Gaming scholarship rewards grades and gaming skills

Kelli Dunlap wasn't sure she'd make the cut for the scholarship: She had the grades, but worried she wasn't a good enough gamer.

Kelli Dunlap wasn't sure she'd make the cut for the scholarship: She had the grades, but worried she wasn't a good enough gamer.

"My biggest concern was that I'm not a professional gamer," said Dunlap. "I don't play tournaments."

But last week, Dunlap was named one of five gamers awarded $10,000 scholarships based on academic and gaming achievements.

The PhD candidate at American School of Professional Psychology says she plans to use the money to support herself during her residency, hopefully continuing her studies into the uses of gaming in therapy.

This first ever Twitch and Alienware Scholarship was designed to support the gaming community and help it grow beyond its original boundaries, said Matthew DiPietro, vice president of marketing for video streaming service Twitch.

"Gaming has now become a major force in the global economy and culture, not just a solitary pastime," he said. "There are so many aspects of academics, business and culture that gaming touches, we really just want to support the people at the vanguard of gaming ... and that's students."

The scholarship, which required applicants to have a 3.0 grade point average as well as a "high level of achievement" in their game of choice, awarded a total of $50,000 to five students from a broad range of educational backgrounds including mechanical engineering, media arts and technology, and psychology.

"There are so many aspects of academics, Business and culture that gaming touches."

While Dunlap applied for the scholarship on a lark, she seems to be a perfect match. She's been examining the interactions between psychology, therapy and video games since she started work on her undergraduate degree.

"Pretty much every paper I've written has had a gaming aspect to them," she said.

That includes her current externship, which kicks off this week at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.

Dunlap pitched using certain aspects of video games to motivate patients to work through 24 weeks or so of resilience therapy.

The idea is that patients who come to class, finish their homework and achieve success, are awarded experience points that allow them to "level up" their title from a resiliency rookie to a resiliency rock star. She also awards points to the group as a whole and those points can be used to unlock special treats, like a pizza party.

The program, which Dunlap developed herself, is what landed her the externship with the center.

"I've tried to fuse my two passions into one profession," she said.

Dunlap's video game achievements come from the time she spends playing Halo.

"I've been playing Halo since (Halo:) Combat Evolved," she said. "I started playing in college and ended up playing 46 days worth as an undergraduate."

When Halo 3 was released, she and her husband joined a league and she got so involved in one aspect of the game, a community-created mode called Grifball, that she started writing about it for web site Grifballhub.com. In the three years since, she's built up a following for the site and herself.

"I've tried to fuse my two passions into one profession."

Dunlap is the sort of person that shows what the gaming community is capable of, the sort that led Twitch to come up with the idea.

"The original idea came from our CEO, Emmett Shear," said Twitch's DiPietro. "He and I are both (fairly) recent graduates, so we remember the pain of paying for our college years. We also are both StarCraft fans. The idea of combining academics with gaming was a bit of a eureka moment."

DiPietro said the company hopes to make the scholarship an annual thing, but they won't make a decision on that for another six months or so.

But for Dunlap, the scholarship has already changed her world. She plans to use the money to apply for a residency in Hawaii, where they are running a program that uses virtual reality to treat veterans with trauma, a perfect match for her skills and interests.

"This is going to have a huge impact on me," she said. "I couldn't have even dreamed of applying there because I couldn't afford to fly out there and interview. And if they took me, I wouldn't have been able to go. This scholarship means my possibilities are limitless. The only thing that determines what I do now are myself."

Dunlap added that the scholarship also helps the entire gaming community.

"There is a stereotype out there that gamers are lazy, don't do their homework and live in basements," she said. "The social view of gamers isn't the most flattering. Showcasing that you have some very talented, bright people in the community, I think it's fantastic for the image of the gaming industry as a whole."

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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