While theorists in literature, economics, computer science, mathematics, psychology, and philosophy like to play with game theory to examine the world in which we live, some people simply want to create and play games as a way to make a living. Luckily for them there has always been a whole world of people out there ready to play their games whether they take place outdoors, on a board, through cards, or on a computer.
Computer games are the current rage. Through them we control characters (some who look human and others not so much), using structured patterns while following the rules of the game in order to achieve our goals. These games must be designed and programmed and that’s where Southern Polytechnic State University’s most recent computer science program, Computer Game Design and Development (CGDD), comes in to play. It has targeted a population of students who are very much interesting in creating and playing games for their livelihood. I had the chance to talk to one of those students for this blog.
Sarah Massagee hopes to make a living in the gaming world. While she is not taking classes this semester, she is a junior at the school and hopes to graduate in 2015. Sarah, like many of the students at SPSU, has been playing computer games since she was a child. She can’t remember when she first began playing Pokemon, but she has bought and played every version of the game. Her continuing interest in computer games such as Pokemon, pulled her away from her original goal in life, which was to become a two-dimensional or three-dimensional animator for Disney.
To learn more about Sarah, I went to Linkedin and it was there that I found out that she works as a rigger, animator,
and game designer at Trick3D. While I had a decent idea of what animators and game designers do, I had no idea what a rigger does so I asked Sarah for more information. I found out that three-dimensional models are created of characters during the game design process. A rigger takes the model and creates the skeletal system for the character. The skeletal system allows the animator to create movement for the character that is more fluid and believable.
I asked Sarah to tell me a bit about her favorite computer games and I learned that she is not only a Pokemon fan, but that she is also a World of Warcraft fan. As someone interested in game design, she likes Pokemon because the designers of the game have remained true to their vision. Sarah believes this is why they have managed to stay in business for over twenty years. Sarah also likes that the game is not too complex and that she can create her own character based off of animals and inanimate objects. She says that players get to strategize based on a team of six members. At the time she began playing the game, she had just moved from California to Georgia, and she found that she was able to make new friends through the game.
World of Warcraft is Sarah’s favorite online game. She likes that the game is not just a “shoot ‘em up” game and that it actually creates an emotional response in its players. She considers it a simple, fantasy-based game that provides a community for players through guilds. She likes being able to enter this fantasy world where her problems don’t exist; however, she has also found that her guild has acted as a support group when she has been having problems.
I wanted to know how Sarah viewed what I like to call the computer-generated, hyper-gendered characters with their exaggerated body types. She told me that such characters didn’t really bother her. Sarah said that everything is exaggerated and unrealistic in computer games. She said, “it’s not like we go around with superpowers in real life either so it’s not a big deal.”
Sarah is currently happy with a number of opportunities she has received through her education in art and game development. She was hired as a teaching assistant last fall for the Introduction to Game Design course, and in this role she graded papers and answered student questions. She tried to help students to understand how to put their personal likes and dislikes about games aside and to think about games from a game designer’s perspective. Sarah was also hired last year to help with animation for the Southeast Emmy Awards. She created a three-dimensional sequence for the opening of the awards show.
Sarah believes that more women are getting interested in the game world. She believes this is especially true as more games are being developed for mobile applications. She would love to see more women go for it. What she hopes is that educators begin to better communicate what courses girls need to succeed when they are young since fields such as mathematics are so important to succeeding as a game designer.
On that note she would also like to see both teachers and students create a more criticism-free atmosphere for study in fields such as mathematics. Girls and boys throughout their education should be better encouraged to succeed in such coursework so that they have the ability to further their education in fields such as CGDD. One thing she likes about the CGDD at SPSU is that the professors have been super helpful—they do what they can to make sure students understand what they are teaching.
One might think that computer gaming is Sarah’s entire world, and one would be wrong. Sarah has acted as a volunteer for both the Humane Society and Autism Speaks. Her mother’s current pet was a dog that was going to be put down, and her mom rescued him. Sarah has several times driven the van full of animals from the Humane Society to PetSmart, in an effort to help pets get adopted. As for Autism Speaks, Sarah has personal reasons for helping this group: her younger brother has been diagnosed with Autism. One of the reasons she joined her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, is because Autism Speaks is also one of their causes. Because of her interest in helping others, she even ended up as the Philanthropy Chair for this group.
