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What is a Game Degree?

Game Design

Many prospective students who love games and want to pursue getting a game degree in college, their parents, and/or guidance counselors, want to know the answer to the question of "What is a game degree?"

Game degree programs, also known as video game design degrees, or just game design degrees, include associate's, bachelor's, master's, doctorates, and even certificates. They are available as on-campus and online programs across the nation.

A game degree teaches a broad array of specialized skills that are applicable to many industries, including working at professional game companies.

There are also healthcare, education, business and training applications for game creators. Healthcare industries use games as a means to engage their patients and guide them towards healthy lifestyles and habits.

Businesses use games to teach their employees business practices such as finance, and how to adhere to their rules and other uses.

This learning-based methodology of gaming is called gamification. It's the idea of taking a complex subject or set of rules and making it into an interactive game in order to instantiate its content into the user.

Game design has become such a tremendously large industry that it is a major force in modern business, and is perhaps the largest entertainment industry in the world.

According to Statista:

  • In 2024, the Video Games market is projected to reach a revenue of US$282.30bn.
  • It is expected to grow at an annual rate of 8.76% between 2024 and 2027, resulting in a projected market volume of US$363.20bn by 2027.
  • By 2027, the number of users in the Video Games market is expected to reach 1,472.0m users

In the United States, there are many successful game development companies, as well as successful game designers who have created and sell their games as entrepreneurs.

All of this culminates into a business market that is to be taken seriously on a global scale. Colleges and universities have followed suit, with over 100 institutions of higher learning offering programs in game design, from certificates through graduate degrees.

What is a Game Degree?

At its core, a game degree is designed to teach students the mechanics and/or art and conceptual aspects of games, including digital games.

Many programs teach students how to create games on mobile devices (such as the iPhone and Android phones), standalone game consoles, the internet, and handheld gaming devices.

A game design degree teaches students the artistic and/or technical sides of creating games for various purposes. In general, these two categories, the technical and artistic, fall into the bachelor's in game design and development for technical instruction, and bachelor of arts and/or animation for the artistic aspects of game creation.

However, there are exceptions, where certain game degrees teach aspects of both the technical and artistic sides of creating games. Always look into the classes offered by any program to see the details of what it teaches, and if it aligns with a student's desired education.

Associate's degrees in Game Design

Game Design

An associate degree consists of the first two years of college, and makes up half of the bachelor's degree requirement. It includes the basic or general courses, and in the case of game design associate's degrees, includes specialized instruction for game creation. Associate's degrees are typically 60 credit hours in length.

For example, New England Institute of Technology offers an Associate of Science in Video Game Development and Design, which offers two tracks: Video Game Design, and Game Development and Simulation Programming.

Examples of courses from the Game and Simulation Development track:

  • Digital Graphics for Gaming
  • Introduction to Game Development
  • Introduction to Game Programming
  • Game Prototyping
  • 3D Modeling I

Course examples from the Video Game Design track:

  • Digital Graphics for Gaming
  • 2D Content Creation Tools for Games
  • Intermediate Game Programming
  • Storyboard and Design

Another example is the Associate of Science in Game Development and Design at Miami Dade College. This program allows students to choose from these specializations:

  • Audio
  • Game design
  • Game engines and systems
  • Graphics and animation
  • Production
  • Web and mobile applications

This program is 60 credits, and takes two years to complete.

Associate's programs are perhaps a good choice to take and see if the student wants to continue into a bachelor's degree, which this degree is designed to prepare them for.

Bachelor's in Game Design and Development

Game Designer Students

A bachelor of science degree teaches the nuts and bolts of the mechanics of game design. This often includes learning programming languages, such as Python, and coding. These can include Computer Science bachelor's degrees that have an emphasis or specialization in Game Design.

Here are some examples of technical game design courses using the University of Arizona's Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Development as an example:

  • Computational Thinking and Doing
  • Game Development
  • Introduction to Human Computer Interaction
  • Virtual Reality
  • Algorithms for Games

The Rochester Institute of Technology's Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Development degree offers these classes:

  • Game Development and Algorithmic Problem Solving I (General Education)
  • Data Structures & Algorithms for Games & Simulations
  • Multi-platform Media App Development
  • Rich Media Web Application Development
  • Casual Game Development
  • Game Graphics Programming

These programs tend to have more math requirements as well.

Bachelor's in Game Art and Animation

The bachelor of arts programs focus on the artistic and creative sides of game design. This includes 2D and 3D art, character animation, concept creation, and world creation (which includes the atmosphere and settings).

Examples of these courses at Southern New Hampshire University's Bachelor of Arts in Game Art and Development include:

  • Environment Design
  • Fundamentals of Design
  • Digital Design Tools
  • Interactive Animation
  • 3-D Modeling and Animation
  • 3-D Character Animation
  • Intro to Digital Sculpting

Bachelor's in Computer Science - Game Design

Computer Science Game Design

There are bachelor's in Computer Science degrees that offer combined majors with Game Design, or specializations in Game Design, available online and on-campus across the U.S.

