Ever since Pac-Man fever inflamed the nation back in the early 80s, video games have been one of the most popular and influential forms of mass media.
But back then, any student who said they wanted to make a career out of games would have been met with rejection and derision from parents, teachers, and especially college administrators.
Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore.
Although it took much longer than it should have, colleges and universities have come to recognize video games as not just a viable career path, but also one of the most exciting new forms of artistic expression.
It’s not hard to see why colleges would embrace video games. The art form brings together the rigors of computing and technical advancement and marries them to time-honored aspects of the humanities, particularly visual arts, music, and storytelling.
They advance the potential for expression and narrative even beyond that of literature and film, as they allow the audience to actually interact with and control the story.
Additionally, the video game industry is one of the most popular, with games being played on computers and home consoles, as well as the mobile phones we all carry in our pockets.
With so much potential for artistic expression and economic growth, video games have proven to be one of the most exciting fields of study for colleges.
If you would like to take your passion to the next level and make video games the object of your studies, then here are ten of the best schools to choose from.
The ranking on this list are based on each school’s placement in the undergraduate Game Design schools list created by the Princeton Review.
Here are the 10 best video game design schools in the US.
10. Shawnee State University (Portsmouth, OH)
At Ohio’s Shawnee State University, you can get everything you need for a great career in the video game industry.
Shawnee offers two programs for future video game creators, including a degree in Game Program or Game Arts.
Classes in either program have an average teacher-to-student ratio of 1:16, and 88% of the faculty have experience working in the games industry.
Students learn in a recently renovated $4 million complex, which includes a motion-capture studio lab to develop their animation skills.
In addition to a vibrant eSports team, the college hosts the annual Shawnee Games Conference, allowing students to meet industry professionals and established game designers. These events enable students to develop network connections that will advance their careers.
But the best part about Shawnee State’s program? It comes at a very affordable price!
For only $8,265 a year, students can get everything they need to launch their games industry careers.
9. Bradley University (Peoria, IL)
Because it’s a relatively new industry, the games field can seem opaque to some students. But as with any other career path, the best way into game design is to follow those who already made it.
With that in mind, Bradley University is an excellent choice. 92% of Bradley’s game design graduates have secured jobs in the industry, working for major companies such as Sony Computer Entertainment of America and Obsidian Entertainment.
The success of the program can be partially attributed to the school’s core curriculum.
No matter which major they choose, Bradley students gain the basic knowledge and study skills needed to become independent thinkers and lifelong learners.
From that foundation, students learn essential tools of the trade, such as writing game scripts, animation fundamentals, anatomy, and more.
With this training, students leave Bradley fully equipped to follow in the footsteps of their fellow graduates.
8. University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
As you might expect for such a tech-reliant career, game design programs live and die by their resources.
You can’t learn how to make games for the best computer equipment if you’re not learning how to use the best computer equipment.
That’s why the University of Utah placed its Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program into a 30,000 sq. ft. building filled with state-of-the-art technology.
In addition to a studio for graduate students and a café, the building features ample computing space, esports facilities, and labs for motion capture, virtual reality, and more.
The building is just one indicator of Utah’s commitment to the program. The school gathers program faculty from several departments, bridging STEM fields and the humanities to advance this new art form.
Thanks to these fantastic resources, Utah’s students not only go on to secure employment at major studios such as Nintendo and Microsoft, but they also create their own innovative and creative games, even before graduation.
7. Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
When one thinks of the future of video games, East Lansing, Michigan probably doesn’t leap to mind. But take one look at Michigan State University’s Game Design and Development program, and you’ll see that it should.
Established in 2005, MSU’s Game Design and Development program is housed in the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. The GEL Lab serves as a center for researching the meaning and possibility of games.
Thanks to funding from organizations such as the National Science Foundation and NASA, the GEL Lab gives students the tools they need to push the art form forward.
Beyond these technological attributes, MSU’s program also features forward-thinking faculty members such as Assistant Professor Elizabeth LaPensée.
A game developer and graphic novelist, Professor LaPensée was recently inducted into the Women in Games Hall of Fame as a game developer and graphic novelist.
6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA)
Back when most learning institutions dismissed video games as a frivolous distraction, Worcester Polytechnic Institute was establishing the Interactive Media and Game Development (IMGD) Program, one of the first of its type.
