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  • Coursework vs. The Real World

    [08.25.09]
    - Matthew Baxter
  •  There has been much discussion in the gaming press about the merits of game courses that teach a lot of theory compared to those with strong industry links and an emphasis on industry ready skills. I went and spent thousands of pounds on the former, and have since had periods of regret and also periods of being glad I did such a course.

    These types of courses have received much criticism from leading industry figures, most of whom continue to make uninspiring shooters and alien based games. What many people do not realise is that to create experiences that people want to connect with, you need to understand humans as much as C++.

    Practical skills learned at university are of course important, and this could have created many problems for me when moving into the commercial world. My course, at London South Bank University, is certainly easy to ridicule. For a start, it's called "Game Cultures" but unfortunately has nothing to do with fish cultures.

    It is also a proudly media theory-heavy course, and is placed within the university's media and humanities department. We spent much more time learning about Michel Foucault than mathematics. But this difference in strategy has given me a mindset that allows me to consider the player in interesting, and sometimes new ways.

    After learning about people such as Foucault and Freud, the topic of semiotics became a topic of great interest and eventually became the basis of my dissertation. So, what is semiotics, you ask? Well, consider the word "mum". This has literal meanings such as "female with children". But it also has connotations, such as "caring" and "loving". But of course these connotations are different for certain types of groups or individuals. So, while some people may associate the word "mum" with "good cookery", others may associate it with "uncaring" or "bossy". This kind of study has changed the way I design games, and is something others on similar courses should also embrace.

    Using semiotics as an example of what can be learned from these types of game courses, there are many ways that these can be useful in the real world. Every time you create an element in a game you need to consider important theoretical points. While these examples are simple, studying such topics speeds up the design process and allows for more things to inspire the design. Games such as Flow come from the mindsets that theory-heavy courses sometimes create. These courses push students to move away from creating generic games, such as shooters, and consider new ideas focused on real human aspirations and feelings. So, more games that make you think about politics, and less where all you need to think about is your ammo levels.

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