Gaming degree pushes students further into tech world

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Flathead Valley Community College Instructor Jim Goudy teaches a computer science class at the school on Thursday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Instructors are expanding the doorway for students interested in the world of technology as they create a new Flathead Valley Community College degree around programming and game design.

Program Director Jim Goudy said the programing and game development degree “fills a niche of practicality and inspiration in a sense.”

“I want to give them the skills for here in the valley,” but he added, they would also be able to “make the pilgrimage to Silicon Valley.”

The FVCC Board of Trustees voted to create the two-year associate of applied sciences curriculum last year. The classes are set to begin this fall.

When board members asked about the practicality of a gaming degree, college president Jane Karas said the program was something community members and students had requested. She said it could lead graduates to a future as programmers, software developers or game designers.

“Any of these careers, you could live here in the valley and have a job anywhere in the world,” Karas told the board.

THE GAMING world has grown into a $23 billion industry in the United States, according to the 2015 Entertainment Software Association annual report.

Michael Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of the association, wrote in the report, “While 20 years ago games were a niche entertainment medium, today they are a strong engine for innovation across sectors.”

There are more than 1,641 video-game development studios and publishing companies operating 1,871 video facilities nationwide, according to the association.

To meet the demand for the growing field, 406 higher education institutions offer a degree in game design and development. That’s up from 390 the year before.

Gallagher said in the wake of augmented reality’s growth and virtual reality’s promise to provide a new way to experience games, the “industry has propelled as games continue to not only alter entertainment landscape, but change business, sports, arts and education.”

Goudy said the majority of the students drawn to the degree are interested in its gaming component. But, he said he wants FVCC students to see the potential outside of game design — both for local jobs and careers they haven’t considered.

“Yeah, your total focus is on gaming, but they use the gaming engines for a lot of other applications,” Goudy said. “If you’re going to go up on the space station, they use a gaming engine where they put the whole space station into that.”

Students will spend the first year building a foundation in programming. Goudy said the second year, students will use a gaming engine to begin “the fun courses.”

Goudy said he expects roughly 10 to 15 students during the program’s first semester at FVCC. He said ideally, the program will grow to 30 to 40 students each semester, but that depends largely on whether the local need for programmers continues to grow.

The main mission of the degree is to introduce students to the idea that, with technology, they can shape their job and future, he said.

“If you have a student leave the program that way, thinking the whole world is their oyster, that they can go out and do anything they want with computer science and make a big difference, that’s important,” Goudy said.

Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at khoughton@dailyinterlake.com.

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