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video games

Get a gaming degree at TU

Chances are, you do it. 

So do your friends. 

Maybe even your parents.  

“It” is computer gaming, and these days practically everybody is in on the action. More than 2.5 billion people around the world play video games, and almost two-thirds of all American adults — men and women, in almost equal numbers.  

COVID-19 related lockdowns have made the industry stronger than ever. In 2020, people spent $180 billion on gaming, according to market-research firm IDC. That’s more than the global movie business and North American sports, combined. 

Turn gaming into a career with a degree from TU.

two young people at a desk discussing images drawn on paper and a computer monitorA degree in computer simulation and gaming from The University of Tulsa can help curious students plug into a career in this growing industry. This multidisciplinary degree combines computer science, art, music, film and storytelling, putting you in a position to either design or develop games. Video game designers are responsible for the creative decisions that go into a game: its plot, its character development and its overall look and feel. Game developers translate those ideas into a playable game using programming skills.

In TU’s gaming program at the Tandy School of Computer Science, you’ll learn the different gaming industry roles and pick a track that’s right for you. 

As a TU game designer, you will explore the possibilities of programming to invent new worlds for others to enjoy. You will understand the language of gaming and gain the skills needed to translate your vision into (virtual) reality. 

Game designers and developers are in high demand. According to PayScale, video game designers earn $65,886 a year, while developers make $64,562. But gaming is far from your only career path. Other businesses find uses for the same types of virtual worlds built by game designers and developers. As the technology becomes cheaper and more advanced, TU alumni find more and more outlets for their talents and options for their careers. 

  • Aerospace/aviation. Pilots have relied on flight simulators for years. Increasingly sophisticated models that mimic complex meteorological conditions and other variables make this training even more versatile. 
  • Medicine. Researchers use computer simulations to understand how drugs can shut down viruses. In England, for example, researchers are using computational models to show weak points of SarS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. 
  • Cybersecurity training. The SolarWinds hack showed how vulnerable even our largest corporations can be. Software that simulates cyberattacks can show organizations where they need to improve, without putting any data at risk.   
  • Transportation. The dream of a traffic jam-free highway full of driverless cars may be just that — a dream. In a 2021 study, traffic engineers in Australia used computer models to find that one type of autonomous vehicle actually increased congestion when used alongside human-controlled vehicles. 
  • Surgery. They say practice makes perfect. However, when you’re under the knife, you want a surgeon who’s ready to go. In Canada, a pair of video game veterans have launched a new company that uses VR to put surgeons in a virtual operating room, where they can practice techniques long before trying them on patients.  

Learn more about computer gaming at The University of Tulsa 

TU’s computer simulation and gaming major features two tracks: A design or development option. 

  • The design option mixes classes in computer science and programming with art, game design, film studies and other courses to sharpen your creativity. 
  • The development option combines courses in computer science and programming with advanced mathematics, physical science and game design. 

No matter which you pick, you’ll learn the skills necessary to work as part of a game-development team or build a game independently. And because we’re a member of the Unity Academic Alliance, you’ll have access to technology used to build more than half of all games titles released today.  





Collegiate cyber squad to compete at NCCDC

The COVID-19 pandemic undeniably changed the spring semester, but TU’s collegiate cyber students and faculty continue to actively and creatively look for ways to make the best of the situation. Many of the spring events and competitions continued as planned, just in a new, digital-only format.

TU to compete at NCCDC after winning SWCCDC regional

The Southwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (SWCCDC) at TU, was originally scheduled for March and temporarily postponed due to COVID-19. But after a few adjustments, faculty and students rallied to attend the event in a virtual realm; university-level students competed Saturday, April 11. The TU team won first place and will compete in the National CCDC virtual event May 22-23.

Meet the TU 2020 CCDC team and see their personalized trading cards

CCDC teams exercise both technical and business skills while focusing on the operational aspects of managing and protecting an existing simulated corporate network infrastructure. A traditional CCDC regional and national competition is an intense in-person team experience. The team works hard on coordinating activities and communication in a fast-paced environment of relentless network-based attacks while responding to continual business tasks. TU’s team is led by faculty adviser Sal Aurigemma, Edward E. and Helen T. Bartlett Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems.

