MFA Program Structure

The Game Center MFA is a two-year program built on an “art school” model – the core of the program is hands-on game creation within a context of advanced historical, critical, and theoretical literacy.

Core Curriculum

Semester One

In the first semester of year one students all take the same set of foundational classes:

Games 101 (GAMES-GT 101)

Games 101 is the foundational course for the NYU Game Center. The focus of Games 101 literacy – a shared understanding of games as complex cultural and aesthetic objects. The class will incoprorate lectures, discussion, readings, and writing assignments, but the primary activity of the class is critical play – playing games in order to better understand and appreciate them. The class will cover games on and off the computer, including classic and contemporary board and card games, sports, and games on the PC, internet, and consoles.

Game Design 1 (GAMES-GT 150)

Game Design 1 explores the fundamentals of game design. The focus of the class is the actual creation of several non-digital (off the computer) games. Just as art students might take “fundamentals” classes in figure drawing or color theory as part of their education to become visual artists, this class remains rooted squarely in the basics. It focuses on the elements common to all games that are fundamental for a game designer working in any format, from sports to board games to computer and video games. Although the focus of the course is on the creation of non-digital games, digital games will also be discussed and one of the assignments is the creation of a digital game concept pitch.

Game Studies 1 (GAMES-GT 110)

An introduction to the critical and analytical approaches to the subject of digital games. Though the history of video games spans roughly fifty years, and although more than half of the population plays them, video games have only recently emerged as a field of serious study. This class introduces students to the theory of video games, and answers questions such as: How are video games structured? What types of experiences to video games give? Who plays video games, when and why?

Game Studio 1 (GAMES-GT 120)

Game studio 1 is the Game Design M.F.A. program’s introductory game development course. Students will gain experience with two game engines with complementary strengths and capabilities, working in teams on a series of four game development project cycles.

Semester Two

In semester two all students continue on to the next phase of Game Studio:

Game Studio 2 (GAMES-GT 121)

This class builds on the game development focus of Game Studio 1. However, rather than a series of small games, Game Studio 2 focuses on the creation of a single digital game over the course of the semester. Students will work in teams to conceive, design, and produce a playable videogame. In addition to creating a great game, the emphasis of the class is understanding the development process, including the roles that team members play, the iterative prototyping process, production planning and risk assessment, as well as team dynamics and communication.

Students also choose 3 out of the 5 following classes:

Game Center MFA Electives

European Video Games of the 1980s (GAMES-GT 102)

This survey course covers a selection of the video games that were produced and played in Europe in the 1980s and early 90s. During this particularly relevant period, game developers were mostly self-taught hobbyists, who invented mechanics and conventions within the limitations of early home computers. The course encourages students to play games critically, to understand the different game design strategies as well as technological approaches to developing games, and to develop an understanding of the ways in which European, Japanese and American games diverged through the 1980s and 1990s.

Game Studies 2 (GAMES-GT 111)

Game Studies 2 is a research-focused course that examines methodological and foundational issues in the study of video games. In addition, a current topic relating to video game culture, design, or theory will be explored every semester. The class is thereby focused on allowing students to actively participate in the development of video game theory, with specific attention to how video game studies evolve as a theoretical field, and how it interacts with changes in the design and culture of video games.

Games and Players (GAMES-GT 112)

Game and Players gives students an overview of player-focused approaches to understanding game play, from a variety of methodological and theoretical frameworks. The class combines readings and analysis with exercises that give students hands-on experience with the methods discussed.

Narrative Strategies in Contemporary Video Games (GAMES-GT 113)

Narrative Strategies in Contemporary Video Games is a one-semester course that explores the different ways that modern, digital games go about telling stories and building fictional worlds. This course is both experiential and theoretical, with students not only reading scholarly work on the subject of games and narrative, but also playing specific video games over the course of the semester. Students should have an acquaintanceship with the fundamentals of game design, the history of digital game development, or some familiarity with game studies.

Prototype Studio (GAMES-GT 122)

Professional game development frequently involves a ‘rapid prototyping’ phase, wherein developers work feverishly to implement a large number of small ideas to test their potential before embarking on the more rigid and costly processes involved in full production. Many or most of the most famous games in history began with a minimalistic prototype created in less than a week. Prototype Studio is an intensive course which aims to build up a student’s repertoire of fast-prototyping skills and provide the student with invaluable experience in starting and finishing games. The course consists almost entirely in the creation of thirteen playable prototype games, one per week. Each prototype will be confined within a certain genre, conceptual theme, or within unique technical constraints.

Narrative Game Studio (GAMES-GT 123)

The Narrative Game Studio is a hands-on course that focuses on games that include a strong storytelling component, providing the opportunity to do interdisciplinary work. This course introduces students to the design of narrative games, including conceptualization, foundational narrative design strategies, and writing. Students will learn how to use three different tools engines to develop narrative games; they will work individually at first and then in teams. The course uses the adventure game genre as a gateway to the general strategies used to incorporate narrative in games.

Game Design 2 (GAMES-GT 151)

This course is a continuation of Game Design 1 and goes deeper into understanding the essential problems of game design. Working primarily off the computer, students collaboratively create a series of card games, board games, social games, and physical games. The focus of Game Design includes is advanced game design problems, particularly those with relevance to videogames, such as designing complex game economies, designing games around social communities, designing game levels, and designing AI routines for singleplayer games. We also take a close look at the communicative aspects of game design, including writing game design documents and pitches, as well as effectively communicating a game concept through visual and other means.

