Calming down…

After that rant about what the woes I’ve been feeling about my academic life, I have been talking with people about the matter in order to get some advice and counsel on the matter. After a while, I kind of realized that I had been a little harsh on myself, and my extreme dissatisfaction combined with my impatience with the others that I work with made me feel the way I did and it wasn’t actually necessary for me to do that. It was a very emotional reaction let’s say. I suppose in my own defense, for a rant on my personal blog it was acceptable to vent such an emotional reaction, but for my own sake I ought to pursue a correction and make things straight.

The reason I often get mad with my colleagues is not just because of what I perceive to be them shutting me down, but because of the fact that they blow off the course when it suits them – whether it’s not showing up on 9am when they’re supposed to, or leaving early if they can get away with it when they’re supposed to stick around until 5pm. This is supposed to be treated like you’re actually in a job, and for me I see it as a matter of upholding a contract. I signed up for the course, and I’ve obviously put some money into it, therefore I am expected to actually do what is expected of me and be punctual. This has been my mentality for all of my student life, and I believe there was even a time where this was considered…what’s the word again? Work ethic! Or as I call it, virtuous and honorable conduct. I think that this is expected of all us, and since I work in a team, and we’ve been told in the past that we have to operate as a team in order to do well. The fact that my colleagues do not observe the same standards hurts my morale, especially when we’re at a point where we can just be in the studio for hours and use that time to discuss what we’re doing at pretty much any time outside of lectures. Maybe I should detach my sense of morale from the lackluster standards of my colleagues, but it’s hard for me to because, aside from me having to deal with them on a regular basis, the mere idea that I’m the only one who actively pursues work ethic and actually tries to uphold the implicit contract. That said, the program director is kind of with me on this in that he thinks that my colleagues are pretty much lazy, and he seems to notice that I don’t always get along with my colleagues because of it. In general I’m the kind of guy who, if you made me a producer or a boss, I’ll take an artist or an artisan who isn’t half as good as whoever the most talented artists are at that time but who commits to his work, shows up on time when he’s supposed and all that stuff over a genius who doesn’t care about any of those things and is just a total punk-ass (for lack of a better word). In short, I value conscientiousness.

One thing I didn’t talk about last month, despite having then returned to university after the winter holidays, was how I did in the last semester. The big reason for this is because I never received any formal marks on paper other than for my dissertation. Eventually I stopped waiting for my marks and looked them up on my student Moodle account. I found out that my marks for this semester alone are higher now than they’ve been in previous years. The average mark I got for this semester was 75. The average mark for last year was 62, and for the year before that it was 58. To me, this means I have clearly progressed as a student and am getting better and doing what I do, and I hadn’t realized that yet. Now that I have, I think “I don’t have the right to feel beat down about anything”. I know that what I am doing is, ultimately, getting me good results. And now that I’ve seen that, I feel better and I can carry on doing what I’m doing. To me, even if I’m not doing as good as I’d like to, I think I’m seeing the results of the way I do things pay off. The only thing that remains is just taking what I do and doing it better, putting more effort into it.

I will carry remembering the principle of pride in worldly accomplishments, and I won’t allow myself to be dragged down by other people for no reason or by any emotions that become inflated in the process.

Starting to get tired….

This is a rant that I saved for when I finished the previous post about an experience I had in university, or rather a rising feeling of exhaustion and disillusionment.

Let me explain: over the past week we were supposed to be designing what’s called an art target, which is a basically a visual representation of what we’re supposed to be design, with all our design work proper being based around that general representation. Towards the end I had received a message from one of my colleagues explaining what we needed in an itemized form, and I run with it thinking “OK, let’s do this”. The next day, we got shitcanned by the program director because the art targets we generated appeared to be bland, flat and uninspired. I wasn’t fully sure what I did wrong at the time, but I didn’t say anything. All the while I just had this feeling of resentment – I followed the advice of my colleague, and we got shitcanned for doing so in my mind, and all I want to do is try and fix that, but every time I come up with something it’s always wrong, apparently, and when I try to help it feels. In addition to this I spent the opportunity, doing almost nothing but drawing some quick sketches on paper in one night, and one Photoshop the morning after, each time trying to perfect my skill at trying to convey something artistically and then I get told it’s not about how well you draw.

