Two months ago we reported on how U.C. Irvine received over $100,000 for an academic study of World of Warcraft.
Turns out the venerable California campus is planning a much more ambitious role for virtual world studies in high academia.
Pixels and Policy investigates U.C. Irvine's new four-year degree program in virtual worlds, and how Irvine's new Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds puts them at the forefront of synthetic sociology.
U.C. Irvine's New Digital Degree
One has to give credit to U.C. Irvine for their fearless approach to integrating virtual worlds into the curriculum. As we've noted in several other stories, colleges that move to study virtual worlds today will be among the leaders in tech-savvy graduates half a decade down the road. That's why over 250 colleges have already found a comfy place for the Metaverse in their classrooms.
Institutions as varied as the University of Texas and Colorado University are jumping into the study of virtual worlds because they understand it provides students with a skill set that companies wanting to do business in the virtual world will require.
According to staff at U.C. Irvine, they're fully committed to the academic study of virtual worlds as legitimate social, economic and cultural expression:
This fall, UC-Irvine
established the Center for Computer Games & Virtual Worlds, and
construction is under way on a 4,000-square-foot, 20-room
"Cyber-Interaction Observatory" for faculty research. Plans call for
floor-to-ceiling projection screens, 3-D stereoscopic displays and
"There are people who will say we're pandering to a trend,"
said Dan Frost, an informatics lecturer who teaches a popular computer
game development course. "But this really is intellectually justified.
Universities are always doing things that seem crazy at first."
Will U.C. Irvine lead the way for those straggling institutions still lagging behind? It's tough to say, but as increasing numbers of colleges turn to virtual world studies, those left out will find potential students moving towards universities and research programs that provide the best fit for both academic and professional progress.
Irvine's program, listed as "game science," is slated to take off at the beginning of the next academic year. That's a quick turnover for an institution that just received a major virtual worlds grant, but colleges like U.C. Irvine are quickly learning that virtual programs don't always require extensive physical space.
The Rise of the Virtual Ivy League
The prevalence of digital education and virtual worlds studies is giving rise to a new Ivy League of forward-thinking colleges. Northern Kentucky Unviersity just spent over $6 million building a massive virtual world studies center . U.C. Irvine is focused on promoting and expanding its expansive Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds by adding a 4,000 square foot research addition. Even Indiana Universtiy is taking social media and virtual economics seriously.
Industry professionals and virtual worlds aficionados no longer turn to the old Ivy League for the best education in their emergent field. New programs at up-and-coming universities like South Dakota State University are giving public schools and previously overlooked colleges an increased weight in the college decision process. The chokehold of elite private schools is weakening as smaller schools turn to cost-effective programs like virtual worlds studies.
Innovation in education keeps the field relevant, and if schools bound down by tradition and old-school alumni fail to innovate, they'll find the old Ivy wilting as a new crop comes up around the country.