Gaming Class Not Just Playing Around

Gaming class at UC Davis

Omar Mohammad, a design major, and the lighting models he developed in gaming class. 

November 2017 - The “Experimental Games” class is a cacophony of light and sound as students move around the room playing one another’s games, sharing ideas, and just having fun.

“This class is like a quarter-long game jam or artist’s residency,” said Patrick LeMieux, assistant professor in the Cinema and Digital Media program.

The undergraduate course covers the history of game making, coding, and design. Students create a game each week and exit the class with a portfolio. Though most students study cinema and digital media, other majors include design, computer science, and cultural studies.

The undergraduate course covers the history of game making, coding, and design. Students create a game each week and exit the class with a portfolio. Though most students study cinema and digital media, other majors include design, computer science, and cultural studies.

“We have a good mix of students who mainly want to make games and those interested in higher goals and having a social and political impact,” LeMieux said. “Gaming brings a lot of different people together, and it’s interesting to see how those areas intersect.”

The games that come out of the class take many forms.

Xin Ye, a cinema and digital media and design double major, made a game that involves the seemingly simple task of guiding a ball through a maze without touching the walls. It is not simple.

Trevor Morisawa, a computer science major, created a game with a jumping figure that gathers colors and sounds that enhance play.

“This is probably the hardest I’ve worked for a single class, but it was self-imposed because I wanted to do it,” Morisawa said.

Omar Mohammad, a design major, applied gaming technology to develop seating and lighting prototypes for a courtyard that will be part of the renovation of Cruess Hall, home of the Department of Design. He designed seating/lighting structures based on the cube, sphere, and pyramid, and with gaming software created 3-D renderings and animations that show the structures from many angles and change the lighting color and intensity. He also made scale models of each seating/lighting unit that respond to what is happening in the “game.”

“He really took it a step beyond,” LeMieux said.

Ashlee Bird, a doctoral student in Native American studies, takes gamers to other worlds. One world is flat, another has low gravity making giant jumps easy, another is an ocean planet. But Bird’s larger gaming goal is very much a part of this world and practical: she plans to make games that will be used for cultural and language transmission and reclamation for young Native Americans. She intends to complete a game as well as a dissertation for her degree.

That’s the kind of big thinking about gaming the Department of Cinema and Digital Media steers students toward.

“We want to use game development as a platform to enable students to cultivate a technologically flexible and culturally relevant media art practice that exists beyond the classroom and the context of games,” LeMieux said.

“The things we learn together in class can be applied to a wide range of media industries—from software engineering, interactive design, media art production, and academic research. We work with students to engage complex tools, not as an end, but as a means to think critically about histories and practices of technology and culture.”

- Jeffrey Day, content strategist, College of Letters and Science