Camden County College plans degree in video games

BLACKWOOD, N.J. _ Students at New Jersey’s Camden County College may soon be able to get a degree in one of their favorite pastimes: video games.

For more than a decade, the college _ which has campuses in Blackwood, Camden and Cherry Hill _ has offered a computer graphics degree. But although students could take video-game classes, they could not pursue a major in their favorite pastime.

But starting in September, the college plans to become one of the few two-year colleges in the country to offer a degree in the growing field of video-game design.

“We’re pretty cutting-edge here,” said Phyllis Owens, coordinator for the college’s computer graphics program. “This is what the students want, and this is what we’re going to give them. A student now can take his love for Pac-Man or any other video game and turn it into a degree.”

The program has been approved by several faculty committees, and the college’s board of trustees is expected to give its approval at an upcoming meeting.

So far, Owens has received more than 250 inquiries about the program. Game companies _ desperate for new material _ are already calling and asking whether her students can design new games for them.

Between 100 and 200 students are expected to enroll initially in the game-design program, Owens said. The program would begin this summer with a pilot eight-week course.

Students would be required to complete 70 credits, including courses in game design and development, animation, and computer graphics. They must also take core academic subjects such as math and English.

Some students, such as computer graphics major Ryan Harbinson, plan to remain at the college to pursue a video-game design degree. Harbinson, 20, of Williamstown, N.J., had planned to graduate this spring and transfer to a four-year college.

“I’m going to stay. I love it,” Harbinson said recently. “I’ve been playing games all my life.”

His classmate Kevin Croft is considering postponing plans to attend film school in London in December to earn a second degree in the new major.

“It’s a huge market that I’d love to get a piece of,” said Croft, 26, of Waterford, N.J. “It’s going to give me more options.”

Video-game designers are in high demand and can expect starting salaries between $50,000 and $60,000, Owens said.

Owens said parents “who used to say `put that game down and do your homework’ ” are now telling their children to “play more games.”