Last week EA ran a Boom Blox masterclass as part of something called Shine Week - a seven day festival to celebrate creative talent among young people. I was invited along to a large room in Pall Mall, where a small army of hyperactive kids was busily laying into Bash Party’s level creator. The idea was to encourage the bairns to think about games development as a future career choice. There was even a direct show of support from the Government in the form of Siôn Simon, creative industries minister at the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

Some people find it easy to be cynical about this sort of thing. True, most of the kids I saw seemed more concerned with having fun than with weighing up their career options, and I suspect that they were less impressed with Mr Simon than they were with Master Shortie, a grime artist who also popped along to say hello. All the same, there was something rather inspiring about the enthusiasm and energy in the room.

Taking a quick tour of the hall, it was quickly apparent that some of the would-be developers were a lot better than others. Some just seemed content to make a random mess of blocks, others were more concerned with the pleasures of blowing stuff up, but here and there you could see pairs of kids who really wanted to make their levels work. There’s a certain kind of concentration you only see in children when they become totally absorbed with creating something. It’s something that teachers often struggle to summon within the classroom, but here there were most certainly pockets of it dotted around the Wii booths. And while there were plenty of adults around to lend a helping hand, the most engaged kids were clearly keen to find their own paths - tweaking their designs and testing stuff out to see how the various blocks and bonuses worked.

Will any of those whippersnappers grow up to be leading game developers? It’s doubtful, but who knows. What was clear to me was this kind of activity can only be a good thing. I’m all for anything that helps children to be creative: even if none of those pupils grow up to be the next Peter Molyneux, this kind of exercise can help people to discover talents they might not know they have. But the Shine event also got me thinking about whether we could be doing more to get “da yoof” into video games design.

Bedroom programming played a vital role back in the early days of our pastime. Matthew Smith was still a teenager when he created Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy for the ZX Spectrum. Those names may mean nothing to many of you reading this, but in the 80s they were massive titles that helped to forge the platform genre. Today I guess we have rough equivalents in the people who use Flash and other software tools to make their own web games, but the main bulk of the games industry has outgrown these indie roots. It’s a massive entity, and as a result I’m not sure that people really know how to get into it.

My point is this. Games like Boom Blox and LittleBigPlanet have an important role to play in allowing people to express their creativity, but on their own they’re not enough to spark a major surge of fresh blood into the sector. The Government are clearly on a major push to promote the UK’s creative industries, but if they really want to get young people into games development, I think a change of approach is required.

Firstly, it’s vital that the games industry is perceived as a viable one to work for - both in terms of employment prospects, and in terms of cultural worth. I studied film for three years at a well-respected university, and during that time I received plenty of stick for being on a “Mickey Mouse” course. But that was nothing compared to the derision that met the announcement that London South Bank University was to launch a BA degree in Games Culture. People thought it was a joke, but why should it be? Revenues from games have now eclipsed the film industry, but money isn’t the only issue. Video games have to be fully accepted as a viable cultural form by the rest of society, and while we’re closer to this situation than ever before, there’s still some way to go.

Why not allow people to study game design for their AS levels, or perhaps even their GCSEs? Such a move would no doubt be met with a bit of opposition from advocates of traditional education, but eventually the new courses would become accepted as a viable study option. At the same time, such studies would also encourage students to brush up their skills in other relevant areas like maths and physics. Something like this might help the Government to win over the large proportion of gamers who regard them with distrust and/or apathy. After years of enduring hysterical furores over video game violence - and more recently, the Change4Life ad fiasco - we need a bit of love from the powers that be. Still, perhaps there’s hope: Siôn Simon tells me he’s a big fan of the GTA series…

New stuff to check out


To add your comment, please login or register

User Comments

nch2k1's Avatar


When I was at scholl some 13 years back now, we had a youth centre that we could go to at break, lunch and even after work. In this centre there were maybe 15-20 master systems that people could play on, but tucked away over in the corner there were several commodore 64's where a couple of the IT teachers would be showing kids how to program VERY basic games. I dont know if this has carried on in the years since I finished school, but I do know that some of the kids at the time were so impressed with what could be done that they would go away and try themselves (normally resulting in frustration as it never worked); but I'm sure there must have been one or two that 'got' how to do it and moved on from there. If you can inspire one or two people then thats a job well done as far as I'm concerned. Oh and I was in the 'never worked' catergory, so I just went back to playing paper/rock/scissors in Alex Kidd :-)
Posted 11:13 on 17 July 2009
Karlius's Avatar


Actually Lee as with all IT courses most follow a structure.

