I respect Brenda Brathwaite a lot, which one wouldn’t understand given how much I rage at her blog posts. Here’s one that hits particularly close to home, about game design curricula. And WHAT DO YOU KNOW, I’m a recently minted game design professor. Twitter was abuzz with it earlier this week, since it is a bit controversial in that it suggests that game design programs that aren’t heavily laden with programming aren’t useful.
Have you ever run into someone who used to be overweight but is now fit? For some of these folks, whatever they did to stoke the change becomes THE THING you have to do: cut carbs, pilates, P90X, whatever. It’s all they talk about because they have first hand experience on how amazingly useful it is. And who can argue? Look at them!
Brenda has made many mentions of how she feels her inability to code has hampered her as a designer. Now she is learning how to code and it is awesome. And yes, kids, coding IS awesome. Because it gets results. You can’t make a sprite jump on the screen without getting into some code. She has opened up a door that changed who she was as a designer. Now every problem is a nail. Look at the results! Who can argue? I have a hammer, now let’s get those nails!
But to say that a game design program needs to be a game dev program (because look how awesome programming is!) is folly. There are so many areas of knowledge that make a designer better: code is one. Art is another. Psychology is another. Statistics is a huge one. Interpersonal Communication is another. How about Behavioral Economics?!
But you can’t build a program on all of those. You can, however, build a program that incorporates all of those.
What a game design program needs to be is about results. Brenda is making the jump that because you can get results from coding (a final product) that coding is the sole focus and foundation. But this ignores other means of gaining results. Which is more useful to a developer: a designer that knows how to code really well, but knows the other disciplines only superficially or a designer that aims to be modern renaissance men/women by knowing a bit about coding, art, economics but most fully about design? The former I’d hire as a programmer, the latter a designer.
Formal programs can only expose students to material. It is up to the student to turn the education into results. That requires a mindset that cannot be coerced. You can lead that horse to water, but you cannot make him think.