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If you imagine the average video gamer as a teenage boy sinking hours of his life into "Call of Duty" or "World of Warcraft" instead of doing his homework, you can see why most people think that video games and school work mix about as well as oil and water. But the two might work well together — at least if diehard gamers find a way to turn their passion into a project outside their parent's basement.
According to a new report from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), U.S. colleges and universities have taken to games a big way, now offering more coursework and degrees dedicated to the study of video games than ever before.
The report — largely a compilation of all things video game-related in the world of American academia — says that 385 higher education institutions now offer either individual courses or full degrees in game design. Of the 385, 226 offer bachelor's degrees, 55 offer associate's degrees, and 46 offer master's degrees.
So far, only four universities offer full-blown Ph.D. programs: University of California in Santa Cruz, Chicago's DePaul University, Northeastern University in Boston, and Adelphi University in Garden City.
Regionally, California has the greatest number of academic programs dedicated to gaming with 72 schools in the state. New York and Texas make a distant second and third with 26 and 24 schools respectively, with Florida (23), Illinois (23), Pennsylvania (19), Minnesota (17), and Massachusetts (14) filling out the lower part of the list.
Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA, described the growth in educational opportunities as an important way to increase professional literacy for young Americans seeking work in the tech and entertainment industry. Calling video games "the fastest growing, most dynamic form of entertainment in the world today," he said that increasing professional training and education helps push students into "an industry that creates interactive software, innovative hardware, and ecosystems that spawn new business models and online communities, transforming consumer experiences, spurring technological advancements, and impacting important areas including education, healthcare, and business."
That all sounds well and good, no doubt. But why is the ESA so keen on celebrating the proliferation of college courses? These are programs that teach students how to use game-making software and design programs, after all, not necessarily the kind of learning-for-learning's-sake we usually think of when we speak about humanities courses in film, television, or literature.
Well, the ESA also happens to be the largest force for D.C. lobbying — outspending tech giants like Facebook and Google and even politically charged organizations like the National Rifle Association. The game industry, like the rest of the tech industry, would love to position itself as the kind of economic growth engine that has different states jockeying for a chance to attract developers to set up their headquarters in one town or another, so you can expect a lot more political activity from the ESA and large video game companies once executives start talking about job creation.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.