Lee is an associate professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and founding director of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio.
Frank Lee can see games anywhere. It first happened as an undergrad while he was driving on the Bay Bridge. The sun was setting, and he was mesmerized by how the light played off the building. He imagined a video game there. At the time, he didn’t give it much thought, but then the same vision came again while gazing at the Cira Centre in Philadelphia—and this time he wouldn’t let it go.
After four years of phone calls and emails, Lee planned to equip the 29-story building using 460 LED lights to create the spectacle of the world’s largest video game.
“Watching it happen was almost like watching a child being born,” he says. “I’ve been trying to do it for so long—and there it finally was!”
But there’s one more incredible finish he has in mind. Lee’s goal for the Game Design Program is the same goal he has for Philadelphia and its surrounding areas: to become a major player in the gaming world. After two years of teaching at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he joined Drexel as an assistant professor focusing on cognitive research. But, as soon as he arrived, he could no longer hide his “secret” life—Lee wanted to incorporate gaming into the academic side.
“I offered, I believe, the first game class at Drexel. [I] got a grant for educational gaming, and I was on a search committee to bring in faculty. [Associate professor] Paul Diefenbach was brought in and that’s been a huge part of this,” Lee says.
In 2008, Lee and Diefenbach formed the Drexel game design program as co-founders and co-directors.
“You have to see it as the fusion of art and science,” he says. “Eighty percent of games released commercially won’t make their money back.”
29 stories (437 feet)
8,536 sq. ft.
20 x 23 lights
From presently working on a game for autistic children to help them learn facial recognition to even hoping to gain ground on one for ADHD, Lee clearly sees this as so much more than fun and games.
“It’s different now,” he says. “Before, you’d need so many people to create something and then you needed someone like Electronic Arts to say you could [create games]. Now with mobile games, you can create [them] just with a few friends and you don’t need anyone to stop you from making a business happen. This is a great time for creative people—we just need to keep at it.”
And for a man who scaled the Cira Centre—so to speak—persistence is one game he’s not likely to quit.