Tag Archives: programming

An (indeterminate number) of reasons NOT to go into teaching Game Development

In response to 7 Reasons You Don’t Want To Work in the Video Game Industry and Ten Reasons *Not* to Become an Indie Game Developer, here are selected reasons why you should never jump ship and become a game dev lecturer, or have the audacity to think you could ever teach it, having never been “in” the Industry.
NOTE: Satire mode is definitely turned on, even though many sentiments expressed here have been observed if not endorsed by the author. I’ll write a companion piece on why you SHOULD be a game dev lecturer when I…er…can think of arguments in favour. 🙂

  1. It’s a Sisyphean Task
  2. In that it’s an “endless and unavailing” labour, primarily because of the moving goal posts of technology. Industry legends, like David Braben, report universities “five years out of date” with old technology and too slow changes in curricula. Not true, of course, but if expectations are set ridiculously high, you’ll never meet them. Hardware is often not cutting-edge, but even developers have budgets. Access to Industry relevant hardware and software is often restricted by the manufacturer anyway: don’t even think about Nintendo hardware; the 360 is 6+ years old and we’re still restricted to cut down software; only Sony offers proper hardcore access to Industry-level PS3/PSP SDKs if you can afford them. So, universities can hardly be criticised for not having the latest kit.

  3. If you left you failed
  4. It still comes something of a shock to many academics when made aware that the life-expectancy of a career in games is 5-6 years – two triple A titles if you’re lucky – with a majority high burn out rate balancing a few people who’s careers span decades. So, if you left the Industry to teach, seen as possibly the best preparation for game dev lecturers by the Industry, you MUST have left because you couldn’t cut it, wanted more (or some?) time with your family, weren’t able to produce 29 hours of work a day; basically you’re a wuss! As soon as you leave active development your skills will quickly date, your Industry contacts will dry up – quit themselves, get promoted and be too busy, or emigrate to Canada – leaving you wondering where they all went. Oh, and new colleagues, fellow lecturers, will eye you suspiciously from their ivory towers, condemning you for dirtying your hands and consorting with Mammon.

  5. Who the Hell do you think you are?
  6. Lecturers who are not Industry washouts are either game dev wannabes, who never made it, but would clearly have been Will Wrights if they’d just gotten that break, or didn’t risk their illusions by actually trying to make games for public scrutiny. Failing this, you’re a cynical “bums on seats” sell out, just trying to save your own job by mis-selling courses to gullible school leavers. Hell, games are just programs with sound, art and shit anyway, so any competent IT professional can teach it, right? And the department/school/faculty is at risk, with applications for Computer Science and even the watered down IT and Computing degrees massively down, despite a huge and increasing gap in recruitment for IT professionals. For 80% of graduates, who don’t get kicked out or leave due to poverty or disgust, or their own unrealistic expectations of you or their own ability, there will be loads of IT jobs as they will never get a career in game development anyway, while the Industry fights off better paid, family friendly, if less glamorous alternatives, to cream off the best graduates.

  7. So, you play games all day…?
  8. Even more misunderstood than QA testers, lecturers don’t get much time to play, let alone make games themselves. Teaching takes a lot of time, energy and personal resources. Contrary to the time-worn adage “if you can’t do, teach”, competence in educating even enthusiastic students is not implied by knowledge of the field. However,

  9. Slow but Sure
  10. Although David Braben’s criticism of slownessis an exaggeration HE is cautious by nature.

  11. Punished by Success
  12. Class sizes and lack of resources

  13. The Baby who cries loudest gets the Milk
  14. Resources

  15. It’s a Secure Job with a Pension
  16. Given layoffs, course cuts, and a cynical attack on pensions and working conditions in the UK’s Education sector, that crunch-laden dev job doesn’t look so bad now.

  17. Shit from all sides
  18. Industry will hate you for not preparing students for realistic working conditions, students will hate you if you try.

