Let's play a game.
I'm a multibillion-dollar industry where 40 percent of users are women, the average buyer is 40 years old and 65 percent of American households interact with me.
What am I?
If you guessed the video game industry, you're right.
The statistics come from the Entertainment Software Association, which serves companies that publish computer and video games. In 2007, the industry earned $9.5 billion in revenue, according to ESA's Web site.
Figures aside, few would argue the popularity and potential profitability of video games — even educators are attesting to that. Now, Tampa has at least one school catching on to the trend and preparing students for a career in what could be an increasingly lucrative field.
"I want to be a video game designer," Middleton High School student Stacey Brundydge said while staring at a computer screen, his fingers moving across the keyboard, then onto the mouse.
But he's not just playing games — he and others are creating them.
The 10th-grader is among a dozen students enrolled at the school's new Academy of Computer Game Design.
Middleton, which has about 1,400 students, is the first conventional high school to offer the program in Hillsborough County. The program is also offered at Bowers-Whitley Career Center in North Tampa.
The Middleton program was launched at the beginning of the school year but hasn't been widely promoted. Only those already enrolled at the school were encouraged to sign up. As officials broaden the program's reach, incoming freshmen will have the option starting in the fall.
"This is going to be explosive," said Kathy Freriks, lead teacher for magnet programs.
The academy is a four-year program designed to put students on the other side of the animation world. Courses include introduction to information technology, 2D graphic design, and game and simulation foundation.
"Not everybody can handle this," said Chris Jargo, Hillsborough County's supervisor of business technology education. "Kids think that just because they can play games, they can design them. Not true."
A passion for video game characters such as Master Chief and Samanosuke will not suffice. Students with strong linear algebra skills are more likely to succeed in programming.
"We need to stress the importance of math," said Jargo.
Students are learning that the academy is not all fun and games.
"They could make it less complicated," Brundydge said of the game design software. "It's kind of hard to understand."
The school district invested about $8,600 in developing curriculum and purchasing textbooks and software for the program's first year.
Middleton upgraded an existing computer lab by adding larger monitors and installing the required software.
The academy is a choice program, so any student in Hillsborough can apply. But unlike magnet programs, transportation is not provided to those who live outside Middleton's district.
Students enrolled in one of the school's magnet programs can also take courses in the academy.
Middleton has nine magnet programs, including digital design, computer systems technology and Web design, which fit right in with the computer game academy.
"It is the perfect marriage with our magnet programs," Freriks said.
After completing the academy, students will have the fundamental knowledge to pursue further education and a career in the video game industry.
Several Florida institutions of higher education offer such training, including classes at the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida, and specialized programs at DeVry University and ITT Technical Institute.
Alessandra Da Pra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.
Correction: Garrett Dryer's name was misspelled in versions of this story used earlier in print and posted online.