March 18, 2021
Elizabeth Stringer helped introduce the first generation of lifelong gamers to the world of video games. Now she’s training the next generation to move the industry further.
With over 12 years of experience in game making and 30 titles under her belt, including classic franchises such as Zork, Heavy Gear, Cyberia, and a dozen Backyard Sports games, Stringer is now a clinical professor and director of academics at SMU|Guildhall, located in Dallas, Texas.
Stringer was part of the early team that built Guildhall into one of the highest ranked video game education programs in the country. The school offers an accreditation program, but it’s best known for its master’s degree track. Students can pursue a two-year course of study specializing in art, design, production or programming.
It’s an exclusive program, only admitting 60 students per cohort – meaning there are 120 students working their way towards their Masters at any given time. Since its launch in 2003, the school has successfully placed over 860 students at more than 270 video game studios.
“Because the industry now has this wealth of undergraduate, graduate and even doctoral programs, the education system has been able to provide so many well trained and really smart individuals,” she says. “We’ve always had a high placement rate. We put a premium on the professional side of education.”
Texas is a hub for both the present and future of video games. Nearly 25,000 jobs in the state are tied to the video game industry. Gearbox Software and id Software call it home—and Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment and Nintendo all have presences there. (All totaled, there are 193 gaming companies that do.) On average, people in the industry who work in Texas earn over $79,000 per year. It is, in fact, the industry’s third biggest state, as ranked by total video game industry related economic output.
Beyond that, there are 35 college and university programs focused on game creation. And 10 of those schools have esports programs.
Students at Guildhall do more than simply study game theory. They build three games over the course of their academic tenure – and they learn about all aspects of the video game world, from creation to marketing, to better inform them of what other departments do to help games succeed – and the creativity needed in those fields.
They also benefit from Texas’ rich video game community. Legendary names in the industry, such as John Carmack and Randy Pitchford, sit on the Guildhall board of directors. And many developers act as adjunct professors, passing along their knowledge to the next generation.
Guildhall graduates go on to work around the world, but many choose to stay in Texas after their time at the university, joining the companies whose staff were their professors.
“One of the reasons I continue to do what I do is to see how successful and how much a change and an impact we’ve had,” says Stringer. “I see it on a local level mostly, because I live here and these are the people I … visit regularly.”