Women Faculty in the School of Computing and Software Engineering
Women faculty members in the School of Computing and Software Engineering (CSE) provide Sarah and other women taking courses in the school an opportunity to find role models. As I mentioned in my last blog, the Interim Dean of the school is Becky Rutherfoord, and the Interim Department Chair of the Information Technology Department is Svetlana Peltsverger. Several other faculty members in the school are also women, many of whom have worked to recruit and to provide a positive cultural environment for women in CSE.
Sheryl Duggins is a professor in the Software Engineering program and teaches undergraduate and graduate classes. She was the Graduate Software Engineering Program Coordinator for fifteen years. While her research focuses on software engineering, requirements engineering, formal methods of software engineering, ethics, object-oriented analysis and design, software complexity and metrics, and software abstraction, Sheryl has also done research and panel presentations on the retention of women in the computing sciences.
Briana Morrison is an assistant professor, who is currently working on her doctorate in human-centered computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She currently teaches a number of computer science courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research concerns computer science education. She has worked to attract female students to the degree programs and is interested in creating a positive culture for them.
Barbara Bernal is a retired professor at SPSU. Before she retired, Barbara acted as the Undergraduate Coordinator for Software Engineering, and she also served as the Department Chair for Software Engineering. The Software Engineering program is one of only 20 software engineering programs in the country that is accredited by Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), which is the main accrediting body for academic programs in the disciplines of applied, science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.
Barbara continues to teach User Center Design and User Interaction Engineering in the Software Engineering program. Her research and papers often focused on usability and curriculum concerns for software engineering programs. As a Hispanic woman, Barbara is also concerned with the success of Hispanics in higher education; thus, she also presents papers for the American Society of Engineering Education on the changing roles of Hispanics in higher education institutions.
Patricia (Pat) Roth Pierce is a senior lecturer and the Program Coordinator for the Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science. She currently teaches programming classes in Java and C++, Data Base Systems and Data Structures. Pat originally taught for IBM before coming to SPSU—she has taught programming classes to college-level students for 47 years.
Dawn Tatum is a lecturer in Information Technology. She has a wide range of industry experience and has worked for companies from small non-profits to Fortune 500s. In fact, she began her own consulting company while she was in her second year of college. Dawn’s areas of expertise include computer programming, software engineering, e-commerce, information security, project management, and ethics. She teaches a wide range of courses for the Information Technology program that include Advanced Programming Principles, E-Commerce and Ethical Hacking. Dawn is also the advisor to two student organizations: the Southern Polytechnic Information Assurance Competition Team and the Professional Student Chapter of the Association of Information Technology.
Susan Vande-Ven, senior lecturer and the Program Coordinator for the Web Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Technology, brought her industry experience at Sprint, Hewlett Packard, and Agilent Technologies to SPSU. She has taught a wide range of courses in computer science, software engineering, and information technology. Currently she is focusing her research on programming languages, in particular Java, C#, and C++.
Helping all STEM students and especially female students in the CSE school to succeed is important to Susan. She has encouraged her own daughter to succeed in a STEM field, Her daughter, who now works for Kimberly Clark (the manufacturer of brands such as Cottonelle, Kleenex, Kotex, and Huggies), earned her BS in Biology from Georgia Tech and her MS in Infectious Diseases from the University of Georgia.
The CSE School is supported by CSE Lab Manager, Christine Bryant; Academic Advisors, Elizabeth Hanie and Ashley McClure; Secretary to the Dean, Faith Gonzales; Administrator Specialist, Marilee McClure; and Administrative Assistant, Jasmine Watkins.
In the game we call life, we all must find our niches that best promote our talents. The women in CSE have found a number of different ways in which to do so in hopes of helping all students, but especially young women such as Sarah Massagee to find their own niche. That Sarah will get the opportunity to use her education to “play” and to help others to play is simply an added bonus for students such as Sarah as she continues to explore her niche in the world of computing.