Video ventures aim to serve and educate
In 2006, the University of Denver launched one of the country’s first four-year video game development programs. It is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the computer science department and the School of Art and Art History.
But this is no parental-discretion-recommended game farm.
“As we tried to imagine how DU’s game development degree might evolve, we decided that we wanted to do it in a way that resonated with the University’s mission to serve the greater good,” said Rafael Fajardo, associate professor of art and art history. “Not just socially conscious games or games that make social commentary, but other ways that games might be purposefully good, such as in education and health.”
Fajardo is a pioneer in what he calls “humane gaming.” His game “Crosser” mimics the popular arcade game called “Frogger,” but instead of relying on an amphibian crossing a river, Fajardo’s game is based on Mexico/U.S. border-crossing events.
At DU, the gaming degree has attracted students whose interests might otherwise be ignored at more entertainment-focused programs. One student is working on a game that will help strengthen amputees before they wear their first prosthesis. Another is developing a game to help people understand voting rights and gerrymandering.
Such games, Fajardo said, are effective tools for making positive contributions to society because they are a popular medium and because they have the capacity to evoke emotion.
“Video games are a contemporary medium where there is an emotional landscape being created and traversed by players,” he said. “If it’s done well, you should have an emotional impact.”