On Friday, the federal government announced it was going to drastically change how it funds tertiary education. Effectively, they want to raise the price of humanities and arts subject areas to redirect students into more “job-relevant” sectors. There’s many reasons this is very bad. First and fundamentally, there’s the ethical and democratic issue of pricing people out of tertiary education. This move effectively means individuals will now pay practically half of their tertiary education out of their own pocket (via HECS), a crucial tipping point in consecutive governments’ slow destruction of free, or at least affordable, tertiary education—a basic feature of any functioning democracy. Beyond this fundamental attack on a bedrock of our society, it’s also bad policy for more straightforward economic and job-creation reasons. It won’t create the increased skills in the desired areas anyway (a grade 12 student doing English and History isn’t suddenly going to enrol in Medicine because its more comparably priced); the identified job areas, such as agriculture, don’t actually align with the skill areas the government itself has identified as lacking (which are themselves humanities areas); humanities students are crucial for subsidising the far more expensive science and engineering and medical degrees, so reducing enrolments in these areas will negatively impact the very disciplines the government claims to be supporting. The whole thing is a mess for a whole range of reasons, frankly.
Other people will write smarter things about the economic failings of this plan, but here I want to particularly discuss the government’s focus on ‘job-relevant’ educations versus, implicitly, ‘job-irrelevant’ educations (such as the education minister’s own Arts degree supposedly). This falls within a broader rhetoric espoused by governments and repeated by students, parents, media, and university management and marketing alike that universities must increasingly focus on producing ‘job ready’ graduates with ‘job ready’ skills. Not that artsy fartsy theory and history and critical stuff but the hard skills that you actually need in the work force. (The skills that, historically, was the responsibility of the companies to invest in so as to teach graduate hires, but which companies have now convinced universities is their responsibility, that graduates should be perfectly formed workers and able to slip into their company-specific pipelines).
Here’s the short version of this post: Job-readiness is a lie that only works to produce graduates less capable of dealing with the world they find themselves in, less well-rounded as human beings, less able to think on their feet, and less employable.
This past weekend I released a new game, Brendan Keogh’s Putting Challenge. The title is both a reference to that Simpson’s episode, and also following the excellent 2018 tradition of Australian gamemakers putting their name on their games (Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, Grace Bruxner Presents The Haunted Island, A Frog Detective Game).
This project started with me wanting to return to Unity to make a large map that you could explore and just find a whole bunch of stuff in. Like an enchanted forest where you just walk forever in one direction and then just find some kids smoking at a skate park or something. After a little while I realised I really wasn’t in a position to return to Unity, that any Unity project was just going to be too intensive for me at the moment, and also that such a project, even if I was to use ‘bad art’, would still need art way better than I could produce.
So then I decided I’d just make a big world to explore in Pico-8 because at least that’s doable for me. I can figure out 8×8 pixel art. But then I decided to take a small golf prototype I already had sitting on my computer and combine the two together into a ‘golf game with the boring bits left in’. So essentially the world is a golf course, you can play a full round of golf, but you have to walk everywhere yourself rather than getting teleported to where the ball landed on your last swing, and if you wanted you could just wander off and see what else is out there. Continue reading
Indiepocalypse discourse is back in vogue again. Polygon published this article about how there’s too many videogames; Games Industry published this editorial about how we need to stop encouraging people to go indie. My response, on Twitter, was:
There aren’t too many indie developers. There are just too many indie developers who don’t realise that being an indie developer is like starting a band. It’s a thing you do and get value out of and, if you’re incredibly lucky, might even make you some money one day maybe.
This post is essentially just a long-winded expansion of that tweet.
I have an essay over at Overland on the Arenanet firings. I don’t focus on the (boring, pointless) argument as to whether or not Price was ‘right’ to be mildly rude to some streamer on the internet, but instead focus on the gendered labour issues of how gamers always side with the corporations and bosses against the workers, and how this clashes with increased expectations that developers put work into their social media presence.
Lots of other good publications on this issue, too. Polygon spoke to Price directly about the firings. Game Workers Unity put out a blunt statement. This Verge piece was some good early reporting that helped get things moving. Up until and during Gamergate, the videogame press was never very good at dealing adequately with labour issues and worker rights in the videogame industry. That’s because ‘the enthusiast press’ has historically existed to serve consumers, not workers. It’s been a lot of hard work to see this change, and it’s come too late to protect a lot of people, but it’s good to see all the same.
There’s been a lot of discussion this past week about how universities should approach teaching videogame development and even just what the basic responsibility of game schools even is. This started with this Twitter thread by Danette Beatty from ustwo. Robert Yang wrote these good reflections in response about some of the challenges of teaching game development. Innes McKendrick wrote these good thoughts in a thread. I wrote this thread about how lacking a broad knowledge of game development disciplines is a problem in countries without large studios. Anna Anthropy wrote this good thread about balancing soft/hard skills in games education. The point across these responses: teaching game development is hard and educators and institutions alike are still trying to figure out how the heck you even do this while, at the same time, the global game industry is dramatically restructuring itself.
