...And all the men and women merely players.
A blog about the state of gaming and technology

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Game-focused Education

 I recently read an article on "Alternatives to College", focused on general tech learning.  It certainly sounds interesting, but the article left a bad taste in my mouth.  The reason I feel that way is that the article focuses on education solely as a means to get a job.

Why does that upset me? Because when you or someone else treats your education as a way to get a job and make more money, that's essentially saying that you, as a person, are only valuable for your economic contribution, not as an inherently valuable person in your own right.  It's treating people as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves - a violation of Kant's categorical imperative, to sneak in my own non-games learning. If you want to be something more than a number on a balance sheet - not necessarily for your employer, but for yourself - you should treat your education as a means to enrich your own life, to grow as a person, and to broaden your interests and personhood to the fullest extent.  You should endeavor to treat yourself as someone valuable above and beyond your ability to make money for a company.

This career-focused learning is something that's seen pretty often in the games industry - everyone's seen the notorious "tighten up the graphics" commercial, but there are lots of institutions dedicated to giving people an education designed to get them a job in the industry, and that alone.  I would be wary of pursuing these, as a student looking to enter the industry.  Remember that games are an expression of art, simply a medium to reflect the human experience, like any other artistic medium.  And in order to reflect interesting ideas in that medium, you need to have interesting ideas.  Those ideas won't come just from studying the practicalities of making games, or even the history of games that have gone before.  These ideas will come from many different fields of knowledge, from interactions with people with different values, different experiences, and who are leading different kinds of lives.  At colleges and universities all over the world, fascinating and different people are gathered. They can be the flint to your steel, or vice versa, and you can strike off sparks of inspiration that may take you in new and wonderful directions in your personal life and your game creation.

Often these people will be frustrating and challenging to interact with. Their beliefs may be radically different to your own.  You may find yourself defending ideas you never thought were in question, or presenting an 'obvious' idea to an audience that has never heard of it and is skeptical.  Even if you don't change your own mind in these discussions, you may realize that they're not sacred ideas, that different perspectives are possible.  You may also strengthen your own beliefs as you're forced to defend them.  Can you imagine defending the idea of games as an art form to a group of skeptical art students who are armed with all the accumulated knowledge of their own courses and experience?

But there's another reason to broaden your educational horizons - it should be fun.  As Raph Koster discusses in "A Theory of Fun", fun is sort of the byproduct of learning.  And if there's one thing you'll need to do as a game developer, it's learn - constantly. If you cultivate in yourself an appetite, an enjoyment for learning, your chosen career will be a constant rollercoaster of fun experiences.  You'll constantly seek out and explore new opportunities for learning, because you'll have realized how much fun it is to broaden your intellectual horizons.  You'll enjoy the rest of your life much more if you have learned how to learn, and how to enjoy learning, and that will become a beautiful feedback loop of self-betterment.  You'll also have a handle on how to make that true for the people who play your games.

So before signing up to DigiPen or Full Sail or Westwood Online, consider what an education will mean to you as a person, not just you as a commodity.  And if you're in a traditional four-year school, stop griping about the general education requirements and learn to enjoy them. Find class courses in subjects that interest you and take those as well - audit them if you're worried about your GPA.  Get out of the engineering school or the art school or whatever your program is and talk to someone with totally different interests.  If you're skipping college (a valid choice; I realize this article is written from a college-attending perspective but I don't think that's necessarily the One True Way), make sure you push the boundaries of your own comfort in your interactions with people and in every aspect of your learning.  You'll have a more fulfilling, enjoyable life, and your games will be better for it.

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