Q&A with Game Design Student Kelli Dunlap

As a Game Design student and a JoLT fellow, Kelli Dunlap embodies the program’s commitment to socially conscious gaming. We spoke with her about what brought her to AU, her expertise in video game psychology and how joining the Game Lab has prepared her for the future.

Why get a Game Design degree and why choose AU?

It was actually a bit of a serendipitous accident. I graduated from my doctoral program in August 2014 and was looking for a job when I found myself at game-related event hosted by the Red Cross. Lindsay Grace was a speaker there and I had the opportunity to speak with him after the event. He told me about a new program at AU, the Journalism and Leadership Transformation (JoLT) initiative, and that they were looking for people interested in game design, journalism and changing the world. Although I didn’t have the journalism chops, he encouraged me to apply. I did, and received confirmation over Thanksgiving that I’d been selected as a JoLT Fellow. This meant I would enroll as an MA student in Game Design as well as work on projects related to social impact games and the realm of journalism. That’s how I came back to AU!

Would you consider yourself a gamer?

I’ve played video games for as long as I can remember. Gaming was something I did with my brother at home, with friends from school and was a big part of my undergraduate experience at AU. I actually met my current husband playing Halo during undergrad. I was a psychology major and in the Honors program, so when I had to propose an Honors Capstone project, I wanted to do something in the world of psychology and games. That project really fueled my interest in video game psychology as a whole.

Is it necessary to have a special focus before entering the program?

Not at all. I think the program is a good fit for students who have a genuine, broad curiosity about games. Some of my classes involve coding, some involve drawing and art skills and some are research-based. It’s a program for developing a solid foundation in the world of games with flexible personal and academic exploration.

What’s the most valuable skill you’ve learned within the program?

The ability to talk about games and play in a way which addresses common misconceptions about their frivolity or “childishness” has been supremely beneficial. When working with organizations or individuals beyond the Game Lab, I’ve definitely found myself having to address misconceptions about what games are and what play is, and confront negative stereotypes regarding both. This program provides the vernacular to discuss games and play in ways which can be understood outside of the game space.

What class experience outside of the Game Design curriculum stands out?

This past semester I took a Kogod business course with Professor Bradley. Learning to run and market a business was something I felt was important to my future success in the field of games and psychology. Even though it was not a traditional class for a game design student, I was able to seek out a course specific to my training needs.

Have you visited any Game Design Conferences?

Thanks to the Game Lab, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 2016 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco last semester. Along with the two other JoLT Fellows and Lindsay, we spoke about community management issues and what the game industry and journalism industry could learn from one another on this topic. I’m fairly certain I would not have had a chance to attend GDC, much less present, if not for being part of the AU Game Lab.

Also, I was able to volunteer at the Indie Arcade at the Smithsonian American Art Museum last semester and am currently working on both a game and a conference paper for a developing project at Indie Arcade.

How has your interest in gaming changed your life?

My interest in gaming led me to the Game Design program, and now, I feel equipped to face whatever my future brings. Through this program, I’ve made so many like-minded contacts that finding a way forward doesn’t seem daunting. I’m currently on an internship with the Educational Testing Service for the summer working on projects related to game design and assessment. The knowledge I’ve obtained and the skills I’ve developed as a student in the Game Lab have given me the confidence to talk about game design issues as they pertain to assessment with peers and supervisors, and has given me the unique perspective of someone who simultaneously inhabits both the psychological assessment and game design worlds.

Want to follow in Kelli’s footsteps? Apply to the American University Game Design Program today!

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