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The Game Academy

Why just play games when you can design them? That’s the question that sparked the creation of The Game Academy, where the game developers of tomorrow are honing their skills today.

Why just play games when you can design them? That’s the question that sparked the creation of new St. Paul school The Game Academy, where the game developers of tomorrow are honing their skills today. Founder Gary Dahl chats about Atari, violence, and the path of least resistance.

How did The Game Academy get started?

Well, you can probably trace the origins of The Game Academy back to the early ’80s when I was playing Atari’s “Defender” in a pillow fort under my trundle bed. Since then I’ve learned how to develop games, and have played a part in the development of several commercial, military, and independent games. I’ve also taught several computer programming classes, and have most recently been working with various local higher education institutions to create game development curriculums.

My personal interests in game development and teaching, along with the tremendous growth of the game industry, and of local interest in “more serious” applications of game technology have all lead to the foundation of The Game Academy.

What kinds of challenges did you find in setting up a game programming and development program?

As is probably the case in most small start-up businesses, my biggest challenge has been just staying on top of all the business aspects. I’m an experienced teacher and game developer, but am still learning a lot about marketing, finance, law, business, etc.

It’s probably also worth mentioning the increasingly frustrating and dated stigma around video games that occasionally creates obstacles. Some people associate games with horrible desensitizing and dehumanizing anti-social catalysts of hate and violence that are at best a waste of time. I think most educated people today can differentiate between the moral context of any particularly controversial game and the vastly more interesting potential that interactive games and technologies hold as a medium. Computers are becoming ubiquitous, and with that, people’s appreciation for the value and utility of interactive software and games seems to be increasing, as it should.

What kind of classes does the school offer?

Game programming and game development. Our game programming classes teach students traditional computer science and computer programming skills that are highly applicable to technical fields both in and outside of the game industry. I have witnessed first-hand the interest, enthusiasm, and motivation that using game applications instills in computer programming students. Our game development classes are more focused on teaching students the structures of games and how games can be built using intuitive development tools. While these classes will certainly help students think about software design, they are really more about providing a path of least resistance for students to get involved and interested in game development.

What do you like best about what you do?

I love that my work constantly pushes me to grow in several directions. There is a lot of creativity involved in designing games and game art, a lot of analytical skill involved in writing and debugging actual computer code, and best of all I get to work with people: teaching them to grow in many of these same ways. The game industry draws from and is pushing the state of the art in many academic areas, and I get to try to keep up with them all.

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