New Video Game and Interactive Media Scoring Major Provides Bridge to Industry

The new program pairs students with leading game development programs around the country and prepares them for careers across the interactive music industry.

February 16, 2022

This fall, Berklee’s Film Scoring Department will launch a new major focusing on preparing students for careers in the video game and emerging interactive media industries. The Game and Interactive Media Scoring (GAIMS) program will give students the full suite of technical skills they will need for any level in the game audio and scoring world, and will provide opportunities to enter the industry with practical experience. “This is one of the few programs that's preparing students specifically to score video games,” said Sean McMahon, chair of the Film Scoring Department. “If you look at the competitive landscape out there or just other institutions, there are many game development programs and there are many game audio programs, but not really any in video game scoring.”

The new major is the culmination of an investment in game and media scoring that began over a decade ago, when the department hired Michael Sweet to develop game-focused curriculum. Those courses came about in response to the formation of the Video Game Scoring Club, which began in 2007 and became the most popular student club on campus. The curricular work that Sweet helped architect led to the founding of a minor in video game scoring in 2010. “This is really sort of student driven," McMahon said. "What we're trying to do is listen, not just to the marketplace, but listening to the students and what the students want.”

Coming out of the program [students are] going to have at least one, [and] some of our students are going to have 10 real projects that they've worked on.

— Jeanine Cowen, assistant chair

“We have known that we wanted to have a major for many, many years,” said Jeanine Cowen, assistant chair of the Film Scoring Department, commenting on why launching the program in 2022 makes so much sense, now that interactive media is changing the industry landscape. A decade ago, Cowen explained, the technology for scoring video games was proprietary and hard to gain access to, making building a curriculum around it near impossible. “When we started teaching the curriculum, things like [software programs] Unity and Unreal were not open. In some cases, they didn't exist,” said Cowen. “Now, the industry itself has developed in such a way that we do have really common tools that are accessible to everybody.”

The hallmark of the program is the collaboration and networking opportunities students will have with video game development students from some of the top game design programs in the country through partnerships with schools including the University of Southern California, Champlain College, and the University of Wisconsin-Stout, to name a few. “Coming out of the program [students are] going to have at least one, [and] some of our students are going to have 10 real projects that they've worked on,” said Cowen.

Even beyond the composition projects themselves, McMahon said that the connections students make through these collaborations will be just as valuable. “Students connect while they’re students… [and so] to me the real value is in these relationships,” McMahon said. “If they connect well with somebody at this level, 10 years from now that's really when it's going to pay off.”

The new major’s curriculum will give students the knowledge they need to carve out their career path, whether that’s building and maintaining a stable freelance portfolio or getting a foot in the door at a company. Cowen spoke about how the gaming industry has risen to the level of the film industry in terms of staff frameworks. “When you talk about film composers there's a whole kind of structure of assistants and other jobs within film music. The same thing is true for game music now,” Cowen said. “There's a whole structure now, especially at larger companies, that supports people with the type of education that they're going to be receiving at Berklee.”

With video games and interactive media becoming so stitched into the cultural fabric, the GAIMS major prepares students for an audio industry that is becoming less oriented around media genres. For example, McMahon said that “video games are changing the way that we view films. Film production companies want to make films in the way that games are being made now,” whether that’s video games being adapted into movies—whereas it used to be the other way around—or films taking a less linear approach to narrative. “Nobody asks if you're a ‘filmer.’ ‘Do you go watch movies?’ Nobody asks that,” Cowen added. “In 20 years, nobody's going to ask if you're a gamer.”

McMahon took it one step further, saying, “You're not a film composer [or] TV composer— you're a composer, writing for all media.” With this new major, the Film Scoring Department—which will be renamed the Screen Scoring Department in the fall—reflects the industry not just as it is, but where it’s going, and will help build that bridge from education to a job. As McMahon put it, “Once they graduate, it will be this smooth transition from one side to the other. That's our goal.”

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