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Games master

Wednesday 15 April 2009 Postgraduate

Chris Child is the designer of the top-selling International Cricket Captain PC game. He explains how postgraduate study shaped his career in the games industry.

I'd been interested in computers, mainly through playing games, from the age of nine. I'd also written a few very simple games on the Commodore Vic-20 and Spectrum as a teenager. After a BSc in Software Engineering at the University of Birmingham, I went on to complete an MSC in Cognitive Science.

I developed an interest in psychology through reading some of my grandfather’s books after he died (he was a clinical psychiatrist). I was also interested in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnosis at the time; I was fascinated by the idea that you could programme and control the human mind like a computer. That kind of thing also links in with artificial intelligence (AI), which I have always been fascinated with.

Brain training

I studied the Masters full time for a year. We had eight taught modules on a range of subjects, designed to help build bridges between research in psychology, philosophy and computing. There was a three-month project at the end, which could be on any subject you preferred. I designed a system which combined neural networks and genetic algorithms, which I like to describe as evolving computer brains.

It worked really well, improved my programming skills and helped me to get a distinction. I'm also pretty sure it helped me land a job at Logica, which is where I worked immediately after my Masters.

At Logica, I worked on image analysis, which is something that I learned about on the MSc’s neural network course. We had an excellent lecturer for psychology and the philosophy course was fascinating because of the way it links in with AI. We discussed whether, if you did create a being through AI, it would think as a human and be intelligent enough to have a soul and human rights. I also gained some excellent knowledge about research methods in general, which has enabled me to pursue an academic career after several years in industry.

Level two

For the last few years I've been studying for a PhD at City University London and have had a role as a visiting lecturer on its Computer Science with Games Technology BSc (Hons). This year, I've helped to create City’s new MSc in Computer Games Technology and have recently started a full-time job as games technology lecturer at the University.

I certainly wouldn't have become a lecturer or studied for my PhD without the Masters, and the extra qualification gave me far more options. I also work part time running my computer game company, Childish Things Ltd. I've been working in the games industry for ten years now, making a very successful series of cricket games. My Masters gave me the confidence to persuade a publisher that my slightly odd game idea was worth a punt.

It’s always great fun to see people inspired to use technology to build something creative. My computer game company is also moving into a new realm this year because I've taken on more employees to allow me to continue creating games to further focus on my academic career.