Monday, November 17, 2008

Topic for Discussion: Who is the Thomas Kinkade of Game Design?

This came up in discussion with another designer the other day (after a comment along the lines of more game design students these days being familiar with Thomas Kinkade than Reiner Knizia). I thought it would be an interesting open question to repost here.

If you're unfamiliar with Thomas Kinkade, he is one of the more (in)famous painters alive today. You might want to read his Wikipedia entry here to put yourself in the right frame of mind to consider this question.

The question: to the extent that game design is an art form, what game designer is the equivalent of Thomas Kinkade? Or, more succinctly:

Painting : Thomas Kinkade :: Game Design : ???

Some people might consider the label "Kinkade of Games" to be a great compliment. Others might consider it a grave insult. For this reason, I won't hold it against anyone if they choose to comment anonymously.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Art Critics

I recently had occasion to go back and read Roger Ebert's claim that video games could never be art due to the inherent limitations in the medium, his further rebuttal to Clive Barker, and the resulting article from game designer Clint Hocking.

At the time, I thought this was a relatively new argument. Games are a new medium, after all. Today, I realize that all of this haggling over what is or isn't "art" (or "high art" or "fine art" if you prefer) is nearly a century old. At least.

Ebert's arguments essentially boil down to this:
  • I am going to make a list of criteria by which art should be judged.
  • Games cannot be judged by this criteria, due to the nature of the medium.
  • Ergo, games are not and can never be art.
Here's the thing: there was an art critic named Clement Greenberg who was highly influential in the art world in the 1930s and 40s, who basically did exactly the same thing for modern art. He wrote some highly influential essays that essentially gave a list of criteria for judging art. And for awhile, his ideas were followed almost religiously to decide what was good or bad art, and even what was and wasn't art in the first place.

Then, the so-called Postmodern movement came along and basically said "screw this, art can be more than Greenberg's one narrow slice of representation." All of a sudden, there was a trickle and then an explosion of art that looked absolutely nothing like Greenberg's ideal modern art. But the new stuff was still, clearly, art. The Postmodern charge was led by another art critic, Harold Rosenberg.

So, two artist critics already figured out the correct argument for why games can be art... about half a century ago. A few years ago we re-enacted the old debate, with Ebert playing the part of Greenberg and Hocking playing Rosenberg, but the arguments are essentially the same.

If I had known this back in 2005, I could have written an influential essay on the subject. Today, there are so many art games that I think such an essay is unnecessary. But I still find it interesting how we retread old ground without realizing.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What Happens After Graduation?

Having encountered a few former students recently, I was reminded of something that I think every student should know:

This is a hard industry to find your first job. There's a reason it's called "breaking in."

This usually hits home about 3 to 6 months after graduation. The student (well, no longer a student) applies to a bunch of game companies, only to either get rejections or dead silence. And then comes the self-doubt: am I not finding a job because there's something wrong with me? Am I not as qualified as I thought I was? If I'll make such a great game developer, why won't anyone hire me? Maybe I should've listened to Uncle Roy and gone into insurance.

Making it through that period is important. Once you're through, there comes a redoubling of effort: I just have to try harder. I'll apply to more places, and start looking for new opportunities that I might have missed. I'll call back those places I haven't heard from, just to check on things. I'll go back to the websites of the companies I was interested in and see if any new positions opened up since a few months ago.

And then on some idle Thursday, you get that call. And maybe it's your dream position that you thought was lost, and maybe it's QA at some local no-name casual games company, but at that point you've got what you were after: your first industry job.

Granted, it doesn't happen like this for everyone. Some students are lucky enough to line up employment before they even graduate. But I've seen the scenario above more often than not (and not just with my students, either), and it's worth a reminder that this is not a poor reflection on the student... it's part of the process.


If you're a student about to graduate (or recently graduated): bookmark this post, and return to it when you're looking for that first job and everything seems so elusive. Remind yourself that it's not you, it's the industry. So buckle down and try harder, and keep trying until you get a job.

If you're a student who won't graduate for awhile: remember that this can happen, and plan accordingly. Make sure you've got some way to support yourself for awhile after you graduate, if you have trouble finding a job making games. Take care of food/water/shelter first, and realize that finding game-related work can sometimes take awhile.

If you're a teacher: remind your students of this every now and then. It's easy to forget, but it's important to remember.