WITS may be turning 90, but it’s not too old for games. The university has just introduced the first degree that specialises in game design in the country.
Competition for the first intake was stiff. Lecturer Hanli Geyser said only 25 of the 98 applicants were offered places after writing an essay and attending an interview.
“It was not enough for applicants to say, ‘Oh ja, I love playing games’. The selection committee looked for “an understanding of games, academic strength and passion. People who aren’t absolutely committed aren’t going to be able to make it through”.
Game design is offered as a bachelor of engineering science in digital arts, or as a BA PVA course.
Engineering students focus more specifically on the technical aspects and the visual arts students on the creative areas of game production.
Geyser, whose father introduced her to computer games, said there was a misconception that games were only for boys. “It’s simply not true … Lots of girls play, just different types of games.”
She criticised superficial efforts to attract female players. “No, making it pink or putting in a My Little Pony isn’t going to make girls play. It’s about whether the community is receptive to women or not.”
Geyser described the issue of women in game design as a layered and complex problem.
She said children’s media, toys, parents and schools discouraged girls from going into the sciences. “It’s systemic,” she said.
Michèle Dykes, one of only three women studying game design, said girls are stereotyped in games.
“All the girls [in games] have big boobs and are always showing them. It’s meant for more of a male target market,” said Dykes. She said she would draw female characters and focus on their personality rather than their looks.
Tokelo Seremane, who started playing in primary school, also intends to design games with female leads. She decided to do the game design degree to change the stereotype of game designers.
“When people think ‘game designer’, they think of a tall, nerdy guy with long hair.
“They don’t think of women.” Seremane believes men underestimate women in the gaming world. “Guys who challenge me to games like Fifa say, ‘I’ll kill you’. That’s not true. I squash them!”