The ATEC Games and Media Library is shut down for the remainder of the semester for renovations.
The GML was commonly used by dozens of students a day as a hangout spot to play video games and meet others interested in game design to potentially embark on collaborative personal projects. On Oct. 4, the space was shut down so changes could be made that would make it more appealing to a wider variety of students and faculty.
Michael Andreen, an ATEC game design professor involved with the faculty committee in charge of the GML, said all the planned changes ideally were to happen over the summer, but that was pushed back because of multiple new faculty members being hired. Now that the semester has begun, the changes are too jarring to be made while there are students occupying the space.
“If the students are watching this happen piece by piece, without a greater context and seeing all the stuff going on behind the scenes, it looks really disjointed, and that’s not the image we want them to see. We want to present them the whole package,” he said.
Over the summer, the GML transitioned from a small closet-like space that fit around 10 people, to a much larger space with its own projector, big round tables and small extra rooms that are attached to the original.
When the GML was re-opened just two weeks into the fall semester, the new room was intended to be packaged with policy changes involving time and inventory management that weren’t properly implemented due to the rushed re-opening of the space.
A goal for the new GML was to make it more friendly for students looking to use the room for research. Previously, the space was used more for gaming and socializing. Faculty is aiming to put policies in place to make both possible by implementing a time schedule for different activities.
“What we’re talking about right now is having a block of time during the day and over multiple days in the week — this is when you can come in to play,” Andreen said.
When students aren’t in the GML playing games for fun, the space will be devoted to conducting research. Game design students often have assignments in which they need to play games and analyze them, and the GML allows students to carry out this research together.
“That’s the sort of thing where the space is perfect, multiple people could go in there and engage in the same game at once, and they can sit there and discuss it,” he said.
Another concern that faculty has regarding the GML is the lack of a reason for professors outside of game design to recommend it to students, as its inventory is currently exclusive to games. To go along with the GML’s physical expansion, its inventory will be expanded to include resources to help ATEC students of other specializations complete classwork.
“I talk a lot about gaming, but this could also be a place where you go for your animation stuff, and you can get access to reference books for big animation studios,” Andreen said.
With these policy changes that are aimed to attract new students interested in research to the GML, the faculty is aware that the group who used the old space for gaming in a more social sense may be upset by the situation. The GML’s sudden closing is meant to remedy that by finding a balance between the new and old crowds.
“This is why we did want to shut it down as supposed to trying to implement new procedures as we went on, because at that point it looks like we’re trying to muscle the old community out,” Andreen said.
Once faculty has completed the changes planned for the GML, it is set to reopen to students at the start of the spring semester.
Additionally, the GML will be receiving new policies related to how its inventory should be handled. Previously, one library tech was present, who was responsible for keeping track of which pieces of equipment were being used by students. Josh Miller, an ATEC graduate student on the committee in charge of the GML, said that process can be rather complicated and faculty is looking into how it could be simplified.
“If we have like 30 people in there, one person won’t be able to track what games people have, or if people have taken a game out. We need to have a more rigorous procedure for that,” Miller said.
Students also would come to the GML looking for a specific game, only to find that it wasn’t available. A database where inventory can be viewed outside campus is in the works, which would mend this issue.
Much of the GML’s inventory is also in rough shape, especially gaming equipment that is decades old, requiring maintenance. Students will not be able to use this equipment as a result and this will be a problem if the GML remains open, Andreen said.
“People in the place are never going to know what they can and cannot use, and it’s a lot of work to communicate over and over again why they cannot use something,” he said.
Some of the equipment taken in for maintenance will be usable in the new GML, but some will be beyond proper repair and disposed. However, disposing of useless equipment is a more complicated than one would imagine, Andreen said.
“Because it’s university property technically, we can’t just go throwing it away. There are proper disposal procedures and in that vein we need proper donation procedures to account for games we want in the space,” he said.
As far as video game inventory is concerned, the GML will be prioritizing donations of games that are relevant from an academic standpoint and can be put to good use through student research in the GML.
“We’re going to need to have multiple of those, so when we set aside time for people to come in to play games for class, it’s not just a line of 30 people sitting there,” Miller said.
With these changes coming to the GML in the spring, it is in strong consideration that ATEC-related events could be held in the space. An idea of hosting a “Game of the Month” event is currently in the works, where undergraduate and graduate students can congregate in the GML and discuss the narrative, mechanics, animations or other aspects of games that are relevant in both play and study.
There is also the possibility of the GML hosting high school students looking to get feedback on ATEC-related projects, or industry speakers that are familiar with game design and cutting edge technology that UTD students will end up working with in the field.
“Having someone come in and talk about virtual reality would be a great asset to students,” Andreen said.
With the new GML, the ATEC faculty are trying to create a seamless mix of play and research, where students can continue using the space to be social while still gaining knowledge on how to design their own content.
“The Games and Media Library is an intersection of community, recreation and research, and I think that intersection is representative of what ATEC is as a whole,” Andreen said.