The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Master's Degree

Will M. Baker

January, 2003

Part 1

     of WishfulThinkingWelcome to the University of Wishfulthinking, where we offer a full gaming curriculum. Here, eager students may pursue two-year programs to earn either a Masters of Arts in Game Theory, or a Masters of Fine Arts in Game Design.

At the University of Wishfulthinking we expand the frontiers of "entertainment scholarship" by offering opportunities for students to study, play, create, and master games. Whether you want to master the ancient game of Go, create and publish your own card game, or understand the complex principles of decision making, our program is for you!

Our Mission

Our assumption is that games are compelling, fascinating 'pastimes', and are therefore worthy of study. From an anthropological perspective, gaming has been interwoven with human culture for thousands of years, yet has been largely ignored by Academia. Played by all, contemplated by few, games are an exciting and important undercurrent in contemporary culture.

One of our core values is that game players, designers, and thinkers will have a grounding in game history and culture. To this end, a core curriculum is available studying classic games (such as Chess and Go), allowing students to gain extensive training in these fields. Complementing our classical instruction, we offer diverse courses in gaming theory, each focusing on theories as they apply to recreational games, rather than to economic and social "games". Finally, our various craft and seminar courses provide opportunities to study contemporary games, many of which have not yet received the academic scrutiny they deserve.

UWT Campus

Degree Requirements and Descriptions:


The Masters of Arts (MA) in Game Theory promotes familiarity with the development of gaming, and mastery of essential gaming theories. In contrast to the MFA in Game Design, which focuses on gaming as a craft, the MA in Game Theory is a rigorous inspection of the mechanics (theoretical, psychological, physical) at the foundation of games. Achieving this degree will aid those wishing to pursue careers in Game Theory, Game Testing & Publication, Sociology, and Game Writing. Players wishing to compete at a professional level in any game will benefit from this course of study as well.

In their first year, students will study an overview of the history of board games, will receive an introduction to either Chess or Go, and will be instructed in fundamental concepts of rule systems. To round out the year, students will select two electives and one 210-level theory course, choosing from Gambling & Probability Theory (211), Theory of Athletic Games (212), and Theory of Role-playing Games (213).

In their second year, students will focus on game theory, game ethics, and on their individual theses (each student will select a thesis director from among our esteemed faculty). Completing their second and final year, students will select one elective and two 270-level seminars. Seminars offered include Games in Popular Culture (271), Game Length, Suggested Age, and Number of Players (272), Elegance: Writing Rules for Games (273), The German Movement (274), Chess Biography (275), Theme (276), Designer Biography (277), American Games of the Later 20th Century (278), and Games in Translation (279).


The Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Game Design provides an environment for game designers to study published work and to develop individual projects. Less traditionally-academic than the MA in Game Theory, the MFA in Game Design is a rich, fluid exploration of one's artistic voice. In the Game Design Department, we encourage the philosophy that games are works of participatory art; each game is an integrated system of restrictions, choices, and visual/audio patterns that react to and rely upon human involvement. What participants personally bring to each session will determine how that "piece" develops, creating a mutually-expressive dynamic between author and audience, almost unknown in all other fields of art.

First year students will take some courses in common with MA students—History of Board Games (201), Chess (Intro.) (205) or Go (Intro.) (207), one elective, and one 210, 240, or 241 theory course—but will also experience their first Workshop and their first Craft course.

Workshops are a communal artistic process in which game designers present their games-in-progress to other game designers to have them play-tested and discussed. In turn, students play and discuss peer games-in-progress. Multiple workshops will be offered each semester, with at least one each of the following emphases: Board Game Design (251), Card Game Design (252), Children's Game Design (253), and Computer Game Design (254). Other workshops may be offered as interest merits. Workshops may be taken more than once for credit.

Craft courses are hybrids of workshops and lecture courses. In each craft course students will study important games from a specific genre (or featuring a specific system/mechanism), as well as work toward designing their own game within that genre. Many craft courses will focus on games only recently published, and the subject of very little criticism, giving students the opportunity to be pioneers in the study of these games. Craft courses include Children's Games (221), Dexterity Games (222), Skill Games (223), Party Games (224), Word Games (225), Role-playing Games (226), Trivia Games (227), Cooperative Games (228), Card Games (229), Mancala & Circuit Games (231), Tile, Dice, & Domino Games (232), Connection Games (233), Auction, Trade & Negotiation Games (234), Capture Games (235), Deduction Games (236), and Acquisition & Territory Games (237).

Second year students will explore Game Ethics (260), and take additional Workshop, Craft, and Elective courses. Most importantly, students will complete their directed thesis and take The Craft of Game Manufacturing & Publication (290). True thesis completion occurs when students publish their first post-graduate game.


Students may enroll in any 200-level gaming course as an elective (excepting courses already taken to fulfill other requirements; workshops may be taken more than once), though students may wish to use this opportunity to further their particular field of study. Electives offered include History of Athletic Games (202), Game Programming (Intro.) (208), Bridge (209), Settlers of Catan (214), Chess Openings (215), From Bits to Bytes: Translating Games into Programming (218), Poker (219), Decision Theory (241), Chess: Middle Game (245), Chess Variants (246), Go (Intermediate) (247), Game Programming (Intermediate) (248), Game Theory & Strategy II (261), Writing about Games (281), Chess: Endgame (285), Chess: Advanced (286), Go (Advanced) (287), and Game Programming (Advanced). Additionally, any course not required by one’s degree may count for elective credit.


We encourage all students to tailor the program to their individual needs, designing independent studies focusing on areas of student interest. Students are encouraged to use independent studies as opportunities to focus on games which have not yet found their way into our courses, and to pursue writing ventures, expanding the ever-growing canon of academic literature treating games as its subject. Independent studies must be approved by the department and by the student's chosen faculty director.


In addition to our core faculty members—each a game designer or game-focused author—the University of Wishfulthinking is honored each semester by visiting game designers, theoreticians, and professional players who assume instruction for Seminars, Workshops, and Craft Courses. Whenever possible, courses are instructed by experts in the applicable field.


Our library features a near-comprehensive collection of games and game-related items, featuring nearly 10,000 game titles (many in duplication), over 2000 game-related books, 45 subscriptions to game periodicals, and an extensive archive of articles, reviews, and tournament recordings. Our Special Collections branch contains rare and ancient game boards, pieces, and manuscripts, as well as rotating exhibits showcasing important historical and cultural gaming moments (recent exhibits include Spanish Chess During the Reign of Alfonso X and Rare Children’s Game Prototypes).

Next: Part II


- Will M. Baker

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