Brantford game design program hopes to change the world

Game design and development program uses the love of gaming to inspire students

One group of students testing the strategic game they created. Photo by: Stephanie Taylor

Laurier Brantford’s new Game Design and Development program is set to change the world through the art of games.

Having just completed its first semester, there seems to be nothing but positive vibes coming from the students. In the first class that took place during the fall term, students were introduced to the history of games and the core components they would learn throughout the four-year program.

“It was very easy to stay interested,” said first-year student and program assistant for the Indigenous Studies program Celine Taillefer-Travers.

Professor Scott Nicholson has many dreams for the program. “I want to help people out there, and especially gamers out there, realize the years of expertise they’ve built up playing games is something they could tap into to actually make games.”

Laurier built a game lab for the program on the main floor of Grand River Hall. The lab has hosted many opportunities for students to display their work. Each semester, there is a Game Jam held in the lab that is open to the public, with a theme involving a social issue.

“Scott [Nicholson] really wants his students to get involved with things outside of the classroom,” said Taillefer-Travers. “Last term there was an event on Six Nations, called Day of Play. They had a bunch of video games, board games, a Lego room set up, a huge Minecraft server set up. A couple of the Game Design students went out to volunteer and man the different stations.”

A liaison librarian was appointed at the beginning of winter term. Michelle Goodridge, who graduated with a degree in Library Science in 2014, previously worked at the University of Guelph.

“When this one [position] was posted, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is perfect.’ I love playing video games and board games. I have my entire life and I thought there was no way there’s a job where I could do all of those fun things and get paid for it.”

Goodridge, who is also the liaison librarian for the Criminology, Law and Society and Human Rights programs, looks forward to seeing how the program will grow. She has worked much with the students but hopes to become a key resource throughout their four years in the program.

“It’s exciting because I kind of get to carve my own path. At the same time, no one has done it before and it is so new, so it’s really challenging. But I like challenges,” she said.

One idea Nicholson brings up in his classes a lot is how society has become very reward-based. He wants to help his students motivate others without using materialistic rewards.

“Can we return back to creating methods to get people motivated to do stuff that doesn’t rely upon a badge or money? You can, but it’s through tapping that inner child that wants to play and explore the world. By doing it with play, engagement, story, narrative and creation, you can motivate people in a way that is much more meaningful than just dangling a badge, or something superficial.”

Nicholson said feedback on the new program has been positive.

“On Facebook, where I posted we were in the paper last week with one of our programs, one student commented that he was really surprised how much coverage” the program has had so far, said Nicholson. “My point to him was, that’s what happens when you’re trying to change the world.”

“There’s so much to get out of the program. There’s all of the insider stuff about actually making games, but all of it is the connections, too,” said Taillefer-Travers. “Scott’s been either bringing people in or sending his students out. You make a lot of networking connections.”

Nicholson is looking forward to seeing what the first cohort of students in the program accomplish. “By trying to inspire them throughout their four years to take what they’re learning from recreational games and apply it to change the world in some way—I’m looking forward to seeing that happen.

“This first group of students, in three years, when they start their capstone projects and they’re partnered with Brantford organizations and actually making games with real impact. It’s going to be exciting to see the differences begin.”