more creative and original approaches to projects and problems.
Additionally, with an active, aging generation of premier gamers coupled with a new generation of youths raised on the standards set by PlayStation 3s and Xbox 360s, video games have evolved from âkidsâ toysâ to a universally enjoyable form of entertainment. The Nintendo Wii was successful not simply because it flaunted motion controls but because it appealed to both casual and hardcore gamers. The market for video games is so expansive that even in the midst of a recession, it doesnât look to be dwindling.
Even with so many people opting for this new and exciting career track, there is still a bit of a stigma against the idea of studying âvideo games.â But the success of the industry has proven that games are an indispensable part of our entertainment culture and, thus, so are their creators.
Hannah Muniz is a junior majoring in East Asian languages and cultures and creative writing. Her column, âGame Over,â runs Wednesdays.