There’s one side of the discussion I haven’t really seen come up yet that I encountered first hand in the classroom: the fact that the overwhelming number of students who enter game development programs have no idea what the everyday work of game development actually entails. Worse, many of them have wrong ideas about what one does day-to-day to make games. I want to talk a bit about how this happens, how the marketing for game dev programs often exploit this ignorance, and how the responsibility typically falls on teachers to ensure these students know what they are actually getting in for. Continue reading
This is what my book looks like.
2018 is bringing with it a whole lot of changes for me, one of which is trying to use social media a whole lot less while still maintaining relationships and friendships and discussions online. So that partly means a return to semi-regularly blogging, hopefully. So towards that, here is an update about some of the various big changes 2018 is bringing to my life:
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is about the ultimate fragility of two types of bodies that underpin Western values: the male adult and the liberal state. Each is a conceptual object that we expect to function perfectly—right up to the moment that they break down completely when confronted with something they were never built to deal with. The New Colossus is interested in what it would take for either of these to fall apart.
William “BJ” Blazkowicz is the quintessential videogame protagonist: a large, rectangular slab of white man-meat whose very shape belies how he has been a part of videogames since his flesh was square pixels. In the previous game, The New Order, he was an unstoppable hero—right until he was stopped, at the end of the game, by a lone grenade. That game saw this relic of the past of both his own world and videogames, revived after 20 years in a coma, left behind for dead. But sequels do what sequels do, and BJ was rescued, if not salvaged. When The New Colossus starts, his body is still destroyed. The opening stage has you pushing BJ’s heavy body through the level in a wheelchair, shooting Nazi’s with one hand while the other is on the wheel. Stairs are inaccessible and when the wheelchair inevitably gets tipped over, BJ is helpless. For a significant portion of the game, you are stuck with 50 health, instead of the typical 100, in levels that feel like they were balanced for a character with 100. It’s frustrating. It feels like it shouldn’t be this hard. It’s the frustration of a perfect, white male body encountering something unfair that is just a typical day for anyone forced to live in this society with any other form of body. Continue reading
The superpower of the protagonist of most challenge-oriented videogames is time travel. Through the loops of failure and dressage that conventional videogame design depends on, the player fails at a task again and again until they have memorised how to proceed through the events that, on the current playthough, have not actually happened yet. This might be a muscle memory, ingraining in your hands the exact rhythm of movements required for a Rock Band track or a Super Meat Boy level. Or it might be a more traditional memory of remembering placements and patterns: the trap door full of monsters you could not have predicted in Doom kills you once and then, on the next attempt, you’re ready for it. Instead of dying you get a glimpse at what is about to happen. You remember what hasn’t happened yet.
The analogy has been made by various critics in the past (I think Janet Murray might have been the earliest) that the videogame player is not unlike Bill Murray’s character in Groundhogs Day, repeating the same system over and over again: at times taking it seriously, at times playing with the system, at times bored and frustrated by it. The more recent Edge of Tomorrow provides a similar conceit, but is I think more accurate of how videogames train players, killing Tom Cruise over and over again on the battlefield until he makes the exact right movements to get through it alive—exact movements he can only make with the memories possessed from the previous attempts. Edge of Tomorrow is how videogames work to train their players; Groundhog Day is more the wide range of emotions that players go through while existing in such a temporal spiral. Continue reading
As I’ve previously discussed, in 2017 I have set myself the goal of developing 50 videogames. I’ve played around with Unity here and there in the past, but never really committed to actually just doing the hard yards and learn how to make videogames. The best way to get good at something is to do it a lot while you’re still bad at it. You need to play a lot of bad piano before you’re good at playing the piano. You need to write a lot of bad poetry and stories before you’re a good writer. You need to make a lot of bad videogames before you are good at making videogames. The goal of 50 games in a year is an attempt to force me to do just that: to prioritise quantity over quality and make a lot of bad videogames in order to get better at making videogames.
It’s something I regularly tell my game design students: no one really cares if you have a degree in game design, they care if you can make videogames. Or, flipped the other way: don’t wait until you have a degree in game design before you start making stuff. Just… make stuff.
I chose ’50’ so I could more-or-less make a game a week with a fortnight of breathing room. At the time of writing, we’re at the end of the 16th week of the year and I’ve released 14 games, so I’m going well! I also meant to blog about the games as I released them, and I’ve been less good at that. This post thus serves as a summary and reflection on the quarter-and-a-bit of this experiment.
All the games listed here are available on my itch.io page, here.