USC’s Interactive Media Division, a branch of the School of Cinematic Arts that offers programs in participative media and entertainment, was recently named the top school in the nation for game design studies.Games · IMD Director Tracy Fullerton (right) discusses designs with Luke Peterson (left), a senior majoring in fine arts, and Kurosh Valanejad. – Geo Tu | Daily Trojan The Princeton Review, the test-prep company known for its “best schools” lists, released its rankings of the top game design programs this week, placing USC at the top.USC’s Interactive Media Division began in 2002 as a Master of Fine Arts program, offering a degree in interactive media.Since its inception, the IMD has expanded to include a Bachelor of Arts program in interactive entertainment, as well as an interdivisional Ph.D. program in media arts and practice.Tracy Fullerton, holder of the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair of Interactive Entertainment, said the program started with a strong vision.“[School of Cinematic Arts Dean] Elizabeth Daley held a vision about how the program would move forward with game design, participative media and digital arts, and how these components would be united under a history of storytelling,” Fullerton said.The interactive entertainment program emphasizes creating thoughtful, collaborative leaders focused on imaginative, interactive properties for digital entertainment.“It’s focused on what the user experiences — what the player is thinking and feeling,” Fullerton said.The program, she said, “takes gaming beyond a technical form to an art form.”Fullerton also said keeping pace with changes in the gaming industry is another part of the IMD’s advantage.“Students are exposed to unreleased, cutting-edge tools and technology,” she said, noting that she currently holds a class that is working with gestural systems, such as Microsoft Surface, the first-ever surface computer.Sean Bouchard, a graduate student studying interactive media, said IMD’s focus on design is what sets USC’s program apart.“There’s a development process, and there’s programming, and there’s art, but what differentiates us from other programs — like DigiPen [Institute of Technology, which was ranked No. 2] — is that we’re really about learning how to design a game and learning about what makes a game fun, what makes it interesting,” he said.Kyla Gorman, a graduate student studying interactive media, said the program stresses the importance of understanding the experience of participating in a video game. Students also explore the theoretical aspect of game design by creating and experimenting with actual games.“We focus on the design, because it’s such a new field that there’s no real theoretical grounding for it yet,” Gorman said. “We look at what is fun and what makes a game balanced. You have to have the experience of actually playing a game to know how it’s working.”The Princeton Review surveyed 500 schools to create its top-50 list, evaluating the programs based on such criteria as academics, faculty, technology and game laboratories and career placement. Fullerton said earning the first position is a great honor.“We worked really hard to establish game design as a rigorous academic study. To be recognized, and furthermore, to be recognized by the Princeton Review, which is pretty much the gold standard for helping parents and prospective students understand the programs they’re looking at, is a really exciting moment — not just for us, but for the field of game design,” she said.