Sunday, May 03, 2009

Culture Shock: Academic Freedom vs. Industry Constraints

When reading about Brenda Brathwaite's series of non-digital games (this includes games about such heavy topics as the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, and the Holocaust), it struck me that this kind of project would never happen in the game industry.

I don't mean that it would never get publisher funding. I mean, it wouldn't, but that's not my point. My point is, even if it were on her own time with her own money outside of work, this would never be allowed to happen.

Think about it. Suppose you were a working game developer and you casually mentioned to some co-workers that you were thinking of making an art piece and showing it at galleries, and that the topic was highly controversial and this was sure to have a lot of people cheering, and a lot of other people up in arms. How many nanoseconds would it take before your producer found you at your desk and asked you very nicely not to do this, out of fear that the Company would receive negative media backlash, and this is the last thing we need when we're courting three publishers for our next contract, so if you're interested on working on non-digital games maybe you could make something about fluffy bunnies instead? (I suppose some companies make controversy part of their business plan, but I'm talking about everyone else.)

This is a completely different paradigm than academia, where the whole concept of tenure is (at least in theory) supposed to be about the freedom to do anything, no matter how controversial. As an academic, you actually get support for things like this. You can sometimes get funding for things like this. Not everywhere, I'm sure, but it seems more likely that a random school will at least not get in your way if you want to take on a controversial product, compared to a random game company. One more point to consider if you're considering a career in either and you prefer to have total creative freedom.


Anonymous said...

A very similar point is often made by my John Kricfalusi about cartoons: It's tough to be creative within the "system" these days. Score one for indie devs?

Malcolm Ryan said...

Good point. For a concrete example of such "Industry Constraints" we need look no farther than Valve forbidding Kim Swift from participating in the Game Design Challenge at GDC.

Jordan Lynn said...

Or the hesitance to include homosexuality.