A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Project-Based Design

By Colleen Kearney Rich on May 30, 2013

Chris Totten
College of Visual and Performing Arts

Chris Totten

Chris Totten

When students showed up for GAME 232 Online and Mobile Gaming last semester, they didn’t just receive a syllabus—they got a client. On the first day of class, the students discovered their semester’s work would be to render a pair of mobile apps aimed at electronic tablet and smartphone users ages 6 to 15.

Divided into teams of five, the students had 18 weeks to create a workable prototype ready for demonstration for their client—in this case, the Arlington-based Century Council looking for an electronic game solution to discourage underage drinking. After the demos, four games from the class were chosen by the client to be further developed for use by the nonprofit.

This approach to project work is similar to what Mason mobile game development professor Chris Totten encountered himself while studying architecture. “Every semester, we’d have a project and the professor/studio critic would let us get to it,” he says. “The requirements [of the project] were pretty rigid so that we could learn the required techniques and software.”

Totten’s students understand they have to be social scientists as much as programmers. “They have to study this problem and dissect it,” he says. “As the professor, I’m acting in a producer’s role. It’s up to me to help the students find their scope. I want them to spend less of their time generating assets and artwork and more time refining the game play. One group could have the prettiest game, but it might not address the problem.”


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