The New School

The New School
Ivory Tower Defense

Brenda Brathwaite | 26 May 2009 12:29
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In my three years in academia, I read all the books I wanted to read when I was lead. I researched black characters (and the shocking lack thereof) in games. I explored the interactions of consenting adults in virtual worlds, and I made games about difficult subjects to see if game mechanics could indeed function like paint or photography to capture and then express a difficult emotion. I am now working on the initial prototype of an actual commercial project again, and I am enjoying it immensely, not because it is commercial, but because it is one option I have among many. As my jazz musician brother turned professor told me long ago, do what you love.

It's not that academia can't make commercial games. We can, and many academic game developers do. It's just that the freedom to wonder "what if" has a strong, strong pull.

In the End, It's the Core that Matters


"It's finishing that counts," says Mike. "It's not so much your 'what if,' but the actual development process that entails a million decisions, some that only experience can answer. Finishing is the biggest lesson in the game industry." And, that, conceivably, is Mike's killing blow. I struggle for a comparison for a while, but it comes.

My brother, Theo Garneau, the musician turned prof.

He's working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Gabe Baltazar, the famous jazz sax player. He's completed over 150 interviews with different people, all transcribed. He's compiled a massive discography and filmography, unearthed dozens of previously uncatalogued newspaper clippings, advertisements, reviews and critical writings. He has interviewed Gabe himself almost 30 times, and listened to and studied his music for hundreds of hours. Theo hauled cameras to his performances and snapped hundreds of photographs. Though my brother has played with many famous jazz musicians, what he's doing here matters greatly, though it doesn't involve him playing a single note himself. In total, his pursuit of this single Ph.D. has taken him five years, and that is faster than average. He need only finish his dissertation.

He crunches. He ships.

So, I see us both, academia and industry, in a large circle encircling a smaller circle called "games." We approach it differently, we ship different things and we have much to understand about one another. But we have the same core, the same dedication and the same incredible passion for this art form. And in the end, it's the core that matters.

Brenda Brathwaite is a freelance game designer, professor and Chair of the Interactive Design and Game Development department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She has been in the game industry since 1981 and has shipped 22 commercial titles. She is presently working on a series of six non-digital games titled The Mechanic is the Message.

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