Creativity Meets Technology: New Game Design Degree Lets Students Choose Their Own Focus



By Tom Linder
Students playing esports

Since its founding in 1890, Illinois Institute of Technology has stood at the intersection of technology and humanity, of creativity and problem-solving, of design and development.

It’s only fitting that one of its newest degree programs—Lewis College of Science and Letters’s Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Experiential Media—continues the strong tradition that Illinois Tech has firmly established as Chicago’s only tech-focused university.

“I’m very excited that we have such a focus on technology and collaboration on our campus,” says Lewis College Associate Dean of Humanities Carly Kocurek, who led the way in creating the new program. “Students are coming into game design, but they’re also working with engineers and architects, they’re collaborating with community partners such as the Hellenic Museum. It’s really about creative practice in a technical environment, and I think that’s something we’re distinctly qualified to do as a technology-focused institution.”

Designed to be a customizable experience, students in the program are able to tailor the program through a choice of technical electives, enabling them to focus on the areas of game design that they care about most. Whether that’s art, narrative design, programming, or something else entirely, the broader idea is to allow students to focus on the aspect of game design that they’re most passionate about while instilling the key expertise that will empower them to succeed in the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry.

“Having those technical competencies—even if your goal is to be a writer in the games industry—you still want to have core technical competencies, because those are going to help you get your foot in the door and help launch a successful career,” says Kocurek.

The new undergraduate program takes advantage of the experiential learning environment fostered at Illinois Tech. Students can get hands-on experience in games through the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program Game Lab, the on-campus esports organization, and the Illinois Tech chapter of the International Game Developers Association, among others.

Already a massive industry—the video games industry brought in a total revenue of $213 billion in 2022, according to PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2023–2027 report—the outlook of the industry in the United States and abroad appears poised to expand even more.

“During the pandemic, when many things went into a recession or stagnated, the games industry actually grew, and we see projected continued growth,” says Kocurek. “The practices you learn as a game designer can be used in many, many other places—whether that’s software development, whether that’s informal education, whether that’s museum exhibit design, or theme park design. This is really a degree about experience[CK1]  design, and creativity, and designing things in a human-focused way.”

Prospective students don’t need to be interested solely in video games to find their niche in the game design and experiential media program. Kocurek says the program is designed to help students with a wide range of aptitudes and viewpoints to thrive, so long as they’re ready to be creative and solve problems as soon as they arrive on campus.

“We have kind of a quirky program, which I’m actually quite proud of,” says Kocurek. “Students who are interested in diverse perspectives, who are interested in how games can impact society, who are interested in games as creative expression, who like solving thorny problems, who like troubleshooting, who like breaking things…they will do awesome here.”