Storygame-Applicable Degree Programs

edited May 2007 in The Sandbox
Have any of you studied topics related to gaming and roleplaying at a university?

Here's the deal. I've been approved to separate early from the Air Force, something I thought would be a longshot, even with my career field being as overmanned as it is. It's great news for me, because it means I can start going to college this fall. But it also means I have a very short time to figure out exactly what degree I want to pursue. I'd like to learn everything about everything; unfortunately, I can't just pick interesting courses as I discover them -- the GI Bill pays for only the courses that are absolutely required for my degree. Moreover, I've already completed all of the General Education requirements I'll ever need, so I'll pretty much just have degree-specific electives to work with.

My question for you all is, which degree program do you think would be the most applicable to the study of storygaming?

So many academic fields can be related to storygaming -- psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and various arts, just to name a few. Of course, there are also hybrids and offshoots of those fields. For example, I was looking into Cognitive Science (tending more towards psychological and philosophical aspects), but the few colleges that offer that program are too expensive (i.e., out-of-state).

To sum up: of the most-every-university-has-it degree programs, which ones do you think relate most to how storygaming happens, and how it happens successfully?

(Note: For any of you who are perplexed at my decision-making process, storygame applicability isn't my only criteria for choosing a degree. But it is the the one I feel most excited about.)


  • I would think any of the ones dealing with how people behave, and Math. At least those are the ones I tend to think about.
  • Literature, literature, literature, literature, literature, literature.
  • For what it's worth, I think the hardest stuff with most StoryGames involves product organization, quality of writing, and general presentation. I anticipate that graphic design might work to that end very well.
  • Small Group Dynamics. That'll be my next degree. Applies to both my job and my play.
  • Communications theory, literature, critical theory, anthropology, psychology. (With deference to disagreeing mathematicians present, I don't think most roleplaying games involve anything you can't learn in a first-year Stats course.)

    I'm assuming you mean the scholarly study of roleplaying games, as opposed to 'I want to make roleplaying games myself.'
  • Burr, if you want, I could point you at actual degree programs at specific universities that I was considering when I thought I wanted to study roleplaying from an academic standpoint.

    There are a few game studies programs out there, most of which are focused on video games, but sometimes professors involved in those programs are supportive of people studying "analogue" games. USC's Interactive Media Division has a section devoted to games and seemed, when I last checked, interested in things besides electronic games or at least in using analogue games to better understand electronic media. Katie Salen, who edited Rules of Play, currently runs the Design & Technology Program at the Parson's School For Design. There are also other programs at MIT, Tempere (FInland), and other places that specialize in game studies. Actually, check out this report from a conference in which some of the big names in the field discussed the state of academic education in game studies. I'd honestly just seek out academic game studies papers, read a bunch of them, decide which professors you really dig, and see if you can work with one of them.

    Of course, it's also possible to do game studies from within another discipline, like many of the ones mentioned here (anthro, comm studies, sociology, literature, performance studies, etc.). There too, though, it's important that the professors that you'd be working with are supportive of the idea of studying games and, better still, understand enough about games that they can give you the help you need. I've read a bunch of MA theses on roleplaying that were very disappointing, largely because (so I suspect) the advising professors didn't know anything about the topic and just let the student write whatever they wanted. That's not a good method for developing rigorous, awesome work on roleplaying in the academic community.
  • The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon maintains close ties with the drama department there; I'm thinking that might actually be perfect for story gaming projects.
  • Coincidentally, the academic MMORG studies blog Terra Nova had a very similar discussion happening there a couple days ago. Check out the post and the commentary that follows, since a lot of their comments apples to roleplaying too.
  • Yeah, it would be nice to work with a genuinely interested professor.

    Anyhow, thanks for all the helpful suggestions and links.
  • In terms of game design + publishing you'll want the following:
    Mathematics (probability and statistics)
    Psychology (focused on groups)
    Non-fiction writing
    Graphic design
    Economics (small business ownership)
    Plus whatever inspires you (history, literature, what have you.)

    If you want to be more of a theorist and critic: Literary theories, drama and film theories, music theory might be helpful, might not. You'll want some of the above, anyway.
  • I'm surprised no one has said this one yet. Economics.

    A big part of Econ is game theory. Who-will-do-what-because-it-is-most-benificial-to-them is a really major principal, and major source of discourse. The film "a beautiful mind" is all about a guy who came up with some of economics most important gamist principles.

    Also, from the production end, an understanding of business model, distro, prodution that would be learned from an economics degree would prove invaluable.

    Finally the organiziation of ideas, materials and how those things will interact with each other is a big part of economics that directly corolates to game creation and understanding.

    Perhaps this is a bit of de-humanized approach to the hobby (moreso than would be an education in Sociology, Anthro, Linguistics, or Psych), but it's one that i don't think enough of us really have, and it would help a lot. Also, it has some real-world use outside of gaming (economics, who would have thought).

    NOTE: i went to art school for advertising and graphic design. I am in no way qualified to answer questions about this field more than a degree of anecdotal knowledge gained from hanging out with friends who went to Princeton for Econ would give me.
  • One to add to the game design & publishing list would be Journalism. Lots of non-fiction writing, editing, and publishing. That, and I think good for networking with people who have skills you don't -- like layout, copy editing, writing, whatever. But that sounds like an angle the original poster wasn't looking at pursuing.
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