According to communications Prof. Dmitri Williams, most people
who hear about his work assume he plays videogames all day. But
their assumptions are quite far from the truth.

Unlike most communications classes, Williams’
Communications 479 sections focus on the new and ever-expanding
field of videogame research.

The class seeks to explain to students just how important the
videogame industry is, while also teaching them about economics,
media history and other topics that can be found within the world
of videogames and beyond.

“It’s strange when people ask me what exactly video
game research is. That’s like asking what television or film
research are, but people just aren’t used to the idea
yet,” Williams said.

He said videogame research is a growing field studying all
aspects of games, from their effects on people in the form of
causing violence and aggression — as well as their possible
beneficial effects on society — to their economic and
cultural impact.

“Videogaming is a large industry. The majority of
Americans are game players, so it’s a medium worth studying
because it has a massive use, and has far-reaching effects,”
Williams said.

LSA junior Lori Fox is one of six students in Williams’
class. She said she believes his class is valuable and agrees with
his take on the importance of videogame research.

“I think this class is important because not much research
is done on videogames, but they seem to have just as big of an
impact as other forms of media. I think more people need to be
aware of how influential videogames are,” Fox said.

Last year, Williams said, the videogame industry grossed more
money than the motion picture industry and is estimated to gross
upwards of $6.9 billion a year in the United States, according to
the Interactive Digital Software Association.

“I use the videogames as a sort of example that helps me
to teach the class about all sorts of important communications
topics. I believe videogames are an important topic in itself, but
I believe they can be used to help students gain a better
understanding of the communications field as a whole,”
Williams said.

Williams is not the only faculty member on campus who is
involved in videogame research. Communications and psychology Prof.
Brad Bushman is studying the effects of violent videogames.

Bushman, in an effort to explain the importance of research on
videogame aggression, said videogames are more violent than content
on TV or films.

“Videogame playing is highly active,” Bushman said.
“Violent games require the player to identify with a violent
character and the games reward aggression. In addition, the amount
of violence in videogames is almost continuous.”

While violence and the aggression many people believe it causes
are certainly the best known and studied aspects of the videogame,
there are other elements being researched as well at the
University.

John Laird, a professor in electrical engineering and computer
science, said he is interested in research that would aid in the
creation of the games.

“The research my group does on computer games is to use
computer games as an environment for testing out ideas on building
artificial intelligence characters, as well as exploring new types
of games. By adding artificial intelligence characters, it might be
possible to make computer games that are more of a synthesis of
interaction and plot-driven stories,” Laird said. While the
types of videogames that research is being conducted on vary, it is
certain that this field will continue to grow, Laird said.

Schools throughout the United States, including the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Purdue, Ohio State
and Princeton universities, all have classes and programs dealing
in videogame research.

University scholars said they would eventually like to see the
study of videogames as its own degree program.

“There is no reason people shouldn’t be able to
major in (videogame research) in the same way they can major in
film, but as a field it is underdeveloped, so it’s still very
young,” Williams said. “But gaming as a medium is
growing and there’s no reason to believe it’s going to
die off, so it’s here to stay.”

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