By Sam McDonald

A fast-growing major at Old Dominion University recently got a boost with the launch of the Monarch Institute for Game Design and Development.

The institute makes hiring faculty more efficient and will help ODU’s game design program gain wider recognition, leaders said.

The university’s College of Arts and Letters offers a Game Studies and Design major through its Interdisciplinary Studies Program. The major’s popularity has soared, rocketing from 17 students in fall 2019 to more than 150 in fall 2023.

“We’re setting the stage for more growth and some exciting changes in game design and development,” said Laura Delbrugge, dean of the college.

Students clearly want more of this instruction, Delbrugge said, and ODU can help them achieve their career goals while also fostering workforce development in Hampton Roads.

Game Design Professor Moberly

Associate Professor Kevin Moberly demonstrates “Salmon Swipe,” a video game designed by former ODU game design students. In the game, the player acts as a bear trying to grab lunch as leaping fish swim upstream. (Photo by Sam McDonald)

Associate Professor Kevin Moberly, the driving force behind game design and development classes at ODU, described the institute’s debut as a proud moment. “It felt good — especially after three years,” Moberly said. “It felt like an affirmation of the value of this emerging field.”

Years ago, Moberly and Andrew Kissel, an ODU assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies, successfully pitched the concept of a game studies and design major after Moberly noticed computer science students lining up for his English topics course on game design and rhetoric.

Student interest has remained high.

This fall, ODU is hosting 21 classes on the topic. They range from “Game Criticism” and “Video Game Storytelling” to “Visual Design and Digital Graphics for Games.”

A new visiting lecturer in game programming was brought on board this fall, allowing more emphasis on software engineering and entrepreneurism.

“The work Kevin Moberly has been doing at the university level is invaluable and he’s been doing it for a long time,” wrote Jeremy Alessi, a Norfolk game designer responsible for several top-selling games for the Nintendo Wii and Apple mobile devices.

“I’m positive that we will continue to see the program grow into a world-class destination for students of the art and science that is game development,” Alessi said.

“The institute gives us better branding,” Moberly said. “It also will let us pursue grants. And getting grants means we can pay student interns, giving them more experience.”

The institute will also open a door to more collaboration, Moberly predicted.

Already, as many as 40 game design students have secured internships with ODU’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, an applied research center located in Suffolk.

“I hope that this institute gives the program the opportunity to build a solid foundation in workflows, tools, processes, facilities, procedures, and importantly people,” wrote John Shull, assistant director of technology and collaborative spaces at VMASC. “Kevin has been a one-person army for the last few years and he greatly needs the support that other departments and groups have.

“I feel like this program could explode and really flourish.”

Moberly said students deserve credit for the growth of game studies at ODU.

“The quality of the work that they produce is amazing,” he said. “That’s because they’re passionate about it.”

Learn more about game studies at ODU.