Reality is Borken* – How do we avoid the ‘Workification’ of Game Programming

For whatever reason, I was thinking of the Matrix just now**, and it hit me: All this talk of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and encouraging programming in schools was an embodiment of the needs of the parents/Government/IT Sector and not really that of the children. In the Matrix, Neo (and other escapees from a manufactured delusion) fight a system that wants them put in a pod, unwittingly contributing to a global economy – as batteries in the film, but you get what I mean – where even the illusion of personal choice is manufactured.

We need coders, lots of coders

Ian Livingstone OBE, life president of Eidos and recent recipient of a well deserved Develop Award for a lifetime achievement in Games, as well as some other guy (!) published the Livingstone-Hope Review eight months ago, which has been covered in great detail

Progress from this has been ‘slow’ if his recent presentation at the Develop Conference in Brighton in July is anything to go by, despite Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary, recently declaring that Games offer “huge potential for maths and science teaching”

Livingstone-Hope declared:

“Computer science must be part of the school national curriculum. The current curriculum includes ICT, but the authors of the report argue that ICT, with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as videogames and visual effects.”


“Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together.”

but both of these rely on what my tutor at Leeds, Dan McDade***, used to call a “utopian indicative”: if more children are exposed to ‘proper’ Computer Science in schools there will be a sudden and impressive flood of kids wanting to go into IT careers. It might be right. Might.

…it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself

The imposed homogeneity of a National Curriculum has been with us a long time – I decided to leave school teaching as a result of this and other silliness in the late 80s – but, sadly, there is no waking up from this particular rabbit hole. Even in universities, where you might assume because students have elected to be there, institutional pragmatism as well as ‘customer’ expectations dictate a passive sameness in Higher Education; this will only get worse as HE is increasingly commercialised. Students and staff alike are fearful of opportunities to diversify, for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to assess when there isn’t a level playing field. Learners are often ill-equipped to be pro-active in their own education. Everyone longs for the easy life of spoon-feeding, and those that fight it, face poor feedback, more headaches and longer hours.

…I can dodge bullets? …when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

The trick, of course, is to keep the ‘cool’ (if any beyond novelty) of games and, more challengingly, programming because of the huge difference between choosing what (and whether) to play and the stranger task of designing/making/coding games. Part of the problem is the big gap between what children can reasonably program and the polished products that they are used to consuming. The other issue is what I call ‘Workification’; the consistent transforming of something fun and creative into mindless drudgery by well-meaning, possibly desperate educators, trying to make important skills relevant to an apparently disaffected youth.

Tonight, Ian Livingstone is touting the Next Gen initiative, which is the update showing what has happened post Livingstone-Hope, due at the end of October but being raised on NewsNight early next week according to Livingstone:

Ian Livingstone (@ian_livingstone)
07/10/2011 15:41
Newsnight running a feature on Next Gen report on 10 October ahead of the response. Hope Mr Gove watches! http://t.co/rXeIJiYN

There are, apparently lots of positives, but I feel were we in HE have the biggest contribution to make is in supporting teacher continuing professional development (CPD) and training for the new beyond ICT curricula that the Creative Technology agenda will be asking for. That’s where I will be putting my efforts!


I’m thinking of writing a book, “Reality is Borken”, in which I expound at length about how amazingly creative technologies have been squandered in Education by being over-hyped, over-used and under-evaluated. Somehow, I don’t think Jane McGonigal is going to be writing the Foreword.

    * credit to Corrado Morgana, a colleague at my university for inspiring this title. Otherwise, I’d have gone with “Reality is NOT broken”, which doesn’t have the same ring.
    ** This is a classic case of work avoidance, because I started all this with a complety different altdevblog idea!
    *** Dan, if you’re reading this, I’ve forgiven you now for losing (and subsequently not marking) one of my PGCE essays, costing me the Distinction I was working towards. It taught me a lot, that particular lesson.