Edu-gaming 2

Edu-gaming 2
Tighten Those Graphics

Erin Hoffman | 29 May 2007 12:02
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That commercial. Everyone's seen it. A pair of living anachronisms from the world of Doogie Howser, MD pound a pair of controllers, gyrating and darting their heads to various stock blips and bloops. "Oh, hurry up, man, boss is comin' in," one says to the other, who whines, "Dude, almost got it," cuing the entrance of a pony-tailed brunette with an "oh, those boys" smile. "Hey guys, finished testing that game yet? I've got another one I need designed." Cringe number one. '90s Boy No. 2 gives his best My First Briefcase performance:

"We just finished level 3 and need to tighten the graphics a little bit." Cringe number two.

Then the kicker: The ever-smiling "boss" (was she a producer? A testing lead? A delusional sociopath? The world may never know) departs, and '90s Boy No. 2, sly and conspiratorial, says, "Hey, I can't believe we got jobs doing this." His partner: "I know! And my mom said I'd never get anywhere with these games!"

The now two-year-old commercial for Denver-based Westwood College was intended to snare gamers and aired on cable channels across the U.S. But not only was it chock full of unintentional humor (even spawning numerous parodies), it offended the information-savvy subculture with its prolific errors: What exactly were the actors doing? What were they testing, why did it require both of them, and why did neither of them seem to be particularly good at it? Were they testers? Designers? Either case demands the question: "Tighten the graphics"? What does that even mean?

The commercial marked the vanguard of a disturbing trend in game education: advertised instructional programs so out of touch with actual game development they couldn't tell a sound effect from a polygon.

The Minefield
But what most offended the gaming community was that the commercial almost certainly resulted in increased enrollment for Westwood. The wildfire internet popularity of the ad touched off an issue waiting to explode: Westwood, like many colleges, was taking advantage of the tremendous upsurge in gaming popularity coupled with the unavailability of formal game development instruction.

Over the past several years, numerous universities have branched slowly into game development as an art and a science (as well as occasionally a psychology, an ethic, a philosophy - you name it; the huge popularity of games as a rising new media meant everybody wanted to get involved). But these large institutions move slowly, with attention to their reputations; the careful growth of such programs meant that niche markets for game instruction opened up ahead of the larger universities. Enter the community college.

Community and small private colleges in particular had the flexibility to move quickly and also target a vast majority of individuals outside the university scene. Not everyone can afford major university tuition, and a big chunk of that "not everyone" is passionately interested in videogames. Unlike electrical engineering or business management, game development carries an appeal to a full vertical slice through society, as games-as-media often reach deeper into society than movies do.

But the educational minefield is not restricted to gaming world novices or those without access to prestigious universities. We all want to learn, and that learning comes with an ever-increasing price tag. The CMP Game Group alone - pilot of the still eminent Game Developers Conference in northern California - offers more than seven conferences throughout the year, and each is billed as a "can't miss"; even a full-time game developer could go bankrupt jet-setting to them all. On top of CMP's offerings, the Montreal International Games Summit continues to gain momentum, and subject-specific conferences such as the recent Online Game Development Conference (OGDC) and steadily growing Games for Health Conference add to the bill. These venues - at least the commercially sponsored ones - have also caught on to the growing student audience; CMP's roster now includes the heavily advertised "Game Career Seminar Series," specifically targeting starry-eyed dev hopefuls.

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