A quick update

I want to share some recent- and overwhelmingly positive- developments.

I recently applied for, and was accepted in, the new Interactive Arts and Media Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree program here at IAM Columbia. That means that Fall 2009 is my last semester as a Game Design major. This was a difficult decision to make, but I think it was absolutely the right one. And I want to talk a little bit about why.

First, I should qualify this by saying that I do want to work with games- indeed, I’m involved in two small projects at present (more details on at least one should be coming in early 2010). But I’ve come to the conclusion that formal education in game development can only take you so far- some would even argue it’s even counter-intuitive, though I would disagree.

I think that the big payoff for Game Design programs is that it connects you with colleagues who share your relative skill level, enthusiasm, and interests, while also connecting you with faculty and other mentors who both nurture and challenge. The reason why this is the single most important benefit is that it provides the context, supportive environment, and motivation to get out there and make games. The Game Design program at IAM does that, and much more. But over time, I’ve found my interests sharply diverging from that of my colleagues.  Through coursework and personal reflection, I’ve determined what my priorities are as a maker of games.

  • Exploring the often-murky path of experimental gameplay while keeping the barrier-of-entry low.
  • Developing new game interfaces- software UI, hardware, the real world, and more.
  • Revisiting environmental, site-specific gameplay- an idea that’s been largely dormant since the decline of video arcades, VR venues, laser tag, BattleTech pods, etc.
  • Games as exploration of weighty emotional themes, such as sadness, loss, etc.
  • Games as a vehicle for social justice.
  • Contributing to the development of a vibrant, sustainable independent game developer community on par with that of independent filmmaking.

I’ve come to the realization that my interests and priorities simply don’t match up with that of my colleagues enough to build and develop working partnerships. With a few exceptions, most of my fellow students have their sights set on landing jobs in the commercial game industry- they want to make the next Call of Duty, or World of Warcraft, or Bioshock. And rightfully so- the commercial game industry is immensely successful, and offers the best opportunities to do what many Game Design students want to do, which is get paid to make video games. But that’s not a priority for me. My priorities aren’t better or worse than that of my fellow students- just different. Unfortunately, this disconnect can make working with other students on game projects prohibitively difficult.

At the same time, I’ve been brainstorming projects to build, and most of the ideas I’ve come up with have fallen outside games. In particular, I’ve been wanting to work with responsive environments; gestural, haptic, and motion-based user interfaces; virtual and augmented reality; and generative art. By the time summer rolled around, and I found myself pitching my idea for an immersive,  interactive music visualizer to one of my professors and mentors, I realized that games really weren’t the only thing I wanted to do with myself- perhaps not even the main thing.

Around the same time, IAM announced the new BFA degree program, and were taking applications. I missed the deadline to start in Fall 2009, but they held another round to start in Spring 2010. I hemmed and hawed over it for a while, at one point convincing myself I just didn’t have the time (staying in undergrad an extra semester or two is, for a variety of reasons, not a viable option for me). But then I talked with some of my professors, who not only assuaged my concerns (Niki Nolin, the Associate Chair and coordinator for the new degree program, outlined a plan to let me complete the program and still graduate on time), but soundly convinced me that it was the best plan for my artistic and professional development.

With only 10 days before the deadline, I pushed my midterm-wracked coursework to the background and built a (rough, very rough) portfolio website showcasing some of my work to date. Thankfully, it was enough to get me in.

So what are my goals moving forward?

  • Finish “Let The Music Move You,” my interactive music visualization.
  • Explore light painting and long-exposure photography.
  • Expand and deepen my web development skillset.
  • Do some work in video remixing.
  • Make progress on the XNA project I’m working on with Zach Breman.
  • Graduate (obviously).
  • Have one of my pieces shown in an off-campus gallery in the next year.
  • Develop my portfolio further to have a substantive body of work to show in a year when I start applying to graduate school.

Overall, I’m really excited for the direction things are going. Now I just need to hunker down and get some work done.

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