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In Development: The Game Thesis

As second-years wrap up the year with presentations in the Thesis Development course, Derek Chan shares the motivations for his chosen topic—game design—and why he feels it should be a part of the interaction design curriculum.

From prototyping product designs, service design, strategy, and even physical computing, I believed from the start that the MFA Interaction Design program offered a necessary diversity of coursework that allow an interaction designer to explore his or her interests and find a calling. Despite this, I’ve also longed for a class that dealt with something I’ve always been passionate about—game design.

Throughout my time in the program, I’ve wondered why game design has never been fully addressed. Like product or service design, game design is the application of our interaction design toolkit in another practice. Games are concerned with people, their behaviors, motivations, and engagement. This, combined with the interaction design community’s recent surge of interest in “gamification” and the psychology of how game mechanics can be applied to design solutions, have convinced me that game design should be a core component of our curriculum.

As a student going through the program during its initial years, I feel the responsibility to share these thoughts with our department Chair, Liz Danzico, with the hope that this could lead to some curriculum tweaks in future years. But, with only one semester to go, I want to learn as much as I can while I’m still here. The following is how I unintentionally created my own class in game design, so to speak.

During our thesis development process, Jennifer Bove asked us to refine our thesis ideas. I decided to go with my passion in games by devoting my thesis to one. Luckily, the faculty is talented in virtually every area of design. When it came time to choosing my thesis advisor, I knew I wanted to work with Chris Fahey, who was passionate about games and had previous experience as a game designer. Chris recommended articles, books, and other useful artifacts from respected game designers to help with my year-long journey. The process has been comparable to our other classes—we get lessons, reading material, and hands-on, practical experience creating deliverables and artifacts. Unlike most other interaction design projects I’ve worked on, however, I’ve also had ample opportunities to work in story development, an integral part of any video game, and ideally, any product or service.

In the near future, I’ll be attending conferences such as Interaction 11, SXSW, and possibly the Game Developers Conference, with the intent of rounding out everything I’ve learned through my thesis explorations with some inspiration. The thesis development process has been incredibly rewarding. We chose our topics for different reasons—from problems we see that need fixing, to challenges to save the world, or just to work with what we’re passionate about. I’m thankful for having the options to explore how to challenge myself as a designer, and I’m equally thankful for following my passions and creating the education I want out of this program.

Derek Chan, Class of 2011

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