Er.. happy day after Canada Day and all that.
I would be remiss if I did not remind TAG folks that you have 7 days left to add your two cents to this digital economy consultation process. What goes on here in the long run is likely to be of direct consequence to the concerns of game studies and design folks.
I have no idea about how useful this process will be as a means of generating innovative ways to think critically and strategically about digital economy, culture or design but there are some interesting observations worth noting as I find myself working through this all on a couple of fronts this week – Concordia’s own strategic plan, the GRAND NCE (which we are a part of), and short range and long range planning for TAG.
I might start by referring you all to the document prepared by ESA Canada as a response to the government consultation document. I think the first two recommendations in their document are of direct relevance to us – the first is talent development (same old, same old)… the second is digital literacy. Today, I am only giving myself time to write about the first.
1. Talent Development – I was intrigued by the fact that the ESA doc did not recommend much in the way of better support for R&D in game technology and design in Canada. Universities have been thought about in terms of a dual role for some time in this area. Of course we are supposed to be training the next generations of “talent” through the development of innovative pedagogy, programs and even public accessibility but for a while now we have also been claiming to be doing useful R&D related to the innovation and development of digital games. This speaks to something we’ve known for a while — the games industry is pretty sure its got its own R&D handled.
And so it must be said that the interests of mainstream game development studios as represented by the ESA have not changed much in the last 10 years… the call is the same: “Increase the number of graduates in math, science and technology streams such as computer science as well as more ‘artistic’ digital media streams such as art, design, animation and visual effects.” This, to me, is another way of saying, we have a system that works; its profitable and productive and we need a steady source of subsidized talent (both national and foreign… keep reading the ESA doc) to keep it going.
These are old, old issues for universities so there is nothing special about games here… the emphasis in this has always been on vocational skills appropriate to the immediate needs of (digital) industries rather than broader and deeper research and communication skills appropriate to innovation beyond immediate needs (and profits?). However, if we have learned one thing about the games industry in comparison to other industries over the last few years it is that the immediate needs of game studios are fickle and tied directly to the success of the last AAA title that was released. Well this just makes Lehman Bros, BP and Toyota look like the most sensible businesses in the world. Hiring and firing your workforce on the basis of quarterly unit sales surely can not be a basis for retooling public education programs!
So what to do? Someone better skilled than I needs to paint a picture of a desirable and sustainable digital economy landscape with respect to game development beyond the immediate needs of the industry. In various TAG proposals we have argued that university research teams should not be getting into the business of making AAA titles but we also need to think beyond the undergrad if not college level programs that supply base skills for making those titles for major studios.
What follows is part of the justification for TAG (IMHO) — the imagination of interdisciplinary collaborative graduate level research/creation. It could be argued that graduate students are severely overqualified for the immediate needs of the industry — its better to get a solid technical or digital arts BSc or BFA then do a MA/MSc or god forbid a PhD.
But if we understand the role of ‘talent development’ as not being about immediate vocational needs but rather about seeding the digital economy with possibilities and alternatives (and indeed other ‘needs’) then we have a model of innovation (and I say this as someone with a background in the sociology of science so I don’t mind the stretch). The thing is that from looking both at natural science and the digital economy we can’t just seed the culture with ideas (and especially ideas on paper)… we’ll need a more robust model than that which will take us from conception, through production and on to distribution and consumption (and back again). What? A kind of graduate level manufacture of idea-objects — call them prototypes, demos, proof-of-concept, think-pieces, etc… but maybe call them something else? Maybe we need to articulate and make some new set of objects that are not meant to be a step in a process (or something to bought or sold as part of a process).
Could university level game studies and design have a hand in this sort of “thing”?
hmm… not sure if this is what I started out intending to argue but that’s good enough for now.