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February 2, 2007

'SC Got Game

Provost's Office Establishes USC Games Institute

By Carl Marziali

As the study of video games spreads across disciplines, the University of Southern California is establishing a new USC Games Institute to unify and represent USC game research on and off campus.

Vice Provost for Research Advancement Randolph Hall, who led the drive to create the institute, called it “an umbrella of activity” for the many schools and departments involved in gaming research.

“It’s a way to share ideas across the schools, it’s a way to promote our ideas on the outside, to industry, to peer institutions, to research sponsors,” Hall said.

The combined accomplishments of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the USC Annenberg School for Communication, the Institute for Creative Technologies and other units have already made USC world-famous in video game scholarship.

“We’re recognized as a leader in bringing together technology, cinematic arts and communication,” Hall said.

The institute will further organize and support what may be the most interdisciplinary field at a university that prides
The Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab
itself on such efforts. Game research at USC has mirrored the evolution of games in society as they spread from the living room, to the classroom, to medical schools and military bases.

The video game universe today spans classic goal-driven games, narrative genres, and “serious games” in education, medical therapy, design and vocational training.

“It’s something that our students care a lot about,” Hall said.

Added William “Bing” Gordon, chief creative officer for Electronic Arts and a visiting professor in gaming at USC: “EA has a strong bias to recruit men and women from universities because they have demonstrated discipline and broad knowledge. The introduction of the Games Institute has tremendous potential to take that knowledge to an even greater level.”

The co-directors of the institute are Scott Fisher, chair of the USC School of Cinematic Arts Interactive Media Division, and Gérard Medioni, chair of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's department of computer science.

“This initiative will allow USC to build on its existing pre-eminence as the nation’s most active academic center for study and teaching relating to videogames,” said Medioni, whose department now offers both B.S. and M.S. degrees in games.

Medioni will represent three Viterbi centers of game activity: the GamePipe laboratory, the Integrated Media Systems Center, and the Information Sciences Institute.

“The variety and depth of existing USC games programs create a powerful synergy, which we believe this institute will harness and strengthen,” said Fisher. “Through this effort, we are linking our curricula to make a unique educational environment that I don’t think you’ll find in any other university.”

The Interactive Media division has offered an M.F.A. in interactive media since 2002 and a B.A. in interactive entertainment since 2005. Its Electronic Arts Game Innovation Laboratory has enabled students to produce numerous titles such as the award-winning “Cloud,” the socially conscious “Darfur is Dying,” and “flOw,” a MFA thesis project soon to be released for Sony’s PS3.

Fisher and Medioni will serve on a steering committee that will also include representatives from three other USC units: the Institute for Creative Technologies, the Annenberg School for Communication, and the Roski School of Fine Arts.

According to the co-directors, the institute will open a campus location in the near term, and will immediately reach out to the game industry (which is heavily represented in the Southern California area) to establish a board of industry advisors.

Other USC schools are expected to participate in the institute, which will hold an open house this fall to showcase its activity.

According to Hall, possible research topics for the institute include games as vehicles for storytelling; the use of games to create emotions; and the formation of memories by participants, particularly in serious games for education or training.

More broadly, the institute aims to enable development of interactive games blending technology and creative arts for education, communication and entertainment, and to study the impact of such games on society.