The New School

The New School
Ivory Tower Defense

Brenda Brathwaite | 26 May 2009 12:29
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Here is what I learned: Going into the industry is not the only reason people study games. Our medium, our art form, is so much more diverse than that. Games are old enough to be truly ancient and new enough to be controversial. Games are a part of culture, politics and art. They play a part in winning wars and helping soldiers deal with the aftermath. They are worthy of deep study, criticism and experimentation, just like films, music or any of the arts, be they fine, plastic or digital. The simple beauty that is Passage did not come from behind industry lines, nor did the MUD. Even the first series I worked on, Wizardry, came from students at Cornell.

"Game education is not just about the industry," I say. "It is also about the chance to study, to experiment, to push, to wonder 'what if,' and we need more of that." It is also about the opportunity to pause, dig really deep, and figure out why it matters to anyone at all. If I study all games and only games, I may be doomed to make derivates.

Otherwise, you never know what may be made.

A Weapon and a Curse

At Project Horseshoe, an invite-only game design conference that takes place in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas, I arrive the first night prepared to introduce myself to the rest of the group. I know most of them already, which is perhaps why we have been asked to choose a weapon to go with our names. We can make one up, but it must describe us and our present state.

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"I am Brenda Brathwaite," I say, "and I wield the Steady Academic Paycheck of Commercial Indifference." It means that I can make what I want when I want about whatever topic I want without regard to milestones, publisher, financial, ESRB or market pressure. And, wow, is it good! I can research it, create it and explore it based on nothing other than a perceived need, interest or personal whim.

And this, it seems, is also a divide. "C'mon. You've seen the stuff they come out with. How much of that is actually commercially viable?" says Jeff. Jeff produced a freelance project I worked on after I'd started teaching. I recalled his comments about academic games.

Maybe none of it, I think. But I poke at that some. A lot of research and art isn't commercially viable yet, and does it matter if it ever is? Do we care if Hawking's ideas are packaged at Wal-Mart or Kara Walker's art installations come in a "make your own at home" sticker format? I don't. It makes them and their work no less interesting to me. Does a 95 percent on GameRankings make a game any more compelling to the MoMA?

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