Games Research Problems

20 08 2008

Richard Bartle has weighed in on the current state of affairs between academia and the industry, talking about former polytechnics now being the best universities to get graduates from for the games industry, since they’re more willing to take risks.

the best undergraduate degrees for game development in the UK come from Abertay, Coventry, Derby, Nottingham Trent, Portsmouth, Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire and Teeside.

We’d add Imperial College London and London Metropolitan University to that list, since both have some heavyweight CS and visualisation degree courses that have successfully led people into the industry (Technically, LMU was founded in 2002, but its constituent parts are well over a century old).

Overall though, Bartle is correct. Traditional, more established universities are way behind on games education in comparison to newer ones. There are also massive problems with games research:

Modern universities focus on training in the way that vocational schools do, says Bartle, while older ones have a tradition of education.

“The difference is that training is the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a result of being taught, while education is the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a result of learning — a more rounded, think-for-yourself ideal,” says Bartle.

The problem is, these modern training houses are doing their jobs, producing plenty of adequately-trained would-be games professionals — “But because the older universities aren’t doing theirs, we’re getting too few educated people,” Bartle says.

And higher education funding in the UK never goes to computer games research, says Bartle — they fund “games as education” research, not games research.

“We also see games as AI, economics, psychology, sociology, therapy, training…There’s nothing wrong with this, but we’re seeing games for everything except for games,” he says.


“Where will the games industry be if the only public money available is for games-as-anything-but-games?” asks Bartle.

It’s good to see a game developer acknowledge this problem. Many, tied to 18 month production cycles and thinking only of recruiting, are heavily biased toward vocational skills and care little for theory. Academics who seem to be working on the issue are, as Bartle says, tending to go for “Games and *”

Not many people are doing pure games PHDs. In fact, the only one I can immediately think of is Robin Hunicke.

(CC image “Teaching Math or Something” posted to flickr by foundphotoslj)



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