Games Education

07Nov11

Future games designer?

While I could have found an current gaming news article for link to for this week’s post I decided instead to focus on one of this week’s themes from the Managing Media Work chapter where Kerr (Kerr, 2011) talks about the lack of relevance of some UK university games courses as well as Dare to be Digital, a competition set up by the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland. I feel like I am in a rather unique position to offer insight as I am graduate from a games course (BSc Computer Games Technology at the University of Portsmouth), a former employee of the Creative Technologies department at the same University, and a former Dare competitor, my team having won the Intel Visual Adrenaline Award in 2009.

With respect to the relevance of some games courses I would argue that like any degree, research is key. There are a number of degrees within the UK system that have essentially just repurposed their computer science degrees, the staff not necessarily having any background in the industry, and worse those that are merely media studies degrees refocused on a new medium to make them sound more “glamorous”. In an era where universities are financially penalised for not getting enough “bums on seats” by the government, this is not surprising. This isn’t necessarily always the case but has led to the mixed reputation held by the industry with respect to the graduates of games courses.

The Livingstone-Hope Review recommends “kitemarking schemes, building on Skillset accreditation, which allow the best specialist HE courses to differentiate themselves from less industry-relevant courses” which in principle is a good idea. Taking Skillset as a template, accreditation requires that learning outcomes should generate portfolio pieces for the student, as well as staff with either previous experience with industry and/or links to industry at present, all of which sounds ideal.

The Skillset accreditation as it stands however only recognises the art and programming elements of games, having no element of recognition for games design or management (production), in effect feeding into the current system of mismanagement by not recognising or accommodating for those with these talents feeding the current situation where we have managers who have little to no training, leading teams towards the ever dreaded “crunch” death march.

The criteria outlined in their application guidance would suggest to me a more training based course, perhaps giving students the practical, tools based skills necessary to gain entry but not necessarily the interpersonal or problem solving skills needed to adapt to the ever changing nature of the industry. It is a fine balance however to juggle the needs of the industry, which vary from year to year, and the needs of the student to gain an education that allows them to adapt to those changes. This is also reflected in the comments of the web page I have linked to where Dr Mike Reddy states “Universities are Learning, not Training, establishments.”

One thing the report recommends which I also agree with is developing “a template for introducing workplace simulation into industry-accredited video games and visual effects courses, based on Abertay University’s Dare to be Digital competition.” Having the experience of spending 12 solid weeks working as part of a team of 5 to create a game prototype is the ideal learning experience. In the UK where internships are nigh on unheard of (an influencing factor in my move from the UK to the US for graduate school), it was the closest possible thing. This is where I see the real direction of games education, in the actual production of games across the disciplines, working in a team, solving the problems as part of a curriculum that encompasses technical and soft skills development as well as the ability to learn so that students may continue to develop their skills long after they finish their courses. This is also an opportunity to educate against those industry practices such as crunch by instilling the importance of planning and design techniques such as iterative development that when implemented properly can negate the necessity for crunch.

–Craig Harkness

Crossley, R. (2011, February 1). How to revolutionise games education in 20 steps. Retrieved November 7, 2011, from develop-online.net: http://www.develop-online.net/features/1097/20-steps-to-a-games-education-revolution

Kerr, A. (2011). The Culture of Gamework. In M. Deuze (Ed.), Managing Media Work (pp. 225-236). Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America: SAGE Publications Inc.

Skillset. (n.d.). Undergraduate Course Accreditation Guidelines for Computer Games. Retrieved from http://courses.skillset.org/assets/0000/0912/Computer_Games_-_Undergraduate_Accreditation_Application_Guidance_FINAL.pdf

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