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The Audacity of Game Education

In my first blog post I'm going to share some of my college experiences while learning game design and some of my concerns regarding game design education.

             My name is Blake Mitchell and I graduated from Collins College in October 2008. I'm currently unemployed and looking for a job in the game industry. My friends and I were the top game design students, all with GPA above 3.4, at the school when we graduated. Before I went to Collins I was attending Mercer County Community College in Trenton New Jersey. Before I even considered game design as a degree, my major was aerospace engineering. As time went on I wanted to do something that rally made me happy. So video games became my new passion; don't worry I still love planes just not as much. But where could I go to learn how make video games? I couldn't find anything at my college, hell I couldn't find anything in my state. So I started doing some research online about game design what schools offer that type of education. And then I found Collins College, and thus my journey began.
              My first choice was actually Full Sail but after looking through the application from I felt like I didn't meet the minimal standards that the school asks for from their applicants. So I decided to look elsewhere for a school that would accept me. Then I found Digi-Pen, the school had a good reputation and a curriculum that seemed like what I needed for a career in game design. But again, their application standards at the time was something I couldn't meet. Then I came to Collins College in Tempe Arizona. It seemed nice, the classes seems like what I was looking for and the application process was simple. So that's where my journey started and for two and a half years I spent studying the fundamentals of game design.
              Looking back, I did a lot of things wrong and I have only myself to blame. For one, I didn't do enough research into what it takes to work in the game industry. I also didn't do enough research on the school that I went to. I realize that it was too good to be true that I could just go to school for two and a half years and expect to find a job right out of college and that the school would be going to bat with me in that job search. There are probably some personal shortcomings that I haven't owned up to but let's be honest who hasn't? And I think this goes for game schools as well. There really ought to be a moratorium on game education until educators, school officials and industry leaders sit down and have a real discussion about what should be taught in the field of games.
              I have some real concerns with the state of education in general, but my main problem is these for-profit schools that have sprung up like wild fire. We've all seen  the corny ads on TV. "Come to us and get a degree in half the time and start earning a lot of money". That's usually the kind of thing you'll hear in one of these ads. Let's not forget the cost of going to one of these schools. You take out $65,000 worth of loans to go to a school for 2 years or more only to find that the jobs you'll be applying for are not even close to what the tuition cost. But that's not what really grinds my gears as Peter Griffin would say. But what really disappoints me is the poor curriculum. Now I know what you're thinking, hey man what about the teachers? Don't get me wrong there are some really bad teachers out there, but there are some really good teachers as well. There were many good teachers at Collins College that taught me a lot while also challenging me to do better. But you have to understand that these good teachers are in an environment that doesn't allow much room for flexibility and they are also in an environment that tries to fast track students into a career that is far more complicated than just reading a few game design books. So even if all the teachers were good, the student doesn't have the necessary time to process the information that was given to them.
              So what do I mean by poor curriculum, well I'm talking about the courses that a game design degree might have and, this is the most important part, the content of these course. Content is key here, if you have all these courses but you're not teaching the right kind of content then the education will be worthless to students.  Some of the courses I took at Collins looked good on paper but the content just wasn't enough. But again, there just wasn't enough time to really let the information soak in. So in order to learn more I started to come to the campus on Saturdays whenever I could. Whenever there was a speaker or a teacher running a learning session I was there. I also spent time after school with a tutor who helped me with my drawing skills.
              This is when I realized that the two and a half year strategy that the school had was not enough to teach the required skills a student will need to obtain a job in the game industry. Several of my fellow students felt the same way and we all addressed a our concerns to the provost of the school. I made my concern very clear that the entire game design program needs to be overhauled. Whether or not they took my concerns is unclear. Of course it was already too late to change anything for my graduating class but hopefully the graduating classes after me will have a much better education. As of now, I have no idea if Collins College has made any changes to courses and content of their game design degree program.
              In the final months of my game design program, my friends and I were working on our final project. We spent every day of the week working on getting our project done. During school, after school, and on the weekends, everything we did for 7 months was to get our game project finished and working. I even went to my classmate's apartment sleeping over and working 10 hour shifts to get the thing done. Luckily, my classmate had some extra blankets because I didn't have a sleeping bag. Like my friends, I busted my butt trying to make the best possible game with the amount of knowledge we had. Some of the teachers were even giving us some hype to the other students and facility about how great we were. Our group actually had to present our game project twice. Even though we didn't think our project was that good, but everyone who saw our presentation loved it and we were told that we were in the top 5 that the school had ever had. You can find the post mortem of our project here.
              So why don't I have a job now? Well, there are a number of reasons: The economy and the layoffs that have been happening all over the industry. My school, for not preparing me for the real hardships of finding a job and not providing me with enough education to really be on a level where I can compete for the jobs that are out there. And last but not least, myself, my best just wasn't good enough. After I graduated, my passion and motivation went from a 10 to a 2. where did it all go you ask? Well, it's tough to say, it's clear that I have the motivation and passion for games otherwise I wouldn't have spent so much time and energy keeping my grades up and working day in and day out on my final project. Somewhere deep down I know I have what it takes to succeed in this industry, the real problem is finding the drive to get me there. There's no school or teacher or class that can teach a student to have drive.
              So why do I still have hope? Well, it's actually quite simple, I love games and I love art. I really can imagine doing anything else and it's my personal belief that you should do what you love. I know this may sound corny and a little naive but what can I say. If you don't like games and you don't like art then why did you even start in the first place. So I'll continue moving forward towards my goals and hopefully I'll get to where I want to be. Being more involved in the game art community helps and it also helps to get your thoughts in writing. Will game education improve? I don't really know, but I hope that the people that read this article, administrator, educators, and game industry professionals will have a better insight into the life of a unemployed, game loving, vertex pushing guy that's trying to break in.

 

Here is the link to my senior project.

Student Postmortem: Collins College's Eternal Winter

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/642/student_postmortem_collins_.php

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