Designing games as a career path

Students study creative aspects of game design and programming at Florida magnet school
By: | Issue: March, 2015
February 19, 2015

A magnet program in the booming field of computer game design draws career-focused high school students from across Florida’s sprawling Hillsborough County school system.

Middleton Magnet High School houses four STEM programs, including the Academy of Computer Game Design, which opened in fall 2008 with a four-year, four-course track.

In the first year of the academy, students take Game and Design Simulation Foundations, and study the creative aspects of game design, programming video games, and the industry. As students progress, they learn 3D animation and how to create a narrative within a game. In the fourth year, they create their own complete game.

The academy has 125 students, and applications always exceed the number of seats. Some students travel an hour and a half each way to attend, says Principal Kim Moore. Students take core courses such as English and history in the magnet school.

“The skills they are learning for the future can be transferred to any electronic platform,” Moore says. “The same skills they use for designing video games are used for every simulation done in the military, hospitals and education field. And the creative side can be transferred to graphic design or illustration.”

The key to a successful program is finding the right teacher, says Chris Jargo, assistant director of career and technical education for the district.

“Sometimes the teacher may not have experience with game design specifically, but has a passion for computer games and knows how the industry has evolved,” he says. “Teachers can learn a new game development tool, but that passion for the industry has to be there already.”

District support is necessary for starting this kind of program, since it requires resources, especially in technology. Students in the program use HP Workstations and industry-standard software including AutoCAD, Autodesk and Adobe Illustrator.

“It gives students an opportunity to come to school to do things they want to do, and that excites them and possibly opens a door for them in the future,” Moore says.