“Moving the competition completely online keeps the same demanding expectations while removing the ability to share vital non-verbal communication cues that all great teams build by working together over time,” Aurigemma explained. “Communicating will be more difficult, and more important than ever. Team captain Hannah Robbins has done a truly phenomenal job leading the team through all the required technical training throughout the year. The dedication, flexibility, and professionalism of TU’s CCDC team is something I am truly proud to be a part of.”

Robbins worked with the team to test multiple collaboration platforms, adjusting and fine-tuning the communication protocols that the team relies on to function.

“Not being face to face in the same room competing is a new experience for us this year, but the changes the competition has made to adapt to the circumstances have kept the difficulty consistent,” Robbins said.

The group reviewed its past performances at competitions and other virtual events to determine what worked and what didn’t. “The pandemic has given us a chance to step back and really examine our strategies, and we’ve made some changes that will give us a new perspective on our plan of attack from the start of the competition.”

Capture the Flag for TPS

In other cyber competitions, computer science student Tabor Kvasnicka is a perfect example of how innovative ideas can help move a plan forward. TU hosts an online Capture the Flag event every November and in the middle of COVID-19 social distancing measures, Kvasnicka decided to offer that same opportunity to students in the Tulsa Public School system.

Kvasnicka describes the event as a “Jeopardy!-style version of Capture the Flag, where teams solve cybersecurity challenges to reach a string of text called a ‘flag,’ which awards them points.”

But capturing these cyber flags is not easy, and the teams must be well-versed in a variety of topics such as PWN, reverse engineering, cryptography, web and other emerging areas of computer science. The event is tentatively scheduled to start on April 13, and the end date is yet to be determined.


Another great way the TU community is demonstrating its resilience to proceed with regularly scheduled events is the computer simulation and gaming program’s Computer Simulation and Gaming Conference (CSGC). Originally planned before the pandemic arrived for the weekend of April 17-18, CSGC was quickly transitioned to a virtual competition by Chapman Instructor in Computer Science Akram Taghavi-Burris and her students; all speakers presented online to a worldwide audience of all ages.


Shifting the delivery required a lot of flexibility, Taghavi-Burris said: “Our CSGC 2020 event volunteers, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors were quick to respond and encourage the move to a virtual event. While this is a new platform for CSGC, an online conference does have its advantages. We saw an increase of out-of-state attendees, and even those from other countries. Again, our student volunteers have been tremendous and even worked out what tools would be best to stream and keep in touch with our attendees. We’ve even set up a CSGC Discord server on their recommendation and it’s been a great way to communicate with everyone involved.”

While there’s no denying that the semester has been disrupted by COVID-19, the global health crisis has also illuminated the heart, drive, and passion of TU students and faculty. Their ability to revise plans and adapt to constant change ensures the show goes on.

Gaming students take interdisciplinary approach to summer TURC projects

Students Courtney Spivey and Cheyanne Wheat, enrolled in one of the College of Engineering and Natural Science’s fastest growing majors, are spending their summer diving into computer simulation and gaming development – with a humanities twist.

A career of creativity

Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) student Courtney Spivey wants to create video games. As an artist, drawing and being creative is all she’s ever wanted to do.

“I’ve always loved to imagine. My interests have expanded and changed form vastly over the years, but at the end of the day I want to be involved in a career where I can be creative and share my creativity with as many people as possible,” she said.

computer simulationSpivey is laying the groundwork for her future by triple majoring in applied mathematics, computer simulation and gaming and art (emphasis on graphic design) in the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. The University of Tulsa’s computer simulation and gaming degree begins with core computer science classes in the fundamentals of programming and understanding computer systems, and then gives students the freedom to choose a specialization. As an example, the areas of design and development focus more on the artistic aspects of creating, screenwriting and drawing and also offer electives such as video editing and 3D modeling.

