RPI humanities dean John Harrington said the idea of teaching about video games in college "brings out the Puritan in some people," but he said the technology-oriented school can't afford to ignore the booming field of digital media.
Administrators at RPI say they developed a serious academic program that marries technology and creativity.
Marc Destefano, who teaches the psychology of play, system dynamics and game theory in his introductory course, wants students to appreciate the interplay of mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics that he says makes a video game work — be it Pac-Man or Resident Evil.
It's not all about design, however, Katherine Isbister teaches students about the social and emotional aspects of gaming. Her research lab looks more like a teen's dream living room with sectional sofa, plasma-screen TV and a shelf full of video games. Less obvious are the cameras that can focus on players' faces.
Many of the academic programs at RPI and elsewhere are still new and are just starting to become a feeder system for the $10 billion-a-year video game industry.
Della Rocca compares it to the emergence of film studies programs decades ago. Dismissed at first, they now produce big-name directors in a field now considered by many to be a serious art form.
"Just like when rock and roll came of age everybody wanted to be a rock star, as video games have come of age, everyone wants to be a developer," said Carolyn Rauch, senior vice president of the Entertainment Software Association.