Learn Stuff, Do Stuff, Make Stuff

Today I was down in Edinburgh to take part in a panel on games for one of the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Media Days. These are days were groups of 15-17 year old students go to a series of events and panels across multiple different formats, and for some reason somebody thought it’d be a good idea to have me down for one. Clearly they’ve never tried to have a conversation with me before.  Also there was Brian Baglow of Scottishgames.net, and unfortunately Isaac Howie-Brewerton from Pixel Blimp had to send his apologies. A quick cheers to Nicola and Jessie who organised the event/day/week-and-a-bit too!

Anyway, during the event there was a thing that happened that I felt the need to write about. It’s probably closer to a brain fart, but here we go all the same~

In general the day went okay. There was a pretty much even split between boys and girls, and pretty much all of them self identified as gamers. For the most part Brian spoke about the various wonders of the game industry and I bumbled into a microphone for a bit (like most people, he’s a far more eloquent speaker than I). What was interesting was the little Q+A at the end, and one question in particular that kicked off me writing this.

As far as I can recall it was something similar to: “What Highers should you take to work in games?”

I can safely say that the answer that you probably shouldn’t give to 100+ students and their collective teachers is “This lot, but I basically slept through mine anyway.”

There was a gasp. But it is more a comparison to what there is now, Highers are far more free form than back in my day (see the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence), as are subjects in general which is why we were in front of mainly Media Studies students. Computing when I was at secondary school usually consisted of learning Microsoft Office and some bare bones Visual Basic. For someone who always wanted to get into games it wasn’t teaching me what I needed to know or even where I should start looking. The closest we got was an old version of RPGMaker that someone found, possibly on Limewire.

Christ I feel old.

But anyway, that was the only tool we found. We didn’t know about an communities, most of the things people did were trial and error. These days there are a number of different game making tools, that can be used at different degrees of knowledge, available legitimately for free and with masses of support readily available. Which lead to the second point of my answer:

“You’re probably better off doing stuff outside of school.”

Which is half true. If you pick up how to code in a learning establishment then keep going at it there too. The main take away is that you must always be DOING something. Most people in the games industry will ask “what do you do?”, not “what did you study?” or even “where did you study?”, so that’s the bit you should back up. A degree mainly proves that you can work at a certain level, but it doesn’t need to be in a games specific field in order for you to work in the industry. Case in point: Bioware, which was started up by graduate doctors who messed around with some programming and liked games.

If you want to work in any creative field, you have to create. Be it music, writing, art, games, etc. a degree is useless without actual creative output. The opposite isn’t. You can be creative in those fields without a piece of paper saying that you’re destined to do that forevermore. The tools to develop your own art, your own creative output, have never been more freely available, with emphasis on FREE, or widespread.

That doesn’t meant you should just do whatever for the sake of a few letters. University is the place of opportunity. It’s where you will meet people that you will probably end up working with or for after you graduate, be them classmates, industry figures, both or neither. It’s where a lecturer can point you towards a single artist or publication that can drastically change your perception on what you do. It’s where you can group up with other like minded people and flesh out your ideas to a greater scale, to polish your craft and learn how others operate. But like the Higher comment, most of that is gonna happen outside of your class time.

I think I’ve made my point.

Moving onwards, there was also a girl who came up after the show who really wanted to get into games but had a “stupid” question that she was embarrassed to ask. As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers. It turned out that she really like RPGs of all forms, creative writing and art, but because she couldn’t do code stuff felt that she was never going to get into the industry. Brian and I told her the same thing, that you don’t need to do everything on your own, if your worried about your own stuff not being up to scratch then find out what others are doing and try it yourself and that there are a number of roles out there that she could look into.

It’s kinda unfortunate that she felt that her lack of skill in one area excluded her from the industry as a whole, but this is still a fairly common perception to younger people interested in making games. Throughout the panel we tried to drive home the point that anyone in the audience could go home, download something like Unity, or GameMaker, or Stencyl (and so on) and start learning how to make games. It’s literally that simple, and I wish it was like that when I was younger too. Least I’d have found out I couldn’t hack it as a programmer sooner.

So go learn stuff. Do stuff. Make stuff.

That was a fair rant, so hopefully it’s coherent enough! I’m sure it’ll annoy a few people all the same.

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