Ahead of the Game

A look at how Shawnee State University has become a leader in digital simulation and gaming
Monday, April 21, 2014

Video games have become such an integral part of today’s entertainment industry that colleges and universities are taking notice. They are creating programs that put students on a dedicated path to a career designing video games.

At the forefront of the emerging field of study is Shawnee State University (SSU). Located in Portsmouth, the public university offers several degree programs specifically tailored to students interested in video game design.

The first is a bachelor’s degree in gaming and simulation, a computer science degree with less emphasis on hardware and a larger emphasis on graphics and simulation. Within a game company, the gaming and simulation staff writes the “backbone” of a game.

The second option is a degree in gaming arts, a Bachelor of Fine Arts program with a concentration in 3D modelling and texturing. Those with this degree create the look and feel of the game and its characters. 

“Having the two degrees that work collaboratively on projects, especially senior projects, really gives students a taste of ‘real-life’ development,” said Jason Witherell, a faculty member in the engineering technologies department at SSU.

Lastly, SSU offers a minor in game design that is offered to majors in the aforementioned degrees. In a game company, these would be the “idea people” – those who envision what the game should be about and how it will play.


_JR14574_0.jpgNationally Ranked

The Princeton Review – one of the nation’s best-known education services companies – issued its fifth annual report naming the undergraduate and graduate schools with the best programs for students to study video game design. SSU was ranked 11th on the list of the Top 25 Undergraduate Schools to Study Game Design for 2014.

Witherell said he believes the students’ access to cutting-edge technology such as virtual reality headsets, 3D scanners and printers, and production-quality software tools is one of the main reasons SSU has been ranked so high on the list. 


“We’re also a member of the Apple iOS Developer University,” Witherell said, referring to a free program designed for higher education institutions looking to introduce iOS development into their curriculum. “This allows students to learn how to make apps in some of our classes.”

SSU has a rigorous and demanding program. Students who are able to finish the four years are well equipped to enter the field and thrive. 

 “The game design program teaches students how to learn so they’re able to more quickly adapt to new technology than someone that’s just trained to learn specific software packages,” Witherell said.


Program Graduates

SSU’s game design program graduated its first class in the spring of 2008. Since then, there have been 52 graduates of the program.  Of those, nearly 48% have gone on to traditional business application development jobs; 14% have gone on to gaming-related jobs; 8% have advanced to graduate school in computer science; and 10% have gone on to R&D jobs (the major employer is Yost Engineering in Portsmouth). 

Sam Bushman, a 2011 graduate, has worked for several independent game companies over the past few years, but now is a server programmer for ArenaNET, makers of Guild Wars 2, which is considered one of the best massively multiplayer online games of 2012 by many reviewers. 

Bushman said, “Shawnee State doesn’t just teach their students how to write software, but also how to break down complex problems and clearly communicate project difficulties. When working on sophisticated software systems, like massive online games, these tools are not just helpful, they are essential.”


game-chart.jpgThe Industry

In a 2013 report by the Entertainment Software Association, it was found that 58% of Americans play video games. Consumers from around the world reportedly spent more than $20 billion dollars on the video game industry in 2012.

With the remarkable increase in demand for games on mobile devices and online games segments, the global video game market looks to continue to enjoy steady growth. Shawnee State University has created a great pathway to put students in careers in the fast-paced gaming industry.


For more information about Shawnee State University’s digital simulation and gaming program, check out: