Boise State GIMM program reaches beyond campus to build communities

Boise State GIMM program
Photo by Claire Keener

Mention of Boise State’s Games, Interactive Media & Mobile (GIMM) program conjures an image of aspiring game developers huddled over their desktop computers. That perception falls short of describing the work taking place on the first floor of the Albertsons library, where GIMM students are learning skills that can serve the community.

GIMM students start by learning a number of basic skills like computer programming and design. GIMM program senior Jamey Dunn was able to apply her love of design on a two-dimensional frame-by-frame project before learning how to program a game.

“It’s very messy and scary,” Dunn said. “But I was like, wow! We’re already making a game and jumping into the work and feeling like we’re learning quickly. I wouldn’t have to wait a few years before I saw progress.”  

Dunn has developed music compositions and digital art assets as part of larger projects, which she credits to the accessibility and creative license that the program offers. 

“GIMM prepares you with a lot of base information in many different areas during your first year,” Dunn said. “It takes all these different disciplines and puts them all together. We have a very diverse group of students who come from different educational backgrounds, and end up in a lot of different positions.”

Beyond developing a technical skillset, students also focus on finding ways for the technology to help tackle critical issues like child education development and food insecurity on campus. 

Dr. Patricia Hampshire, Boise State’s early and special education department chair, works with Idaho elementary schools to implement GIMM-developed applications like ABC Stories, a hand-writing application that uses augmented reality (AR). 

“ABC Stories is an early writing app that helps teach writing skills to individuals with autism spectrum disorders,” Hampshire said. “There’s growing research on the effectiveness of AR, projecting what’s happening in the app onto the world around you.” 

Hampshire approached the GIMM program with the proposal, and a team of students immediately went to work. ABC Stories was developed by a team led by GIMM student Lauren Matthews, and is available for free at the Apple Store

“This is about solving problems and giving back to the community,” Hampshire said. “Boise State is a place where problems can be solved collaboratively with community partners. That’s what really interests me about the GIMM program.” 

Projects like this are part of GIMM program director Dr. Anthony Ellertson’s vision of Boise State University as a “city on a hill.” 

“I want to cement more of the projects that we’re doing for the community and create a more robust pipeline where you have people from the community or the state coming to ask us to help tackle a problem,” Ellertson said. 

GIMMWORKS is a student development team that applies their skills to solving real-world problems. The team has previously released the Bronco BEAM (Beacon Environment Approximation Mapping) application. 

Boise State GIMM program
[Photo of the Games, Interactive Media and Mobile (GIMM) sign at the department’s entrance on the first floor of Albertsons Library on Boise State campus]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

Available for free from the Apple Store or Google Play, the BEAM app offers real-time free food alerts to help combat food insecurity for Boise State students.

“One way I would like to see the program grow is to increase access to these technologies across the state, especially in the rural schools,” Ellerstson said. “We’re working with Gear Up Idaho, a program for promoting Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers and helping students get into college.”  

The GIMM program opened in 2015 as a part of the College of Innovation and Design. Available courses include game design theory, interactive storytelling and a digital portfolio. The portfolio is a graduation requirement and is intended to showcase six to eight industry-quality artifacts. 

“The difference between GIMM and computer science has to do with the emphasis,” Ellertson said. “Computer science tends to emphasize more of the back-end data processing and analytics. In the GIMM program we’re interested in how human beings interact with technology.”

The GIMM degree plan incorporates much more than video game development. 

“Gaming is a big part of our curriculum,” Ellertson said. “But when you look at our graduates, we have folks working in manufacturing and developing augmented and virtual reality solutions, and that is really where our graduates will find the best opportunities.” 

According to a 2016 report by global investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, augmented and virtual reality are projected to grow into an $80 billion market by 2025.

“We’re seeing a huge uptick in mixed-reality developers who work with augmented and virtual reality,” Ellertson said. “Two-thirds of that market will be dominated by industry applications like training and manufacturing simulations and product interconnectivity.”

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