If you’ve ever wondered who the first ever Ph.D. graduate from UT Dallas’ School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) is, the answer is faculty member Dr. Monica Evans. Since graduating in 2007, her contributions in developing the game studies program on campus has played a part in the success of UT Dallas’ top ranking with The Princeton Review. Widely published, her students work has been featured in The Exley for their work on The Fast and the Fjorious, and she has served on the IMGA international jury.  Dr. Evans is the creator of the Game Production Lab.

In March 2016, The Princeton Review listed UT Dallas as one of the “Top 25” undergraduate and graduate schools to study game design. As an educator, how does it feel to be a part of a leading institution?

As an educator and program builder, I’m extremely proud! I’ve been part of the gaming program in ATEC since it started, under our first director Dr. Thomas Linehan, and we’ve been one of the Princeton Review’s top schools every year since they started ranking game design programs. I’m excited to see where we’ll go next under Dean Balsamo. These are rapidly evolving academic fields, so our programs have to evolve at the same incredible rate.

How does the structure of game design affect narrative development and the storytelling process? Do audiovisual elements and sensory experience play a large part?

I’m a firm believer that games are not a fundamentally narrative medium, but a fundamentally interactive medium with huge potential for narrative experience. Given that humans are storytellers by nature, this makes for a powerful combination. Not all digital games are heavily narrative, but it’s important for designers of story-heavy games to keep the player’s mechanical experience in parity, or at least in harmony, with the narrative experience. Aesthetic elements play a key role, as do technological elements.

I also believe that the digital game is one of the most important art forms we have today, particularly in terms of the aggregate experiences that we can best express, or perhaps only express, in an interactive medium. Learning to design games takes time, practice, and a willingness to learn from failure; it’s a truly creative practice.

With an increasing demand for more realistic and life-like graphics, how do you see the future of game design and/or game narratives evolving?

We have an axiom in my lab: more pixels do not a better game make. The evolution of storytelling in digital games will have more to do with character AI and experimental narrative structures than with aesthetics. I’m also very interested in game worlds that are believable and immersive, but heavily stylized; i.e. the kinds of worlds that couldn’t possibly exist, except in a digital environment. This will be particularly interesting in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR0, when you can physically step into worlds that deliberately subvert the fidelity of real life.

When you’re not teaching, how do you spend your free time?

Playing games! I’m playing Minecraft, Season 7 of Diablo III, and No Man’s Sky at the moment, as well as a surprisingly large pile of mobile games. There’s a regular group that plays board games (from Arkham Horror to Twilight Imperium) on Mondays in my research lab. I’m looking forward to Dishonored 2, and am trying to find time to play Song of the Deep and replay Odin Sphere. To my everlasting shame, two of our animation faculty in ATEC have outleveled me in Pokemon Go.

I spend the majority of my time with my two-year-old daughter, who is definitely too young for my favorite games!