Plenty of adults grew up having lofty career aspirations. Many of us wanted to enter fields that seemed helpful and humanitarian; we wanted to be doctors, nurses, firemen, and veterinarians. Then there were those of us that had dreams of grandeur; we wanted to become famous actors, rock stars, or even the President. I myself wanted to be George Washington at a young age, shortly after which I harbored dreams of becoming Grover Washington, Jr. (after my dad signed me up for saxophone in the 5th grade band class). But we grow up and learn that some of us are cut out to be doctors and lawyers while others are better suited to marketing, restaurant management, or in my case, writing. And yet, for kids growing up in a world rife with technology, it seems like there are now more opportunities for “dream” careers. For example, kids being raised on a steady diet of video games often dream of becoming game designers. And this career is far more realistic than, say, becoming the next Michael Jordan, Brad Pitt, or Barack Obama.
Of course, it’s not like you can become a game designer simply by spending the larger part of your adolescent life glued to Halo, Madden, or Need for Speed. This competitive field requires you to have both an in-depth understanding of game mechanics (from a player standpoint) as well as the knowledge and skills to create technically sound and aesthetically appealing game worlds. So in addition to harboring a love of all things gaming you’re going to need to get some schooling under your belt if you want to nab a job in the industry, or even strike out on your own.
In truth, all you really need to get a foot in the door is a high school diploma or equivalent. Many developers and publishers hire an army of testers to act as quality assurance and so long as you can follow directions you can get such a job. The only problem with this strategy is that it’s a far cry from testing to design. You’ll start as a minimum wage temp that spends months trying to break build after build of the same level of the same game – not very sexy. And your odds of moving up from there are slim to none, especially if you fail to obtain further education. Your time would be better spent skipping what amounts to an extended internship and enrolling in school instead.
Although they are not always easy to find, there are schools that specifically cater to those interested in video game design. But many colleges and universities are also beginning to offer programs aimed at helping students prepare for careers in this growing field. Whether you’re interested in engineering the code for games, creating characters and landscapes, or writing the scripts that give these elements direction, you can find degree programs to help you gain the skills and knowledge you’ll need to compete for jobs. In most cases a bachelor’s degree will do the trick, but if you want to shoot for a master’s in game design you certainly can. And whether you attend a school specifically for game design or you’re more interested in online animation schools, it behooves you to look into internship opportunities during the course of your schooling. This is one industry where who you know can be just as important as what you know.