A lot of new people I’ve met recently have asked about my university course, as if expecting me to recount a utopian learning environment in which I play Modern Warfare 2 with other “games students” for eight hours a day and then, at the end of my three years, leave the university with a Bachelor’s Degree in Awesome, along with a handful of games that I had created with my very own hands using the mountain of skills I had learned.
It’s not quite so picture-perfect, of course. The most common (and possibly the dumbest) myth, that a games student gets to play games every day, is simply not true. Of course, appropriating university computer labs for LAN parties isn’t something one should expect when it comes to the serious academic study of games, but I would argue that examination of certain games is necessary in learning about game design. If we’re lucky we might be told of certain games that exemplify aspects of good design, but this is never demonstrated in class and there’s no incentive to hunt these games down in our own spare time. The resulting classes are structureless, half-assed discussions about games most students have never played, and likely never will.
And then there are the irrelevant subjects, a flaw probably more evident in my course than in others. Students will learn about the history of Australia’s media industry and produce short films and advertisements, but very little game-designing actually occurs. The core games subjects are introductory at best, with incredibly complex aspects of game design jammed into single-semester units and skimmed over in classes taught by teachers who, well, couldn’t really care.
And that’s what it comes down to in the end: everybody’s fudging it. Even the most relevant subjects tend to be poorly outlined, manned by teachers and lecturers so lax that students gain high distinctions simply for creating box-shaped windowless rooms filled with stock objects in UDK. Laziness is rewarded, and plagiarism outright encouraged, a sad realisation I’ve had lately and will probably blog further about in the future.
So with all these flaws, does the course have any upsides? I guess it indirectly offers me a way to study the behaviour of gamers in their natural habitat, and the campus coffee shop is amazing, but there’s very little else compelling me to stay. The course has great potential, but currently, there’s just not enough legitimate learning going on to justify wannabe game designers investing three years and thousands of dollars in.
I can’t deny the university hasn’t taught me something, though, because fudging it is an important life skill: I tolerate this so that I don’t have to get a job.