Leveling up: University of Delaware graduates its first class of gaming majors

Game studies program students chose from three different concentrations: game design and development; game industry and sport management; and games, culture and society.

Listen 1:50

University of Delaware students compete online at the opening ceremony of the new Esports Arena in the Perkins Student Center. (University of Delaware)

From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

After completing two years at the University of Delaware’s Wilmington campus with a major in Asian studies, Stephanie Gomez Sanchez discovered the newly created gaming studies major. Opting to double major, she moved to the main campus in Newark and joined the first cohort of the gaming program, which will graduate this year.

Since her middle school days, she’s been deeply immersed in the digital realm and her passion for video games has remained strong. It’s more than just fun; she delves into characters and narratives, meticulously considering the choices made within each game.

“I could play a story and be a character and I make the choices and everything. It was so game-changing for me. And at that point, my parents would blame me [for] how my grades weren’t the best and everything and I was like, okay, so I kind of left it off to the side,” she said. “Once they told me, ‘We have this opportunity that you can take [to study gaming],’ I was like, ‘I’ll take it.’”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Gomez-Sanchez is just one among many students trying to turn their passion for gaming into a career.

group photo
Graduating students and professors exhibited their game projects, showcasing everything from initial illustrations and soundtracks to the final 3-D creations. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

In this year’s first cohort, there are 16 students who’ve majored in gaming and nine who took part as their minor. Altogether, the program consists of 86 students majoring and 24 minoring.

The gaming major was birthed out of UD’s game studies research group, which launched in 2012. Members of the group collaborated with faculty from various departments to significantly influence the university’s strategic direction. In response, the school launched a minor program in 2015 and later developed a more robust major in 2020.

Phillip Penix-Tadsen, chair of game studies and esports at the University of Delaware, emphasizes that the program’s uniqueness lies in its interdisciplinary approach.

“It’s the most interdisciplinary program at the university. We have nine different departments involved in the game studies and esports major across three different colleges: the College of Arts and Sciences, which is our home; the College of Engineering, which is computer science home; and the Lerner business school,” he explained.

college classroom
Philip Penix-Tadsen opened the Gaming Studies Senior Showcase, featuring student project presentations. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Students in the program can choose from three distinct pathways.

“One of those is games, culture and society. The vast majority of our students are actually going into game design and development because they really want to do art and computer science and make games,” he said. “The final pathway is game industry and sport management.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

It’s more than just playing video games: Penix-Tadsen says it’s about the impact on society.

“We’re working with the tools of game development, but thinking about games in their role in culture and society and thinking about how to use video games to make a better world,” he said.

“We want students to think about games as something more than just what they play on the screen, but as something that has meaning in society, something that contributes to education, equity, representation, diversity, human health [and] psychological health.”

For instance, this year, many of the graduates interned with the Nemours Children’s Hospital, engaging in therapeutic experiences by playing with patients. Others served as coaches and graphic artists at St. Mark’s High School esports, while one student worked on and published a game on the online gaming platform Steam.

After graduation, Gomez-Sanchez aspires to secure a position where she can coach students in esports while also working to make gaming more inclusive.

“I’m hoping that I get accepted to be a coach for a high school to help these kids improve their game sense or be a guide for them,” she said. “I am hoping that I enter the gaming industry being a creator. If I can add a character to make someone believe they belong somewhere, then that’ll be like the happiest thing ever.”

As the program aims to expand, spots are limited, and faculty are gradually accepting more students each year to maintain the quality of education. Within the next few years, they hope to launch a graduate-level program as well.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal