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1999 - 2000 University Scholar
Mentor: Meera Sitharam
College of Engineering
Computer science major Matt Belcher's interest in computers extends far beyond the
classroom or the lab. The senior from St. Petersburg works primarily with formal
languages and complexity theory, but his wide-ranging curiosity has led him to pursue
interests as varied as how computer science education can help developing nations to an
on-going analysis of the relationship between video games and art.
"I still have doubts about whether video games can be considered art," he says. "But this
is an actively debated topic and I've thought a lot about it." Belcher, who has been
playing video games since his father bought the family a Commodore 64 when he was
five years old, believes that the genre of video games is at a critical juncture. "The
games could go the way of TV, with formulaic development processes and consumer-
driven products," he says. "But I'm hoping they will become like movies - enjoyed by
everyone, but examined and respected as an art form by many people."
Belcher points out that video games are not always taken seriously, in part because
critics have yet to establish agreed-upon evaluative criteria. "When I judge a game, I
tend to use the critical nomenclature of literature. I think about characterization, plot,
and theme," Belcher explains. "However, since games are interactive and never
duplicated, we need different criteria. Certainly, interactivity - how much control a player
has over the game - and theme and execution - what is the game about and how well
does it depict this? - should be important considerations."
"The most popular games are the ones that take some aspect of real life and make it
fun," Belcher continues. "For example, Will Wright's 'The Sims' deals with seemingly
mundane activities like going to work, dealing with neighbors, and cleaning the house,
but it's an excellent - and very popular - game. This brings up an important consideration
called gameplay. This is adapted from what Aristotle called radiance when he discussed
traditional art forms: is it fun? why is it fun? could it be more fun than it is, and how so?"
Although Belcher does not intend to create his own video games, he does plan to pursue
a PhD in computer science to further study complexity and/or programming languages.
He credits the University Scholars Program with leading him toward graduate school.
"After doing my University Scholars research and developing a relationship with my
mentor, Dr. Sitharam, I'm now certain about grad school and I know what I want to do
when I get there."
(Photo by John Elderkin)
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