1st Year is a basic overview of the subject in question.
2nd Year is more in depth but still for those that want to get on this seems pointless.
3rd year should then specialise.
Same with mostly all courses. And when i took a multimedia degree course back in 2000 I quit for similar reasons to yourself its not until I have now taken a Computer Science Degree that I realised this.
Posted 09:36 on 17 July 2009
GlitcH's Avatar


Nice in put lad's I'm impressed and aware of these courses as I was a fraction away from choosing them instead of graphic design. Who know's where I could end up, after teaching in a few years, this is great.
Posted 08:47 on 17 July 2009
CheekyLee's Avatar

CheekyLee@ FantasyMeister

Whilst the courses are there, what I think you fail to realise is how they are perceived. A first class Games Design degree is no more likely to get you a job with Rockstar than a Desmond in Maths. You would really need to get on one of the specialist courses to have it mean anything. Part of the problem is that there are 300 courses, each with its own distinct take on the core. My own degree was called Computer Games Production, but it was ultimately a course in middle management, which is why I left it.

Speaking as someone who has seen firsthand what such courses can consist of, I would barely be able to defend them against anyone who slapped the 'Mickey Mouse' badge on them. When my first year consisted of "Audio Principles" (digital sound techniques), "Platforms" (a sort of potted history of computers), "Scripting" (Javascript), "Creative Technologies" (basically how to use digital cameras and Flash), "Data, Networks, and The Web" (Data modelling, network descriptions, and HTML), and the SOLE games related unit "Introductory Games Studies", then you can see why such courses are not taken seriously. Honestly, I felt as if the work being demanded of me was more suited to college level.

I'm also not sure that games design can be entirely academic, at any rate. Certainly we can discuss and dissect great games with the hopes of understanding what makes them so, but to be able to then somehow imbue people with creativity as a result? Knowledge only takes people so far, there is still always going to be a quantum between what is great in theory and what is great in practise.

All that being said, I applaud anything that moves towards taking games more seriously. As a fully fledged ludologist, how could I not?
Posted 01:59 on 17 July 2009
FantasyMeister's Avatar


You can currently do 3 and 4 year BA/BSc degrees in Computer Games Development, Computer Games Design, Interactive Games Design, and can even get more specialised and do a 2 year HND in Games Testing, degrees in Games Culture, Animation, Modelling, A.I. etc. UCAS lists over 300 such courses at roughly 80 establishments just in England alone.

Back in the 80s when I was in education and home computing was just taking off, we had home brew computer clubs at school but none of the above further education options existed so we were left to read Ian Stewart's books ('PEEK, POKE, BYTE and RAM' etc) in our own time if we wanted to advance.

Today anyone is fully enabled to go into further education to study game design related courses, even if they flunk school any adult can take a 1 year Access Course to get a University place on any if not all of those 300 plus courses.

I'd say no to making it a GCSE/A-level subject though, kids have enough to learn these days and I think school should be about nurturing an interest and giving them the basics so that they can decide what they want to do rather than churning out 'ready for work' at 16 or 18.

E.g. what would be the point in having a A-level in Games Design if they can't express their ideas in English or configure a bit of mouse software?

Personally I think the educational infrastructure is all there, the courses are in place, you've got giants like Electronic Arts sponsoring a lot of new courses and studios, as well as smaller games companies developing links with local education, and as these programmes have only been around a decade or so they'll continue to be tweaked and developed until they're as natural as doing a degree in Criminology, Psychology or Equine Sports Performance.

Maybe we will see some more games design oriented content in the GCSE syllabus, but I think it'll just appear as a module of IT or Media Studies rather than a fully fledged subject of its own. In the same way, they never taught Film Studies in my school as part of the GCSE curriculum, it was an optional after-school activity although if you shop around you'll find a GCSE being taught for it.
Posted 01:29 on 17 July 2009

Game Stats

Release Date: 09/05/2008
Developer: EALA
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Puzzle
Rating: PEGI 3+
Site Rank: 1,478 21
View Full Site