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  • Five Common Mistakes In Choosing Masters Programs For Video Games

    [07.06.10]
    - David McClure
  •  When selecting or taking part in a university Masters program, it is quite normal to come across a number of problems.

    This article summarizes a number of common problems, with the intention of providing the reader with information to help avoid them. Most of these problems are common to all Masters study, but the nuances of some of them are peculiar to the study of games, game design and games analysis.

    Mistake 1. Choosing The Wrong Course

    Given that the study of games is so young compared to other academic disciplines, it is comparatively easy to choose an unsuitable course. Choosing the wrong course is, of course, a large error that is difficult to rectify in an entirely satisfying way. If the correct precautions are taken beforehand, then it is possible to minimize the chances of such a situation occurring. By answering the questions below, you are likely to find yourself on the right path to choosing the best course for you.

    What Is Your Desired Outcome?

    When researching courses, always keep in mind the reason why you intend to take the course. Broadly speaking, these reasons will come under one of four categories:

    • 1. Improving your chances of finding employment in the games industry
    • 2. Improving pre-existing skills related to the creation of games
    • 3. Providing yourself with intellectual nourishment
    • 4. Giving yourself the option of an academic career in games research

    It is important to choose the course which is most likely to help you achieve the desired result. Of course, a combination of any number of these reasons may well drive your desire to continue your education. Many courses, no doubt are able to cater to all four reasons. What is important is to decide the order of your priorities before you begin to look for a course, and to then stick to these priorities when comparing courses. If you allow yourself to be swayed by certain appealing aspects of a course and overlook the reason why you intended to take it in the first place, then you are likely to make a sub-optimal decision.

    Who Are The Academics?

    The next step is to contact the academics who are involved in prospective courses. They will be well placed to advise you regarding important factors, such as the employment rate after the course, your suitability as an applicant and the background of previous students. The academics are an important part of any university course and should be researched as far as possible.

    It is a good idea, in particular, to research the areas various key personnel have studied, the approaches they have taken in their research and their background prior to their employment in an academic context. The various aspects of the academics that teach a course will both shape the delivery of the content and, potentially, add value outside of the classroom. For example, if you have a particular desire to work on games aimed at mobile platforms, then a professor with a wealth of experience in this area will be able to advise you more ably than one who does not know the difference between 3G and GPS.

    In order to gauge academics, it may initially seem useful to consult websites such as RateMyProfessor.com or to contact former students of the course. However, unless there are a large number of opinions available, it is unlikely you will be able to draw upon such sources in any useful way. If you are able to acquire and read a number of texts from each potential academic, then this may stand you in good stead to make a decision about them.

    For example, if the academics involved in the course support their views by using sources diametrically opposed to what you believe is acceptable, accurate evidence, this is a potential source of friction, which may result in you losing marks. To give an example, if you distrust and disbelieve those who are considered by some as 'colonists' to the field, then there is little point studying under them. You will be likely to refuse their ability to judge work meaningfully and objectively, resulting in you missing a good deal of useful advice. It is eminently reasonable to include such considerations when making a decision.

    At this stage it is also important to find out how often you will see various staff members, for how long and in what context. This will prevent you from being disappointed by a lack of contact time with full blown academics, compared to the amount of time spent with PhD students. This may also prevent you from being dismayed by the absence of a modern day sage, whose name is nonetheless plastered over promotional materials.

    What Is The Course Comprised Of?

    Although the necessity of finding out about the content of the course is fairly self-explanatory, it is still incredibly important to make sure that it conforms to certain points. The content of the course should lead to your desired outcome. If you already have a grounding in games design and want to take a class that increases your knowledge in this area, then what is essentially a conversion course is unlikely to be of much use.

    Likewise, if you have never studied computer programming in your life, it is unreasonable to expect that you will be able to prosper in a course entitled MSc Computer Science for Games. If you feel that undue weight is given to areas of study that are irrelevant to your desired outcome, then the course is probably not for you. This requires some fairly hard self-examination; although you might enjoy writing essays about games, will this be more likely to lead you into employment than a semester spent on a less pleasurable activity?

    You Should Expect Answers

    When writing to academics and course administrators, there is nothing wrong with expecting them to answer any and all reasonable questions. Refusal to answer questions and attempts to equivocate should be considered as warning flags. If the correspondent is unwilling to provide you with help and accurate information at this point, when they are trying to persuade you that taking the course is a good idea, consider how they are likely to act once you are signed up. Taking on a Masters course is likely to prove rather expensive, so any decent person should want to make sure that you take the decision on a good basis.

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