Game Construction Activity in Higher Education

Game Construction Activity in Higher Education

Hans Kyhlbäck (Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6603-0.ch004
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Abstract

This activity theoretical discussion is based on experiences from teaching and learning in higher education (i.e. university students' activities in game construction). Learning by creating a new technical artefact is taken for granted. In higher education, the produced artefacts are the firsthand proof of students' work success. Sometimes, and prominently in game technology construction, such artefacts are further used and developed outside school. Digital games with an origin in higher education reach a level of maturity and technology utilization that goes beyond many student projects. The authors argue that successful making of artefacts is characterized by repeated and contextualized feedback, found as an intriguing interplay between activity systems in which the students participate. A driving force for students' efforts and achievements is found in a contradiction between school grade markings and becoming a professional producer of games.
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Introduction

With a focus on the observation that some university students perform stunningly well and create impressive game artefacts in the course of their educational program, the aim of the study is to investigate how work proceeds. The involved teachers agree that the students do excellent work. This was the reason why I began to research the activity. Since the education programme has been around for only a short period of time, the results have not yet received much attention. Consequently there isn’t much regular evidence of the level of success, but for the results in this report that shortage isn’t critical. The way the study program is designed and organised is non-conventional. In order to contextualize the case, the educational program at my home organization (Blekinge Institute of Technology, acronym: BTH), is partly presented on the university web page (February 2014):

Education to Master of Science in Game and Software Technology aims at students becoming proficient at applying the latest in Game, Visualization and Interaction Technology as well as basic Computer Science Engineering and Software Technology. During the education students develop a number of demo applications that can be used in future employment applications. Students will also work in larger projects where they, together develop games. /.../ Upon graduation, students can work in game industry or development of other advanced software systems.

During their studies the students make “demo applications”. They are considered to be valuable assets that go beyond the regular study program. Through the students’ productive work, the education management promises a connection to working life outside school. In order to realize such a trajectory towards a professional status, the challenge for the school is to make and maintain higher technology education successful. Compared to traditional higher education, this project-based approach of BTH is different (Crawley et al., 2010; Markham, 2011). It is in line with an adaption to the need of game industry and students’ professional engagement. At the same university information page, a former BTH student, now an esteemed businessman emphasises the close connection between the university and the game industry (my translation).

Our aim is to find the very best in all areas, and therefore it is a good thing that we can cooperate in the MSc program in Games and Software Technology, helping the students design their education. I am confident that through this partnership we will find many talented engineers. (Martin Walfisz, founder and former CEO of Massive Entertainment, February, 2014)

Massive Entertainment and Tarsier Studios are two successful examples of game producers initiated by students at BTH (Francke, 2014). With an un-critical view this seems as a happy path of coordination where the school produces highly educated and specialized professionals and the companies emerge and prosper by using former students’ labour. The relation is however more complex than so. As a young and expanding branch, computer and video game production requires large investments in work hours and subsequently high salary costs. A major game company needs to work through a period of two or more years before there is a market response. There might be a pay-off in sales of the product or a disastrous failure. A new release of a software game is notorious risky, because even if the game is well done seen from a production perspective, the game might be a failure if it isn’t well received as “amusing” or attractive in some way. Then the game players won’t pay the license fee, and the game will fail to meet a required exchange value.

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