Courtney says she likes learning about code and the development side of the computer simulation and gaming program. In January, she began her TURC research exploring deep learning, artificial neuro networks (ANNs) and the capabilities and current limitations of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to machine learning and AI, Spivey’s work has grown to include the study of human behavior in psychology in an attempt to find connections between the similarities of the creators and their methods for approaching deep learning.

“The human side is more flexible. When you look at why humans prefer one thing over another, you have to consider the validity of the research,” she said.

Gaming goals and future endeavors

In June, Spivey attended the International Computational Creativity Conference (ICCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn about mixing AI and machine learning with creative channels such as music and drawing. Her TURC adviser, TU School of Art, Design and Art History Director Teresa Valero, encouraged her to pursue the opportunity. Spivey will complete the community engagement portion of her TURC project later this summer when she visits Tulsa Public School sites to teach students about ANNs.

“The cool thing about TURC is that because I’m interested in media and art and how we perceive AI from a normal point of view, I can combine that with computer science analytics,” she said. “I find this research fascinating.”

computer simulationSpivey, who is from Jenks, Oklahoma, begins her senior year at TU this fall. After graduation, she hopes to work in game development as a creative manager for new projects.

In the meantime, Spivey is open to detours along her career path that pique her interest and challenge her skillset. Ironically, she is “not that much of a gamer” but credits video games like Detroit: Become Human and Legend of Zelda for leading her to this summer’s TURC project.

Gilcrease connections assist with museum technology

computer simulationFellow computer simulation and gaming major Cheyanne Wheat sits at a computer across TU’s campus in Rayzor Hall working on a similar project that also involves collaboration with TU arts and sciences programming. A junior originally from the Tulsa area, she has teamed up with TU anthropology Professor Bob Pickering to create a simulated time progression of an Indian burial mound’s construction. The interactive video game will benefit curators and preservationists at cultural institutions, such as Gilcrease Museum, where anthropologists are eager to incorporate more technology into interactive learning.

“I want to know how we can use games or game-like activities based on a museum collection to engage a younger audience,” Pickering explained. “Gilcrease has 10,000 years of human history objects from the Americas, but if you’re a 9-year-old, you don’t know these objects, you don’t have any connection to them and you don’t know why they’re important.”

According to Pickering, the museum video game concept is an experiment on every level, but collaboration with computer simulation and gaming students on a “museum forward” idea is important for the next generation of museum professionals. “This partnership is a way to start the process — to figure out what kind of technology we need and how much time it will require,” he said.

computer simulationPickering and JC Diaz, a professor in the TU Tandy School of Computer Science, have worked together on a few other museum technology projects in the past that have resulted in published papers presented at scholarly events such as the Electronic Visualization in the Arts Conference in London. The unexpected collaboration between TU’s anthropology and computer simulation and gaming programs is, Pickering noted, one of the first of its kind and sparks many interdisciplinary possibilities for curious students.

The TURC partnership weaves Pickering’s experience as an archaeologist, Gilcrease artifacts recovered from burial mounds of the Hopewell Tribe in Illinois and Wheat’s expertise as a computer simulation and gaming student. “He’s giving me the historical, accurate information, and as a developer, I’m building all of it into a museum context,” she said.

computer simulation
Cheyanne Wheat’s community service component of TURC involves volunteering for Animal Aid in Tulsa.

Wheat uses an Intel RealSense 3D camera to photograph models of Hopewell Tribe artifacts placed on a turntable. The hundreds of images are then plugged into a computer program called Unreal to develop a game that is fun and informative. Players will explore a landscape full of nature, animals and artifacts from the Hopewell Tribe 250 BCE to 250 CE while learning about history and civilization. The objective is to tell the story behind historical objects and discuss how museum-goers of all ages can learn from a video game feature.

“I’m hoping to complete development by the end of the summer and start testing it with real individuals to see how it captures people’s interest — if they like it and think it belongs in a museum,” Wheat said. “I’m focused on integrating more technology into museum culture. There’s so much technology the anthropology field hasn’t tackled yet.”