Montgomery College gaming program reflects industry boom
A trend is growing at Montgomery College in Rockville: More students are making video games their career choice instead of their pastime.
The college's gaming degree program is only 3 years old, but Professor Deborah Solomon said enrollment increases "exponentially" each year.
"Maryland is this gaming hub and no one realizes we're a big part of the gaming industry," Solomon said.
According to Solomon's Web site, studygaming.com, there are 60 gaming companies in Maryland and it is considered the East Coast hub of the industry.
"That's why we came up with a degree, because so many employers locally need employees," Solomon said. Students in the college's Computer Gaming and Simulation program bring their video games to life as their final project, in what is now an annual tradition that showcases the students' work through lectures and demonstrations.
Many of the college's gaming students work internships as game testers at local gaming companies such as Bethesda Softworks in Rockville.
The college has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop an educational game for middle school-aged children.
Several gaming, graphic design and programming students are collaborating on the work-study project that teaches sixth- to eighth-graders the importance of estuaries and keeping them pollution-free.
NOAA education specialist Marina Kraus said this is her agency's first venture into creating a large-scale game with Montgomery College. NOAA previously worked with students to develop smaller interactive games.
"We needed the minds of the young people in instructing science in a fun way," Kraus said. "I attended Montgomery College and took many classes and I was amazed at the talented students around me and wanted to utilize that resource."
Kraus said that computer games are the next generation of educational tools for children.
"Young people nowadays learn differently than us, and we would like to reach out to them and teach in ways that are less textual, but portray information in an effective way that's also fun," Kraus said.
Steve Coupe, who recently completed his courses in computer gaming at Montgomery College and is the lead sound engineer for the NOAA game project, said he believes an increase in the budgets for educational games could help the industry thrive and lead to more jobs.
"There's a whole untapped portion of educational gaming of high quality," Coupe said.
Through a partnership with the University of Baltimore, many Montgomery College gaming students transfer there to earn a four-year degree in computer gaming. Students can earn their entire degree in Montgomery County by attending classes through The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville.
The interdisciplinary program combines classes from various departments, such as computer programming, art and animation, and business and management.