Jul 17, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2024-2025 
Rensselaer Catalog 2024-2025

Critical Game Design, Ph.D.

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Rensselaer’s Critical Game Design program is designed to graduate entrepreneurial, critical-theory savvy game developers who work to change the face of games research and the games industry.

Game studies, or the investigation of games via cultural theory, history, and sociology are generally separated from game design practice at other institutions. Our Critical Game Design Ph.D. program bridges this traditional divide by explicitly combining critical theory of games studies with design practice. Drawing on our multidisciplinary GSAS faculty’s expertise across arts practice, media studies, science and technology studies, computer science, and cognitive science, our curriculum presents a unique fusion of critical, reflective, and historical approaches with game design practice. In other words, the proposed Ph.D. program offer students what other programs do not provide: a games-as-research oriented education that synthesizes games studies research, critical theory, and other scholarly bodies of literature with production-focused skills training.  

The Critical Game Design Ph.D. program is designed to train scholar-practitioners who are deeply versed in game production, game studies theory, and scholarly writing and research. Graduates from this program will be well positioned to teach and conduct research at the university level, as well as to apply their skills within the games industry and independent spaces as consultants, directors, and producers.

The goal of this hybrid theory-creative curriculum is threefold: (1) to enable students to transform the medium of games and the games industry through building games, (2) to prepare students to take leadership roles in newly-created Ph.D. programs in Game Design across the world, and (3) to provide a platform for GSAS faculty and the Rensselaer brand to contribute to an emerging, cutting-edge field.

The Ph.D. program in Critical Game Design would see students learn and apply game studies, user-centered design theory, critical design, the digital humanities, and qualitative/quantitative research methodology in order to contribute to scholarly bodies of research in interactive design fields. Graduates of the Ph.D. program will be prepared to enter academic positions as researchers and teachers and to contribute to the games industry as entrepreneurs, practitioners, and consultants.

This degree program is a hybrid theory and practice program that deeply immerses students in the game studies literature, game design principles, and topical concentrations on the social and structural issues surrounding digital games and interactive media commensurate with the student’s research area. The program is designed to be completed in 4 years, with core game studies, methods, and game design courses in the first year, and speculative and experimental studios/theory courses the second year, supplemented with an array of interdisciplinary electives and participation in research labs under the supervision of GSAS faculty. Throughout the program, students will be challenged to work to synthesize critical theory with design practice in rigorous ways that can contribute to both textual scholarship and interactive practice. An exam at the end of the second year will test student’s proficiency in a broad array of scholarly literatures surrounding games and interactive media (to be selected in advance by the GSAS faculty, and supplemented with literature from the student’s own research area). A candidacy exam at the beginning of the third year will evaluate whether or not the student has sufficiently incorporated that literary expertise into their dissertation research design. The dissertation itself will comprise both a designed interactive media piece, as well as a written document that frames the work within larger bodies of scholarship, documents the design and creative process, and applies rigorous qualitative and/or quantitative methods in evaluating the efficacy and/or impact of the media piece upon intended audiences.


Learning Outcomes

After completing this program, students will be able to:

  • Enable students to transform the medium of games and the games industry through building games
  • Prepare students to take leadership roles in newly created Ph.D. programs in Game Design across the world
  • Provide a platform for GSAS faculty and the Rensselaer brand to contribute to an emerging, cutting-edge field, represented by programs at peer and aspirant institutions

Graduation Requirements

  • Seventy-two (72) credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree.
  • At least two-thirds of the total credit hours, excluding dissertation credits, must contain the course numbers 6000-7999.
  • Individual course requirements can be waived or substituted - in exceptional circumstances - by the Department without decreasing the total number of credits required for the degree.
  • Successful completion of the Qualifying Exam, Candidacy Exam, and Dissertation Defense.


Year 1


  • 4000 or 6000-level Elective Credits Hours: 3 1


  • 4000 or 6000-level Elective Credits Hours: 3 1

Year 2

Year 3

Fall & Spring

Year 4

Fall & Spring

  • Credit Hours: 1-16
  • (9 credits, minimum, fall & spring)

    A minimum of 36 dissertation credits are required for graduation.


  1. All course selections to be determined in consultation with program faculty.

  2. Doctoral Committee must be approved by OGE prior to the start of classes in the semester in which Dissertation will be taken.

  3. GSAS 6940 or Research Credits with advisor must be taken if Doctoral Committee is not yet approved by OGE.

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