Ibrahim Yucel is serious when it comes to playing games.
Games and digital culture aren’t just for fun for Yucel, assistant professor of Communication and Information Design at SUNY Poly since 2011. He has turned a lifelong passion into a career of research and education.
“Many people think of games as a mere child’s toy. In reality, games have always been a part of culture,” Yucel says. “Everyone’s a gamer, whether you’re playing bridge or you’re playing a video game.”
Growing up, Yucel was always interested in video games. Aside from the fun, he took a keen interest in how the games were made and designed. Naturally, as that interest grew, so did his determination to learn more.
“When I was in college, there weren’t a lot of video game programs. I was interested in designing the experience, not so much the building of the systems, which is what a lot of the academic programs were at the time.”
While earning a Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University, Yucel was involved in a video game camp/workshop that gave kids of various ages the tools to build their own video games. Used as a way to help steer young minds into the STEM fields, the program also helped attract both male and female students at a time when Yucel says there was a lot of talk about gender imbalance in the video game world. And today’s gaming is a far cry from the days when Atari’s “Pong” and Nintendo’s “Super Mario.”
“I think the key point of change has been the casual gamer market, with the advent of the Wii and motion controls, and the growing popularity of Facebook and social gaming,” Yucel says.
With those new avenues for distribution comes a demand for more and better games, and with technology becoming more and more accessible and user-friendly, it doesn’t take necessarily take a computer programmer to create new games.
“Everyone thinks you need to be a programmer to do this. A lot of games have a visual interface, which allows anybody to be able to design them. It’s programming, but it’s the difference between, say a command line and Windows,” Yucel says. “There’s also a whole new independent market. With things like Kickstarter, people are making games and distributing all over the world. We try to encourage that – things like the ‘appathons’ we’ve had on campus.”
If there’s one thing that he hopes his students walk away from the classroom with, Yucel says, it’s an understanding of the important role that games play in learning and the importance of design to everyday life. And there are success stories that make him proud, such as 2012 SUNY Poly graduate Joshua Allen’s work—in his own studio—on new 3D video game technology.
“It’s amazing. It’s really great. It’s what I really hope for,” he says. “Building games takes that extra level of dedication. There’s so much possibility in this field for creating a virtual, digital economy.”