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Video Game Development: A New Major in the Region, Taught by a Canadian University

In June, the first class graduated from the School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences at the University of Prince Edward Island’s Cairo campus. What was striking was the students’ major, video game development.

According to Ahmed El-Sheikh, the campus’s associate dean for computer science and mathematics, the students are the first graduates in the field of video game programming in Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East.

The University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in Cairo is part of Universities of Canada in Egypt, which was established in 2018 as the first international university campus in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital. Besides UPEI Cairo, the campus also hosts a satellite campus of Ryerson University.

In an online interview with Al-Fanar Media, El-Sheikh said that UPEI Cairo follows the curricula and teaching methods of the University of Prince Edward Island’s home campus, in Canada.

The School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences offers a Bachelor of Science degree with several specialisations, including video game programming, data analysis and business analytics.

A Unique Undergraduate Major

The university decided to offer the video games specialisation as an undergraduate major “to support and enrich the market in this field,” El-Sheikh said.

“What distinguishes this major from other computer science study programmes,” he said, “is that developing video games requires higher programming skills to create virtual reality, which is very complex, in addition to simulation, acting and animation of characters within the game.”

In learning these skills, he said, students are trying to keep up with the latest technologies in this field.

Canada is one of the leading countries in the development of video games, El-Sheikh said, and many of the world’s most prominent companies in this field are Canadian. Financially, the industry “exceeds Hollywood,” he said, referring to the revenue it earns compared to the movie industry.

“What distinguishes this major from other computer science study programmes is that developing video games requires higher programming skills to create virtual reality, which is a very complex matter, in addition to simulation, acting and animation of characters within the game.”

Ahmed El-Sheikh Associate dean for computer science and mathematics at the University of Prince Edward Island’s Cairo campus

“There is no longer that tendency to link games to specific devices, but rather be available to everyone via mobile phones or computers,” El-Sheikh said. “The transfer of this idea, its application, providing a good user experience and the localization of this industry with related technology and tools in Egypt requires people who possess that experience and tools.”

Before the University of Prince Edward Island in Cairo introduced its video game development programme, students could only study this subject after graduation through advanced training in companies working in this field.

The campus’s data analysis major is also important, El-Sheikh said. “Its significance lies in the fact that it complements everything related to technology and supports smart applications in various aspects of life, such as turning off lights automatically and within certain lighting limits, even in video games and the characters within them and the dialogues that take place within them. This may be useful in educational applications or in psychotherapy.”

A Different Learning Experience

Neveen El-Sayed, an assistant professor of computer science and mathematics, said the programme’s teaching “aims to prepare the student for the labour market, not for graduation, which requires constantly updating the curricula”.

In a statement to Al-Fanar Media, she said the programme aimed “to provide a better learning experience for students to apply technology and enter the video game industry.”

The programme established links with the industry, El-Sayed said, “so that we learn from companies the challenges specific to the field, and we work with the students to solve them. We try to give students a realistic picture about the industry and the challenges they will face in the labour market.”

The school seeks to prepare students so they are able to “transform the requests of a particular company into goals in their programmes and choose the appropriate graphics, as well as the scenario of the story in the game.”

Students work to implement their projects through the programme’s Meta Studio Lab, El-Sayed said. The lab “opens channels of communication between students and companies,” she said. “We have a team of professors and specialists who supervise students in the process of implementation professionally. Students from different academic years are also integrated to exchange experiences and enhance learning and practice skills.”

The link between students and industry has positively affected the way students think, El-Sayed said. Partner companies presented students with problems to work on, and the students “implemented what they learned, after we provided them with the world’s latest technology and tools.”

She also noted that students “get the theories and beyond. A student could become a researcher or make a game one day, all of which got the students excited. So we have different types of students and they think differently.”

Graduation Projects Closer to Reality

“Teaching aims to prepare students for the labour market, not for graduation, which requires constantly updating the curricula.”

Neveen El-Sayed An assistant professor of computer science and mathematics at UPEI Cairo

Ahmed El-Sheikh said the school emphasizes learning that is closer to real life.

Traditional education is based on graduation projects, without students going through challenges related to the reality of the industry or the needs of customers, he said. “We sought to make study relevant to the needs of the industry and for the students to have a client-oriented mind-set.”

In the normal graduation project, students working under pressure make mistakes, and this may cost them 20 points, he explained. But in the real world, “it may cost them their job or cooperation opportunities.”

The school encourages teamwork, communication skills and dealing with supervisors, thus preparing students for real working conditions with an atmosphere of competition in conditions that do not hinder their creativity, he said.

El-Sayed said the school’s learning methods linked theoretical and practical aspects. Industry partners, such as video game companies, are part of the curriculum. They attend some lectures and provide the college with industry needs, which the students work to meet in their graduation projects.

She summarized her vision by saying: “We always emphasize that computer science is a tool for solving problems in other sciences, including those of video games and entertainment and education.”

Learning Outcomes

El-Sheikh said the advanced skills of UPEI Cairo students had favourably impressed officials of Egypt’s National Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

The campus and the institute, which is the training arm of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, recently signed a memorandum of understanding under which students and the institute will share experiences and work together to solve challenges facing the institute.

“It becomes a life experience for them,” El-Sheikh said.

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Neveen El-Sayed said the agreement demonstrates the “great confidence in what the college offers in the Egyptian market.”

She added: “Through it, we can provide our expertise in technology to accelerate a number of cases that the institute and the state are working on in achieving Egypt’s sustainable development goals for 2030, including mechanisation, resource creation, and digital transformation. This helps our students to work away from the pressure of government work and thus they can provide innovative solutions to challenges and help their country.”

At the conclusion of the interview, El-Sheikh asserted that “engaging with the needs of the industry and critical thinking are the most prominent characteristics of a college graduate.”

Al-Sayed agreed, saying this “added the ability of problem-solving to the list of graduates’ skills.”

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