These programs teach students fundamentals of computer science, which involves technical programming languages, coding, software development, and the like, and along with these core competencies they teach how these skills can be applied to game creation.

See our article The Best Bachelor's in Computer Science: Game Design Degrees.

Example courses from North Carolina State University's Bachelor of Science in Computer Science: Game Development Concentration:

  • Concepts and Facilities of Operating Systems for Computer Scientists
  • Discrete Mathematics for Computer Scientists
  • Data Structures and Algorithms
  • Game Engine Foundations

Computer Science degrees can potentially qualify graduates for a variety of career options, even outside of the gaming industry. In our article The Best Online Degrees for Careers, Computer Science is one of the highest paying career fields with an online bachelor's degree.

Master's degrees in Game Design

Game Artist

Master's degrees in Game Design teach students advanced technical and/or artistic instruction. Master's degrees are typically two years to completion and consists of approximately 33 - 36 credit hours.

For example, the Master of Science in Game Design and Development degree is 33 hours to complete. Advanced graduate courses in this game design program include:

  • Computer Animation: Algorithms and Techniques
  • Social and Pervasive Game Design
  • Theory and Design of Role Play and Interactive Narrative
  • Digital Audio Production
  • Game Design and Development for Casual and Mobile Platforms

American Academy in Washington, D.C. offers the 36 credit Master of Arts in Game Design program.

Courses include:

  • Digital Art Tools and Techniques
  • Making Meaningful Games
  • 3D Modeling for Games
  • Game Prototyping
  • Games, History, and Society
  • Game Research Methods
  • Game Development I
  • Game Development II

As with many master's programs, this degree requires a Capstone project.

PhD in Game Design

Getting a doctorate in Game Design is a terminal degree as the highest degree attainment possible. Graduates can become researchers, scholars, and even teach as professors in universities and colleges in addition to working as game designers.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute offers a PhD in Critical Game Design. As a hybrid of theory and practice, this program teaches scholarly writing, research methods, and games studies theory.

Courses include:

  • Advanced Game Design/User-Experience Methods
  • Topics in Game Research
  • Research Methods in Critical Game Design
  • Game Studies Theory and Praxis
  • Critical Game Design: History/Theory/Futures

Students will also give a Dissertation defense. 72 hours after the bachelor's degree are required (which includes a master's degree).

Undergraduate Certificate in Game Design

Undergraduate certificate in game design is a concentrated program that is approximately 15 credits in duration. A student later decides to pursue a bachelor's in game design, certificates may apply towards and be accepted into the completion of a bachelor's degree. Always check with your college of interest as to whether a given certificate will be accepted into a given bachelor's program.

The Undergraduate Certificate in Game Design and Development at University of North Carolina Charlotte consists of 15 - 16 credits.

Courses include:

  • Introduction to Computer Graphics
  • Game Engine Construction
  • Artificial Intelligence for Computer Games
  • Game Design and Development Studio
  • Advanced Game Design and Development
  • Introduction to Game Design and Development

In order to be admitted into the certificate program, an admission to an undergraduate degree program at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, or already having an undergraduate degree, are required.

The University of North Texas in Denton, TX offers the Game Studies and Design certificate, which is 15 credit hours.

Courses include:

  • Video Game Histories
  • Introduction to Games and Play
  • Game Narratives as Literature
  • Communications and Virtual Gaming
  • Intermediate Screenwriting

Artificial Intelligence in Game Degrees

Game Design Students

With the advent of increases in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and capabilities, game designers are implementing AI into their games. For example, the way the game responds to the main character, such as the NPCs (non-player characters) is a function of AI which responds with the game as it's being played in real time.

An example of an on-campus and online program that includes AI instruction is Southern New Hampshire University's Bachelor of Science in Game Programming and Development. The class is called "Artificial Intelligence" and is taken as one of the major courses. This program is one of the only online programs in the United States to offer AI within their game design degree.

Another example is Boston University's Charles River campus, which offers the Artificial Intelligence for Video Games class as an elective within their Master of Science in Computer Science program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a degree for gaming?

Yes, there are certificates, associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate programs available in gaming. And many of these are available as online and on-campus degree programs.

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Are video game degrees worth it?

The average salary of a game designer in the United States is $111,000 a year. Calculating this from the age of 25 through retirement at age 65, and assuming a 1% per year increase in salary on average, a game designer is projected to earn $5.4 million over the course of their career.

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What degree should I get to become a game artist?

To become a game artist, there are bachelor's degrees that specifically focus on teaching students game art and animation. These degrees cover the technology and industry tools to create 2d and 3D art, character animation, concept art, world creation, and other important aspects of artistic game creation. The best degree to get to become a game artist is the program that most aligns with what a students wants to learn for their education and career ambitions, and is from an accredited institution of higher learning.

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