Should you attend a video game school? Meditate carefully on your answer. A better question would be, “When you plunge that knife into your mother’s dreams and ambitions for your future, should you twist the knife once, or twice?”
Oh, but we jest. Even so, the decision to school yourself in game design is a serious one. Though many successful developers break into the industry with little or no schooling at all, it’s never a bad idea to have a bit of education behind your dreams and ambitions. That’s why it’s important to research your prospects before throwing a lot of money at them, especially if said prospects run out of one room on top of a Taco Bell.
First, you should as yourself: “What do I specifically want to do with games? What do I want to specialize in?” The complexity of modern games, especially triple-A titles, means staff rosters that number in the hundreds. Most game projects require artists, sound designers, programmers, debuggers, testers, people who can fetch the coffee, and a whole lot more. While many game design schools will focus on one aspect of game development and touch on the others, any game school that promises to teach you everything in six months is probably doing it wrong.
AllArtSchools.com has an excellent guide that breaks down the types of questions you should be asking yourself about your schooling prospects. What facilities and tech will you have access to? What kind of experience does the faculty have? Are you willing to relocate for the sake of your degree?
To help you research your options, here are five game design schools that come recommended by developers, game sites and game magazines, including the late, great GamePro.com.
Academy of Interactive Entertainment (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Seattle) — Founded in Australia in 1996, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) is one of the oldest players in the game, so to speak. It also remains one of the most prominent, with programs in both 3D animation and software development. AIE has since opened up a campus in Seattle, which gives Americans a chance to study games under veteran staff.
Digipen (Redmond, Singapore, Bilbao) — Digipen has served as a beacon for aspiring game developers since 1988. It’s also the most recognized name in a growing roster of game development schools. Digipen has had time to develop a curriculum that surrounds a multitude of topics related to the assembly of video games, including some very intense programming courses.
Art Institute of Vancouver (Vancouver) — Interested in the Game Art & Design course offered at the Art Institute of Vancouver? Gamasutra has interviewed former attendees whose insight will help you live “a day in the life” of a GA&D student.
The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University (Dallas) — The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University (SMU) boasts Game Development Education that was founded by industry icons, and courses that start with the basics–namely, 2D game design and animation. If you make it to the end of the course, you might unlock a riveting graduation speech by the likes of Gabe Newell or Richard (Lord British) Garriott.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester) — Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is one of North America’s first technological universities. Not surprisingly, it’s also a nesting ground for an award-winning undergraduate game development course. Worcester’s Interactive Media & Game Development program was founded on the idea that video games aren’t simply entertaining, but that learning how to make them can help solve real-world issues as well.