Taking a research-focused approach to game design, IMGD brings together a wide range of disciplines and areas of expertise, everything from fiction writing to audio engineering to artificial intelligence.
Research projects created by IMGD faculty and students include an academic monograph about Shigeru Miyamoto, the brain behind such foundational games as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. IMGD is also responsible for the Code Crafters project, an experiment that examines connections between computational thinking and the art of quilting.
As these examples demonstrate, IMGD can redefine the meaning and effect of video games.
5. DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, WA)
Once a computer simulation and research company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the DigiPen Institute became the first school in the world to offer a bachelor’s degree in video game development.
Today, DigiPen continues the tradition of innovating the study and teaching of video game development. With an enrollment of approximately 1100 students, DigiPen features a faculty of experienced professionals who teach classes with a teacher-to-student ratio of 10:1.
With this basis, the school has an impressive list of achievements in the field. Alumni and faculty have won 57 awards at the Independent Games Festival, more than any other institution. DigiPen graduates are currently employed at more than 600 companies and are credited on over 1600 games.
This success can be partially attributed to the school’s outstanding faculty, which includes massive multiplayer online game pioneer Ben Ellinger and award-winning designer Ellen Guon Beeman.
4. Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
For decades, the Rochester Institute of Technology has established a reputation as one of the most exciting and interesting science and computer engineering hubs. It’s no surprise that RIT’s Game Design and Development program is just as forward-thinking.
Taking advantage of everything the school offers, the degree is housed in RIT’s MAGIC (Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity) Center, a research center devoted to cross-disciplinary digital media research and production.
Through the MAGIC Center, students can participate in the Rochester Games Festival, an annual conference bringing together some of the best designers, researchers, and creators in the field. The conference not only allows students to spark their creativity but also make connections to advance their careers.
The MAGIC Center’s digital games hub also features community outreach programs, through which games become a catalyst for study and economic development in the area.
3. New York University (New York, NY)
At New York University’s prestigious Tisch School, students and faculty approach games not as a useless diversion, but as a burgeoning creative art form, with as much potential as film, television, or any other modern media.
To that end, the Game Design program seeks to advance the cultural literacy surrounding games, exploring both their function and their social meaning.
Students learn from a practical, activity-based program. Students develop their skills by doing the work, whether that be designing their own games, writing scripts and articles, or writing programs. Furthermore, NYU encourages collaboration, not only with other game design students but across the university, including artists and musicians.
To that end, the NYU Game Center strives to be a worldwide hub for games research. The school’s lecture series regularly features some of the most important designers and scholars, advancing the critical conversation surrounding games. Workshops and conferences allow students to apply their studies and make connections, which will serve them in their future endeavors.
2. Clark University (Worcester, MA)
Whether you’re completing an undergraduate degree in game arts or game development, or pursuing an MFA in interactive media design, the Becker School of Design & Technology at Clark University has everything you need to push the field to new heights.
With a hands-on curriculum that takes advantage of the school’s technological resources and proven faculty, Clark’s games programs take a practical approach to the subject.
But the most impressive part of the program at Clark might be its internship opportunities. Before graduation, Clark students have been able to work at some of the industry’s most influential companies, including Blizzard, Ubisoft, Epic Games, and more.
Thanks to this support and approach, Clark graduates have gone on to become accomplished figures in the field.
1. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
The secret to the success of the University of Southern California’s Games program begins with collaboration between the Interactive Media & Games division in the School of Cinematic Arts and the Department of Computer Science in the Viterbi School of Engineering.
Giving equal attention to the field’s technical and artistic possibilities, USC games offer a variety of degrees to prepare the next generation of designers.
These degrees run the gamut of possibilities in the industry, everything from an MFA in interactive media to an MS in computer science with a game development concentration.
Whatever their focus, games students are supported by various initiatives. One of the most important is the Lawson Fund, an endowment provided by Take-Two Interactive to aid the recruitment and training of Black and Indigenous game designers.
Another important initiative is the Summer Bridge program, a 10-week incubator designed to support some of the most promising projects by USC students.
With these exciting possibilities in place, it’s no wonder that USC is the best game design school in the U.S.