Applications open for Playable Media MFA at UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz recently added an MFA for artists working with computer games, software toys, interactive fictions, rhetorical simulations, and related playable forms. This is the third year that the university’s Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) MFA program has offered “Playable Media” as a research focus for its collaborative faculty-student projects. Applications to the DANM MFA program for Fall 2011 are being accepted through February 1, and are encouraged from the broad diversity of artists who create work that invites and structures play.

The Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program at UC Santa Cruz brings together faculty and students from across the academic spectrum to pursue interdisciplinary artistic and scholarly research. At the core of the diverse DANM curriculum are collaborative research projects, in which small clusters of students work with professors on artistic, technical and theoretical research. Over the course of three quarters, these groups engage in the development of faculty-initiated research in one of four focused areas: Mechatronics, Participatory Culture, Performative Technologies, and Playable Media. These collaborations result in publications and exhibitions. In this intensive two-year program, students also take core and elective courses in the theory and practice of digital media arts, culminating in the development of individual thesis projects. These works are premiered in the program’s annual MFA exhibition. The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the terminal degree in the field of digital media arts, qualifying graduates for a variety of career paths including university-level teaching and research.

In the Playable Media collaborative research group, MFA students will work with UCSC’s strong faculty in this area to understand and create new ways for computer games and related forms to engage audiences, make arguments, tell stories, and shape social space. Ongoing Playable Media work combines game design and artificial intelligence research with writing, art, and media authoring.

The Playable Media-focused Digital Arts and New Media MFA joins UCSC’s two previous degree options in this area. UCSC currently hosts the first computer game undergraduate major in the University of California system: a B.S. in computer game design through the Computer Science department. Active PhD research is also taking place in Computer Science, where students are developing underlying technologies for new genres of computer game play. It is expected that some DANM Playable Media students will collaborate with students in the existing programs in order to create projects more ambitious than would otherwise be possible.

The first Playable Media collaborative research group launched in 2009 under the direction of Noah Wardrip-Fruin (co-creator of the virtual reality literary game Screen, author of the MIT Press book Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies). Other UCSC faculty in this area include Michael Mateas (co-creator of Independent Games Festival finalist Facade and the interactive film generator Terminal Time), Warren Sack (creator of the argumentation game Agonistics and the social technology Conversation Map), Jim Whitehead (founder of the UC system’s first game degree, developing techniques for game level generation and automatic game modification), Arnav Jhala (developing artificial intelligence-driven cinematic presentation for games), and Marilyn Walker (developing next generation dialogue systems for games).

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