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More than facilities, it's the community that makes the school. Walking the halls, it's clear how tightly bonded the students become in the pressure-cooker environment. "It's all the best bits of the game industry without the nasty bits," says Gary Brubaker, Deputy Director of Academic Relations. "You come together working long hard hours on a difficult project."
Vicki Smith, a first year student in Level Design, agrees. "It's a high-density life. I feel like I've known the 27 people in my cohort all my life because I've spent ten, fifteen, twenty hours a day with them. We become each other's social circle." Campus life and student projects become inextricably intertwined. Each development space I enter has a bookcase filled with Steve Jackson games and boxes of Risk and Arkham Horror for the students to break the long hours. Even when they retire to the local pub, The Holy Grail, groups generally snag a table in the corner and drink while bathed in the light of their school-issued Alienware laptops.
It would be wrong, however, to portray The Guildhall as some sort of mill churning out designers. There's a distinct philosophy at play in the well-appointed halls. "At the end of one year we passed out a survey to the professors with the question, 'Why do you teach here?'" recalls Brubaker. "Everyone wound up answering the same thing, which was: 'I'm here because I want to change the world.' This is the form of human expression for the 21st Century, and we're effectively building the printing press and teaching people how to express themselves. It's serious work."
Dr. Raad is especially convinced that interactive media will play an increasingly large role in our world. He sees the cross-disciplinary teamwork model of The Guildhall, as well as videogames themselves, revolutionizing education. He imagines a future where students learn languages by walking the streets of a virtual Paris, learning vocabulary by buying items in shops and talking to NPCs. "And imagine if you could do the same thing for history, going back in time to Gettysburg and interviewing General Pickett."
In preparation for the interactive revolution on the horizon, The Guildhall is also preparing its graduates for the hard questions that come with the power they'll hold. "Ethics is essential," says Dr. Raad, referring to the curriculum's required ethics courses. "When much is given to us, much is expected from us. I want my students to think: 'Do I really want to use this power to create a game about shooting hookers and stealing their money?' If you're given the chance to speak in the form of expression of the 21st Century - what are you going to do with it? If I'm given that audience, what am I going to say?"
He smiles. "Because what you say will stay forever."
Robert Rath is a Hawaii-born novelist, playwright, and freelance journalist who operates out of his home base in Austin, Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Hawaii, and for the record, still hasn't forgiven SMU for stealing June Jones.