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Gaming is core of Zaidan’s classes

Assistant Professor Sarah Zaidan teaches several video game design classes in Emerson's Visual and Media Arts Department. She started working for the College in the Fall 2014 semester. (Video shot and edited by Elliot Friar '16)

Playing games can be a fun social activity or a serious obsession—and the reality is that video game sales are rivaling those of major Hollywood films.

For Sarah Zaidan, gaming is her world. With a PhD in superhero art from Kingston University in London, and degrees in sequential art and illustration, Zaidan joined Emerson last fall as an assistant professor in the Visual and Media Arts Department.

Sarah Zaidan“I am dedicated to providing students with the foundation they need to start creating games,” Zaidan said. “It’s a very powerful skill to have.”

Zaidan, who formerly taught at Northeastern University, aims to converge culture, art, and technology in education with her unique course, “Introduction to Game Design.”

“The class is a very hands-on class,” she said. “From the very first day, the students start designing games.”

However, the games are not designed for computers, mobile applications, or game consoles. Instead, Zaidan says students focus on the creative process and fundamental concepts of creating games without the complexities of technology getting in the way.

“I don’t want the students for an intro class to be spending all of their time learning programming languages and learning how to code. I want them to be able to actually make games,” Zaidan said. “I don’t want them to stop and be intimidated and think, ‘No, I’m not a game designer.’ Everyone has the potential to be a game designer, and my class is to help students unlock that potential very early on.”

The class itself includes many ungraded assignments, which Zaidan says are crucial to learning how to design games.

“Games are a safe environment to fail…I want this to be a safe place to experiment and try things and potentially succeed or not,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about the pressure of being graded or not.”

In addition to ungraded assignments, there are also three major graded assignments: a game based on a newspaper headline, a modification of a children’s game to make it enjoyable for all ages, and an hour-long campaign for a table top role-playing game. Zaidan says her students show a “lack of resistance” to these creatively demanding tasks.

“Emerson students are known for their creativity,” she said, “and to be able to experience that firsthand and try to help encourage that has been a really exciting and rewarding experience for me.”

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