I am a game development school dropout. Having spent a scarce few (although rather intense) weeks in school does not make me an expert on the state of game development education. I know this is so true, yet somehow this wisdom has not prevented me from developing a mighty strong opinion on the matter in spite of the facts.
Even though my reasons for leaving school were 95.7 percent personal and were the result of real-life issues wholly unrelated to anything having to do with game development, I find I have an increasingly nagging feeling about the state of game development education and how it reflects on the direction of the industry.
My complaints aren't so much with the school I attended as they are with the way the industry has influenced the specifics of that program. It's not that I don't have issues with the program; it's just that I feel for the most part that the program is the way it is in direct response to what the industry is telling them they want. The school does an excellent job of turning out highly skilled workers that get placed with some of the most sought after game development studios, so in that way it is a smashing success. What I am left wondering is this: Is it really the best thing for the school to be solely focused on giving game development studios exactly what they want, at the cost of providing an educational environment that might encourage real innovation for the industry over the present status quo?
I would have likely stayed with the program if I had a sense that there was going to be room for me to explore more creative possibilities, instead of having the feeling that I was being formed into the mold of industry expectations.
I am also left wondering why game development, and thus game development education, is such a stressed-out affair. Why is the price of entry into this vocation so high, and is it really the best thing for the future of this industry?
There are two words that have stuck with me that best describe my experiences at school: boot camp. The military model was obviously in the minds of the creators of the educational philosophy behind the program I attended. Although none of the instructors resorted to calling us "maggots" and making us do push-ups, the over-all structure of the program was strict and grueling.
A few of the young men in the program even went out and got crew cuts the first week of classes, assumedly to free up the extra 10 minutes a day they devoted to their hair, giving them an edge on the rest of us high-maintenance slaves to personal grooming. The reason for the long hours and sleepless nights that are required of the students was the expectation that these would be the conditions we would be working under once we had our industry jobs: they were training us for crunch-time.
As students we were treated like employees of the school (except we were doing the paying) and were given more work than we could reasonably complete and still have time for the luxuries of life, like preparing meals and sleeping. The feeling this gave me at the time was that if I wanted to be in "this man's army," meaning if I wanted to hold my own in the game development industry, I was going to have to be put through the wringer and prove that I would be able to survive in the trenches once I had an industry job.
I should mention that I'm not your typical applicant to game development school. Being a woman makes me a minority right off the bat, but I'm also a woman over 40, which makes me 15 years older than most of my fellow students. I don't have the stamina for late nights that I had in my 20s, so I knew going into this that it would be a challenge. What I did bring with me was a level of professional maturity and experience that I thought would help me get through the challenges of the program.
What I wasn't prepared for was a first term designed to stress me out for the sake of stress, with less emphasis on skill and talent and more emphasis on staying power. It was quantity over quality, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up. I ended up feeling extremely frustrated and annoyed that my access to this career path was being blocked by my unwillingness to ruin my health through lack of sleep, exercise, or eating right.