Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hey adults, stop telling gamers to stop gaming. Instead, respect, and redirect.

I hate it when I hear an adult, (especially a teacher!) react to a kid passionately playing a computer game by saying, "go outside," or in some other turn of phrase, squash their passion.

Good move adult role models. See passion in a kid, squash it.

Sure, it might be good advice. But there's two main reasons I think it's a mistake it doesn't usually work. Kids play more if adults react first by trying to stop them. They know the adults haven't given them the respect they deserve of trying to find out more about what games they are playing? Why? What's so fun about it? Now, they also know games are addictive, and they will need help balancing their play. But an uneducated response from an adult isn't the way. Learning about the kid's passion is the way.

Respect

Learn about and play their games, it's a sign of respect. How dare you comment on something you won't even try? Something you only watch. Ask a gamer to help you learn to play their free favorite games for a few minutes each. They will start to respect what you say more because you are respecting what they respect. Ask them who made the game? Why is it good? Have they written, or read, any reviews? Where do they find out the good games and how do they learn how to play them? What do they think about violence in the games?

Also, respect the valuable technology skills it takes to be a gamer. To be a gamer is to be good at computers. Gamers instal software, hardware, are often part of online communities and spend a lot of time reading, writing, and researching games. These are valuable skills in the workplace. Gaming is not vegging out on the couch with TV.

Redirect

Consumption to Creation

A gamer in school is a jewel. They want to game, so they will usually gladly MAKE games if it can count for homework. Creating games teaches math, programming, writing, project management, art, graphics, storytelling, etc. Free tools, below, are very high quality.

Some Resources For Starting To Make Computer Games

  1. Scratch web based game development form MIT 
  2. Scratch Jr. for tablets/phones is a great starting point when young. 
  3. Minecraft.net, especially Minecraft Edu.
  4. Roblox.com. Development environment for older kids and adults.
  5. Unity game engine. Development environment for older kids and adults.
  6. Recent Article: Varsity Gamers: Making History and Dumbfounding Parents.

Redirect to a Career Game Industry

Gaming is a viable career for many skills and passions from programming to music, to lighting, to costumes, to finance, HR and management.  And that's what I'll spend the rest of the post talking about.

Ocean Quigley, creative director at Maxis

Now, when it comes to encouraging a kid to move into the industry as a worker when they are older,  I have to bring in an expert from the industry. I'm a simple technology integrator and teacher, not game designer.

My main source is my step-brother, Ocean Quigley.

Ocean has been working in the gaming business since we both got started in technology in San Francisco in mid-1990s. He started at the bottom as a 3D modeler and has risen to be the art director and creative director for a bunch of very famous games, some literally in the top 10 of all time, including Spore, SimCity and the Sims. He's also a painter who regularly has showings. Ocean is his real name by they way, and yes, his parents were hippies.

I talk to Ocean often about the industry, and I refer to  a write up he wrote a few years ago often: Breaking into the games business.

Ocean's main advice in any area where you are involved in creation, is that you have to be able to demonstrate a valuable skill. You have to show you can do the work, better then most, in some sort of digital portfolio.

Moving into the industry as a project manager, accountant, HR person, etc. is probably a bit more resume oriented, but you'll need some relationship to the gaming industry, and some passion about it. 

I'll also add to Ocean's advice that college for game design is more and more an option. Even the small state of Vermont has a great bachelors degree in game design at Champlain College. College is a good option for some people who might need the structure, because it allows one to have time to learn, and time to create actual proof of a skill by doing projects and documenting them in portfolio.

It's only one way though, Ocean in fact has, "dropped out of several prestigious colleges," as he says. While I observed him learning valuable skills in colleges, he was and is very, very disciplined and self-taught in art and computers since early in high school when I used to watch him do graphics on a Commodore 64 in the 80's while he taught himself to draw and sketch on paper. He carries a sketch book to this day, everywhere.

Ocean started in the industry making rent for a little room in a shared warehouse in San Francisco by working in Photoshop making images for game manuals, while he drew and painted. Then some new software came out for 3D modeling (3D Studio Max) and was just becoming the main tool for making models for games. Ocean was in the Bay Area where lots of game companies are, in a deadend job, and he had always dreamed of making worlds.

Ocean ended up breaking into the industry by teaching himself to use that new 3-D modeling software. then he created an amazing virtual trip through an art gallery from the point of view of a house fly. On the walls of this virtual art gallery were photos of oil paintings he had done! It worked, and got two major offers. He took the one from Maxis and started working on SimCity 2. 

Here are two other good lessons. One, know when to move to the right city, and two, know what software is hot. But remember, Ocean also aligned all this with his passion, not just because it was hot. Passion is paramount.

The fact that Ocean knows how to paint and draw has also been key. He married classical training in art with amazing skills with software. Many young people can, and do, learn how to use advanced software, but they don't know about timeless skills like color theory, composition, light, and art history. That means they usually end up working for someone like Ocean. Not a bad thing, as the pay is great on his teams, but if you want to go to the top, you need to go deeper then knowing which buttons to push.

So, if you ever see a gamer who seems like they would like to become a game creator, don't tell them to get outside, encourage them to bring gaming more into their life, their homework, careers, writing, research, and to try and create games, not just consume them.

Other Stuff about Ocean