Thursday, 12 September 2013

News from College!

Hey all. I know I updated a lot last month so I'm sorry that things have slowed down this month. This is actually the first time I've even logged in for a week.

As you probably know, I've started my games development course at college and, to be brutally honest, I hate it. What little I've done so far has been a mixed bag; playing with 3ds Max and Maya has been pretty good but the more academic side of things leaves me feeling cold. The course tutors have outlined the projects for the year and workload is overwhelming. I shouldn't have a problem writing essays, given the length of some of my blog posts, but I inject a lot of myself into this blog and when I have to cite references, I just link to other places. Plus, there's no strict deadline. It doesn't translate very well to a course where we have to examine market trends in the gaming industry and give examples of different ways digital art is used. Maybe it's just because I'm older or because I have little patience for hand-written notes and using "Harvard Referencing" to cite sources but I'm certainly not as passionate about the theory rather than the practical. If I feel like it isn't helping me improve my skills of creating content, it gets a thumbs-down from me.

There are a few little things to say about gender issues but nothing major yet. First of all, the number of boys on the course obviously outweighs the number of women but by how many, it's hard to say. There are over two hundred students on this particular course, each doing different levels and in different groups, so I couldn't begin to give you any numbers. What I do know is that my own group has three girls in it, out of a class of seventeen. However, two of the girls -- a pair of sisters -- have been absent for the last two days and, although I don't like to assume, I suspect a pair of sisters both being absent at this early stage means they decided the course wasn't for them. They are the only people in my group that did this.

I'd also like to say that I am not knocking either their ability or willingness to stay on the course. Partly because, as I mentioned above, I hate the course so far and have thought about dropping out myself already but also because they were the two people in the class I got on best with. In fact, I'm switching groups next week -- all the timetables are pretty screwed up and, living over an hour away from the college, it wasn't practical to stick with the group I'm in right now -- and the possibility of the two of them coming back was actually one of the reasons I was tempted to stay with my group. Unfortunately, if I'm to survive this course, switching timetables was a must, but I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that their leaving (if they have left) is representative of either women's or even their own lack of enthusiasm in the games industry. The course is just a pain. I'm only pointing it out because people tend to obsess over how "male-dominated" certain fields are or how sexist the games industry is but maybe the reality is that people just decide the course isn't for them.

So it's fair to say I haven't been making too many friends and no conversation about gender issues in video games has cropped up yet. In fact, aside from a wide-ranging discussion in a particularly laid-back substitute class today, games haven't come up much at all. However, while flicking some subject briefs for a class I had today -- Understanding Industry, an academic and homework-heavy class that I suspect I'm going to really hate -- I came across what looks like the lesson plan for the entire year. Listed for the week of 2/12/13 and 13/1/14 are a pair of lessons titled "Ethics - Games Debate". I'm going to take a wild guess and say that one of them will be about violence and the other will be about gender issues, based on something the tutor mentioned in the class; when talking about current trends she casually threw out, "maybe a current trend is about having more females working in the industry". At the foot of another brief, when giving an example of how to use Harvard Referencing, the book she happened to use was "Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema" by Janet McCabe. It could be coincidence but possibly not.

Unfortunately, that means I have to wait until December (at the very least) to actually voice my opinions about gender issues in games in a real-life forum. By then, I'll be neck-deep in essays and probably as stressed as I can possibly be, so I certainly have to suffer through a few things to get to that slight improvement. And I do mean slight; as optimistic as I am that I can talk about this with a new audience, the drawbacks of the course are keeping me from jumping for joy.

Update: As it turns out, the two girls didn't drop out, which I'm happy about. We chatted a little, they seem nice, they're still the two people I find easiest to get along with at the college. Unfortunately, now that I've switched groups, I won't be able to spend time with them as often.

Having said that, the group I'm in right now seems okay too. Remember "Understanding Industry", the class that I said I suspected I would hate? Today, I had my first "real" Understanding Industry class and I really enjoyed it. The students were split into four groups and each given a different market trend to discuss and brainstorm. Believe it or not, the market trend that my particular group was asked to discuss was Diversity.


We didn't get to go as in-depth as I would've liked but I had all the information I needed at my fingertips. The class was so varied that I heard the names "Pewdiepie" and "Anita Sarkeesian" within fifteen minutes of each other. The female tutor even raised a point about portrayals of men, which I was pleased to hear.

Speaking of Anita, even though there hasn't really been any "real" discussion of her work yet, I did manage to sneak in a quick minute-long conversation about her with another guy in the class. All I really said was "I'm surprised you've heard of Anita Sarkeesian. I didn't think she was that well-known". This was based off a few posts and comments I've seen around the internet that more or less just said "I've never heard of her". This young man, on the other hand, summed her up with the following (paraphrased) sentence: "it's clearly a business that she's running but she's saying 'I don't know what I'm doing'. I just think 'yes you clearly do, you lying f*cking b*tch'."

As always, I'm not exactly condoning abuse but considering it wasn't publicly aimed at Anita, we weren't having an in-depth discussion about her and we're talking about informal, earthy teenagers here, it makes sense to let this one slide. He was one of the people in my group and actually raised plenty of good points about diversity, so if I was ever under any doubts that someone being anti-Anita doesn't make them anti-woman, that would have reassured me. This gentleman also said that he'd watched most of Anita's other Youtube videos and couldn't see where the money went. One other person -- the only girl -- in the class had also heard of Anita Sarkeesian but I didn't have the opportunity to speak with her about it.

As for the lesson, I'm sure some of the essays will frustrate me and when I have to deal with non-gender-related topics, I'll struggle. For the moment, however, this particular lesson seems tailor-made for me. Let's just hope I don't get so wrapped up in being a know-it-all that I end up missing crucial pieces of information and gaining fewer marks.