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Gaming technology moves into Appalachia

Nov. 19, 2004

By Marisa Long

In addition to its beautiful Appalachian landscape, southeastern Ohio will soon be known for its interactive digital technology (IDT). The School of Telecommunications (TCOM) and the College of Communication have partnered with the Information Technology Alliance of Appalachian Ohio (ITAAO) and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce to develop interactive digital technology in the region.

Gaming is the 'grid' for success

The partnership between Ohio University and City of Athens leaders revolves around the Games Research and Immersive Technology (GRID) Lab that is in development. The GRID Lab will focus on the innovative field of gaming, which deals with the creation of interactive video games. It will assist in developing the new gaming major at Ohio University and serve as an attraction in Athens, Ohio, and the surrounding region.

Included in the lab will be an arcade open to students and the public. Also included will be an area designated to research the usability and functions of the games played and a space dedicated to economic development through the creation of new gaming programs from both Ohio University students and gaming entrepreneurs in the Appalachian region.

Gary Little, president of ITAAO, says the GRID Lab will be an interactive place where young students, college students, educators, researchers and IDT developers can interact to cultivate their creativity.

"We want to educate local young people for 21st century jobs, develop learning and working environments that will attract and keep people in our region and create industries that are high tech, growing, high-paying and suited to our region," he says.

A location for the GRID Lab, which is set to open in April 2005, will be selected soon.

Grant fuels partnership

Funding for the GRID Lab is thanks in part to a grant to ITAAO by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ITAAO received $247,550 from ARC to help fund the lab. Along with additional funds from the College of Communication and the support of various local businesses, the GRID Lab will bring gaming technology to the region.

"ARC liked the project because of the well-organized cooperative effort of the education and business communities in this area to benefit the community by developing a high-tech economy," Little says.

ARC's mission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in the Appalachian region. The commission was established by the U.S. Congress in 1965 and covers a 200,000 square-mile area spanning from southern New York to northern Mississippi. Little submitted the ARC grant proposal for ITAAO with the help of many individuals from Ohio University faculty, staff and students and local business, the government and the community.

GRID project director Karen Riggs, who is also the director of the School of Telecommunications, says she is grateful to faculty, staff and administrators in the College of Communication for recognizing the visionary value of the GRID concept, and she hopes to deepen the support for the project.

"The School of Telecommunications and the College of Communication look forward to working with partners across campus and throughout the community and region to launch the GRID Lab," she says. "This exciting combination of research, outreach and entrepreneurial efforts will go a long way toward helping to fulfill President Roderick McDavis' goals of research expansion and regional partnerships in the coming five years."

TCOM students get their 'game' on

Gaming Animation Multimedia Effects is a new major offered this year within the School of Telecommunications. One of the main purposes of the GRID Lab will be to help support the new program.

Professor Roger Good, head of the gaming sequence, says, "Gaming deals with many intricate aspects of multimedia technology because it doesn't only cover traditional video games, but includes high-tech programs that don't fit in the traditional sense of the word."

There are 12 students enrolled in the gaming sequence. With a strong interest in the program, Good expects the numbers to increase. There is room for up to 50 students in the gaming sequence.

Students have also formed the Ohio University Gaming Academy (OUGA), which has about 30 members who not only play video games, but work on developing new ones.

Other technological developments are taking place throughout southeastern Ohio. Both Shawnee State College in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Washington State College in Marietta, Ohio, are working to develop degrees in gaming and forming labs that will coordinate with the GRID lab.

Graduate student John Bowditch, who is pursuing a gaming degree, is the GRID project manager and will serve as the director of the GRID Lab. He says the gaming major will become more popular with the opening of the GRID Lab.

"There are many benefits to such a large collaboration between the city and university, and I think the greatest benefit is that there is a lot of immediate interest that has developed for this project," he says. "Everyone involved really wants things to happen, and it is creating a buzz in the area. This lab is really going to help the gaming major and will be a powerful recruiting tool for the School of Telecommunications."

Marisa Long is a writer with Communications and Marketing.

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