Visual Design for Games (GAMES-GT 201)

What would a better understanding of design add to your games? What creative strategies can we learn from the works of art and design which have been playing games and innovating creative solutions to complex social and political problems since their inception? With the rise of minimal games, interactive art and play have merged in an even more comprehensive way. The first part of this class will cover design theory. Students will design game assets each week exploring a design principle or genre. Through the process of building these prototypes, we will learn design solutions appropriate into games. User experience will be highlighted in group discussions and readings to offer creative strategies for interaction design as well.

Biz Lab (GAMES-GT 301)

This course provides students who are looking to work in the games industry with a basic understanding of its economic components and drivers, so that they may better understand their role within it, whether as an employee of a larger company,  a partner in an independent studio, an individual developer, or a freelance contractor. The goal of the class is to provide the practical knowledge and conceptual understanding students need to achieve the greatest degree of success and creative freedom throughout their career.

Code Lab 1 (GAMES-GT 302)

Beyond simply learning to program, students in this class will explore models and algorithms useful for developing games.  We will discuss how platforms, libraries, frameworks, and engines affect game design, in both empowering and limiting ways.  Finally, we will discuss the history of digital games, how new tools have democratized the process of game development, and the costs and benefits of those trends.

Code Lab 2 (GAMES-GT 303)

Code Lab 2 is a continuation in exploring how to craft game with programming.  In Code Lab, we examined how to make games in openFrameworks, starting from scratch.  This class will be a workshop, building off of that knowledge, but focusing on learning how to work with code that is already written.  Students will learn to work with a new Integrated Development Environment (IDE), eclipse, learn to work with a version control system, and work in depth with Java and Processing.

Vlaada Chvatíl and the Modern Strategic Board Game (GAMES-GT 401)

This course will examine the work of Vlaada Chvátil, one of the world’s most renowned and influential boardgame designers, through the lens of another influential designer: Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, Netrunner, and other best-selling games. His recent textbook, Characteristic of Games, (co-written with Skaff Elias and Robert Gutschera,) is a landmark work in formal game analysis. We will use Garfield’s conceptual frameworks and formal vocabulary to illuminate the important qualities of Chvátil’s work.

Internship (GAMES-GT 900)

Qualified students can earn elective credits toward the MFA degree in game design, game development or other related internship.  In these professional internships, the student’s employer or supervisor evaluates the work of the student. These written evaluations are submitted to the faculty supervisor.  MFA students will have the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the games industry, while working toward their degree.  Internships may be taken for 1-4 points per semester, with a maximum of 4 credits to be applied toward the completion of degree requirements.


At the end of year one, students will have chosen a direction for their thesis project, which will form the core of their second year at the program.

Semester Three

All students take the first phase of thesis project:

  • Thesis 1 (collaborating in small teams on a substantial game development project)

Students also choose 2 electives from a variety of classes offered within the program or from other NYU departments:

  • Electives 1 & 2 (classes in topics relevant to the student’s thesis)

Semester Four

All students take the culminating phase of thesis project:

  • Thesis 2 (collaborating in small teams on a substantial game development project)

Students also choose 2 electives from a variety of classes offered within the program or from other NYU departments:

  • Electives 3 & 4 (classes in topics relevant to the student’s thesis)
Click the image for a larger size of the program structure diagram.

Areas of Focus

When applying for the graduate program, potential students select one or more areas of focus. While the majority of the program is a shared path of common classes your area of focus helps define your course of study by guiding your choice of electives and influencing your role in group projects.

You do not need professional experience in games in order to apply, in fact you might not have any experience in making games before you come to the program. However, you do need to demonstrate talent and experience in one or more disciplines relevant to games. You should also consider your goals as a game creator – which aspects of development are you most interested in exploring deeply? These two considerations – your experience and goals – should guide your choice of Area of Focus. Game development is a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary process, and declaring your Area of Focus helps us gather a community of students with the right mix of different skills and interests.

For example, if you are a programmer who has never worked on games before, you would most likely select game programming as your area of focus. If you are a media studies scholar, you would select game criticism.

Although each student will have an area of focus when they begin the program, the Game Center MFA recognizes that many students are skilled in multiple ways and production roles today can be fluid, especially on small teams. You are not locking yourself into a singular specialization during your time in the Game Center MFA. You definitely will take classes outside your area of focus and play a variety of different roles on different projects.

The Four Areas of Focus

Below are the four areas of focus for our program. Note that regardless of primary role all students working on a Game Center project will have substantial input into the game’s overall creative direction and will share the responsibility for collaboratively making the important creative decisions about the game.

Game Design

Game design can be system design, interaction design, level design, information architecture, experience flow, playtesting, storytelling, economy balancing, communication, writing, and other aspects of designing the player experience.


Game programming can mean general game coding as well as a wide variety of specialties, including graphics, A.I., network, database, tool creation, and many others.

Visual Design

Visual design means many things relating to the visual aspects of games, from character design and animation to architecture and world-building, to logo and interface design.


Criticism at the Game Center MFA is centered on understanding the design and play of games from a critical point of view and expressing these ideas through writing and other means.