Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Apr 25th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Learning in a Gamers' Paradise

UCSC's computer game design program receives a $457,000 donation from Sony

learninginagamersDon’t let the association with toys fool you. Designing video games can be hard work.  Such hard work, in fact, that a group of Sony employees found themselves working nights, weekends and holidays without receiving proper overtime pay. They filed a class action lawsuit against their employer, Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), in 2005, and in July 2007, they won $8.5 million in overtime from the company.


Last month, the computer game design program at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) was pleasantly surprised to learn that they were the recipients of $457,000 of the settlement’s uncollected funds. The donation stipulated that the money must be used for undergraduate scholarships within the computer design major. The department, including Jim Whitehead, associate professor of computer science at UCSC, had no idea that such a gift was headed their way.


“I just got a call out of the blue,” says Whitehead. “Sony knew about it for along time. They knew we were going to get the residual but it was unclear about how big it was going to be. It ends up being a much bigger gift than they anticipated.”


The check arrived in September, just in time to celebrate the computer design major’s second anniversary. The department expects that the financial bonus will bolster the major’s already booming popularity, for although the program is a rookie at the university ⎯ an untraditional one at that ⎯ it is experiencing constant growth. Ninety freshmen enrolled last year with the intention of entering the major, and this year brought in 110.


The only resistance Whitehead reports experiencing is from speculative parents of game design students who worry that their child will fritter away their college career (and prized tuition money, no doubt) playing video games in the library. Whitehead doesn’t deny that this habit is often a reality. But rather than see it as a waste of time, he has found that the students’ dedication to mastering the media is a sign of great potential.


“I’m finding that computer games are ways to get students very interested and passionate about computer science,” he says. “And it seems to me that whenever you have young students that really have this much of a desire and passion to learn, something great comes of that.”


Aside from parental concerns, the rest of the UCSC community has been warm and welcoming to the new program.


“I’ve been surprised at the lack of resistance and that people on campus are generally really supportive of the major,” says Whitehead.


Michael Mateas, a fellow associate professor feels that this reaction has a lot to do with the school’s record of embracing unconventional and innovative academia.


“Historically, UCSC prides itself as being a campus that pushed the frontiers of interdisciplinary thinking,” Mateas tells GT via e-mail. “Game design and development, which is a radically interdisciplinary endeavor, is a perfect fit for this campus. It makes sense that we’re the first UC to host a game program.”


As not only the lone computer game design program in the UC system, but one of a mere handful in the entire nation, it is no wonder that the nearby SCEA took notice.


“It was probably in their best interest to have this money go to a computer design program in their backyard,” says Whitehead of the Silicon Valley company.


In addition to the funds received, the program has seen the benefit of a growing relationship with Sony as a result of the settlement gift. The company donated six Playstation Portable development kits to the major, making UCSC one of the first universities to receive the classified item.


A software development kit is a set of proprietary tools that act as an instruction manual for programmers, so they know how to cater their programming language to the needs of the hardware or software that will deliver it to gamers’ hands. Many kits are open source, or freely available for download, but in the high-stakes and high-income world of console gaming, the development kits for boxes like the Sony Playstation and Nintendo Wii are prized possessions that professional game development companies haggle to acquire.


The most significant effect of the $457,000, however, has yet to be actualized. The scholarship fund will help to reinforce the student talent pool, bringing in even more dedicated game design students whose studious passion fittingly reflects that of the hard-working Sony employees who made this gift possible.


“We can use the money to help attract the best and brightest to the program and hopefully increase enrollment of women and underrepresented minorities,” says Mateas.


Whitehead agrees that the financial aid support will help the program expand in terms of enrollment, diversity and talent, therefore helping UCSC to become a top game design destination for students.


“My hope is that this money will allow us to be competitive in attracting the top students to come our program,” he says. “[We can] use this to make UCSC a more attractive school than other schools that don’t offer this program.”

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

We Can Rebuild You

A look back at how downtown Santa Cruz recovered from the 1989 earthquake

 

International Earth Day—Mother Earth Day

Every April 22, humanity celebrates International Mother Earth Day and Earth Day. As more than a billion people participate in Earth Day activities every year, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic observance. The massive concern to build right relations between humanity and the living being we call Earth is evidence of humanity’s love of the Mother. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed April 22 International Mother Earth Day, with a significant resolution affirming “the interdependence existing among human beings, other living species (the kingdoms—mineral, plant, animal and human) and the planet itself, the Earth which we all inhabit.” The Earth is our home. Celebrating Earth Day helps us define new emerging processes (economic, social, political) focused on the well-being of the kingdoms. Through these, humanity seeks to raise the quality of life, foster equality and begin to establish right relations with the Earth. We dedicate ourselves to bringing forth balance and a relationship of harmony with all of nature. Learn about planting a billion trees (the Canopy Project); participate in 1.5 billion acts of green. Disassociation (toward Earth) is no longer viable. We lose our connection to life itself. Participation is viable—an anchor, refuge and service for all of life on Earth. Visit earthday.org; harmonywithnatureun.org; and un.org/en/events/motherearthday for more information. From Farmers Almanac, “On Earth Day, enjoy the tonic of fresh air, contact with the soil, companionship with nature! Go barefooted. Walk through woods, find wildflowers and green moss. Remain outside, no matter the weather!” Nature, Earth’s most balanced kingdom, heals us. The New Group of World Servers is preparing for the May 3 Wesak Buddha Taurus solar festival. We prepare through asking for and offering forgiveness. Forgiveness purifies and like nature, heals.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Mission Critical

How reading Lisa Jensen’s reviews taught me to love film
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Oral Fixations

Blown away by a Tuesday night dinner at Oswald

 

What would you like to see a TED talk about?

Hydrogen-gas cars that are coming this summer. Scott Oliver, Santa Cruz, Professor

 

Sarah’s Vineyard

Sarah’s Vineyard of Gilroy is known for crafting fine wines—and one of my all-time favorites is its Chardonnay. But this time, its Viognier has my vote.

 

Munch

East Coast meets West Coast in new meat lover’s paradise