15 Characters You’ll Meet in the Serious Game Design Program



Every program attracts a certain type of person, but the Serious Game Certificate attracts all kinds of people. Even so, here’s a list of fifteen characters you’re bound to run into as an online or in person serious game design student at Michigan State.


The Domain Specialist

This particular student comes to us from a different field entirely. For this student, their goals tend to be about bringing games back to their field, on how to use games to educate or help players. A good example of a specialist would be a speech pathology PhD student, one of which is actually in the program now.

Person on a Mission

This character tends to come in to the program already knowing exactly what they want to do.  Often, they have a game idea they are passionate about bringing to life. They come in knowing how they want to change the world.

The Novice

The novice doesn’t really know much about video games. It could be that they only know about popular culture references or what friends have told them about the field. They see the value in games and are passionate about learning more. This character type may not consider themselves a gamer, but may enjoy game design exercises, the research aspect of games, or the user experience building behind game development.

The Expert Gamer

The complete opposite of the novice, the expert knows all there is about games and then some. They may have grown up with games, know the intricacies of several different games, and identify the term “gamer.” Their interest in the Serious Game Certificate is all about creating entertaining games with a higher purpose. They know well what is and isn’t fun, and have come to learn about the serious side of play.

The Non-Gamer

Yes, there will be fellow students who really don’t play or even like games.  What are they doing in the program? They know games are powerful and important, and they want to understand what makes games work, to adapt and apply those approaches to domains they are passionate about.

The Business Edge

As the business edge, this student brings a similar skillset as the specialist. They have extensive knowledge of the business field, sometimes marketing and advertising as well. They view serious games as a growing enterprise which has much to give, and also much to earn. For the business edge, they can identify where, why, and how a specific type of serious game will work. Oftentimes, they come from areas of high entrepreneurial markets, such as China. This student is looking for what users need and how they can fill that niche.

The Fortune 500 Employee

This person has convinced their company that becoming more expert in serious games would be useful.  They may be in communication or marketing or UX design, in HR or sales.  They bring their experience in the business world to class discussions and their own project work.

The Renaissance Person

When it comes to skills, the renaissance person tends to be less “T-shaped” than they are “pie shaped.” This student can make art assets, design a game, program, and more. They have many different skills and are here to implement them in a serious game manner, but also share them with others.

The Next Generation Researcher

If data is involved, then the researcher is nearby. This character type discovers that they love to do research, connect theories, and learn about serious game fundamentals. When it comes time to perform actual research, be it on users or games, the researcher’s passion for qualitative and quantitative data is likely to lead them to go on to pursue a Ph.D.

The Doctoral Student

We often have doctoral students, either at MSU or at other universities, who want to add the serious game certificate to their graduate curriculum. These people could be studying almost anything – English, Education, History.

The Game Industry Professional

We usually have one or more students who work full time for a game company.  They are looking to add an understanding of how theories can inform game design, methods for understanding their players, and MSU’s perspective on game design with a serious twist.

The Professor

Yes, it won’t be unusual to have fellow students who are actually already professors.  They want to add serous game design and research to what they teach, or to get ideas about how to teach different things.

The Corporate Trainer

This person may already have a job as a corporate trainer. They may use games sometimes for training. They want to know more about theories of learning, game design, and what’s possible, to be able to create more effective and more fun training.

The Online Learning Designer

This person works with instructors to create online courses.  It would be awesome to be able to add online game design to their skillset, and where appropriate, to incorporate games or gamification into online courses.

The HCI Professional

Book author John Ferrara is an inspiration to these folks.  Ferrara was an HCI professional who became interested in games while developing a game to submit to the Healthy Eating Game Design Competition. He ended up writing a book called Playful Design that draws parallels between HCI and Game Design.


This is by no means a complete list, but from what I have experienced, a popular character set in the Serious Game Certificate program. It’s not surprising to me that this program is so diverse in student types, passions, and goals. And it’s this incredible mix of people that generates fun, exciting, and personal projects, be they in the classroom or in an online space.

Professor Carrie Heeter asked me to add that this diverse mix is fascinating to teach, and makes for very interesting class discussions. You can see why we encourage students to personalize their assignments to fit their learning goals.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? And who do you think you’ll meet next year?

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