So as I designer I’m starting to think I’m always doing the wrong thing, or doing something the wrong way. All the while, when I got told “you’re a gamer, you’ve played games, what is it that you like about them?”, I just didn’t know what to say. And after that, I just felt like such a fraud, and that filled me with a sadness that was difficult to contain. I know everyone else got told the same thing, and it wasn’t just aimed at me, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t change the fact that I don’t know why I’m even here. My written work is great, I can analyze what I do, and I’m competent in areas such as character rigging and creating environmental assets as well, but I feel like in terms of basic design I feel like I’m just not cut out. Worse, I feel like I’m just taking cues and following instructions! And why? Because other people always project this sense of confidence and knowing what they’re doing, so, logically, it just felt like a matter taking the word of people who I assumed knew better than me. But the people I work with frequently come across such a non-committal bunch non-committal trollops with a blase attitude to the course. I’m there every morning, showing up at exactly the time I’m supposed to show up, while they usually show up later than me and one of them always has a reason not to show up, and they only buckle down and change this as of this week and even then I’m still convinced at least one of them has dedication issues. And when they’re gathering “research” for their designs, it feels like all they do is get from random work that someone did on Deviantart or some shit, while I try to go from real-world sources and recognized fictional media, sometimes including other games if I have to. I try to go out of my way to avoid quoting other games that are like what I’m working on unless I have to because it’s the best way to explain what we’re trying to do. In my mind that’s called, oh I don’t know, fucking originality! As I write this I feel like I’m letting myself get played and I’m thinking “why the fuck am I doing this?”.

But I already know why. Aside from what I said earlier about them projecting a sense of confidence and the appearance that they’re better artists than me (which judging from their actual work seems to be grounded in reality), the game I worked on used to be my project, and then they joined and convinced me that doing things their way might actually make a better game. I submitted a design document back in April 2016 and the next month we had our documents marked and my document was one of two that were judged by the lecturers to be the one being worked with. I was surprised that that happened, because by my money I had done a shoddy job of the document, and I think the target demographic I set for the game may have been a major weakness, having limited a potential audience. In a free market in the actual games industry I probably wouldn’t give a fuck, but in university we have to have a public exhibition for our games and we have to worry about people being repelled by what I might create. So anyways, we then formed groups of three for each project corresponding to each document, and we discussed how we were going to do this. They convinced me to turn the game from a supernatural-oriented beat ’em up into a fantasy oriented beat ’em up, because they thought that would be more accessible. For a while, after discussions, I thought I could still make this kind of unique, preserve some elements from the original idea I had, and make this into something I could get behind. But as time went on and we made it into a simplistic game for virtual reality, that became less and less, until now I’m convinced that this isn’t my game anymore, not since the others joined me in creating it. Now, in terms of design, it feels like their opportunity to do some World of Warcraft wankery.

Because of all that I’m hating the people I work with more than I did before, and from the looks of it I have to work with them until May. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll get into a situation where I say “I hate you”, and one of them says “well I hate you too”, and I say “well I hate you more” and all that bullshit. But then I also remember that part of it is still my fault. My fault for not writing a better design document, my fault for being convinced by them that their way of doing things had merit, my fault for not taking more control. Because of that, I felt less justifiably angry and more like the sense that I was kind of a screw-up who had no business in game design. But I can’t quit now. It’s the second half of third year. What’d be the point? All I can be certain of is once the third year is over and I continue into the Masters portion of the course, I never have to work with them again, even if it means working with only one other person. If I have to work with the same people again, I would resent the prospect. If I have to work on the same game again, which is being talked about, I would resent the prospect. And the main reason I’m continuing is for my own advancement as a technical artist, because the better I do on those terms the better my prospects will be later in life if I get into the industry. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I’ve discovered the errors tied to pursuing something for your own advancement? Because it’s not as though I’m all in regarding the project I’m working on, particularly if I’m convinced it’s more akin to the project of someone else who hijacked my original idea to make it their own, whilst quoting other games in the process moreso than I could have done, and on purpose no less! And particularly not if I hate the people I have to work with. This is for my own advancement now, and even though being a Satanist I shouldn’t be bothered by that, I am worried that by the end of the project I will wind up being poorer, not richer, for it.

Time for a happy Winter “Mass”

Today is the end of the first part of my third year of university. I break up for three weeks of winter holidays after having finished a VIVA presentation and having to hand in two written assignments, including a dissertation (or about as close as a 6000 word document gets to a dissertation on my course). It’s been a lot of work, and I think I’ve been progressively busier as the months went by until I opted to just get my shit together with the written assignments.

Now I honestly just want to begin the winter holidays and get into the spirit of the Winter Mass – my own name for the Christmas holiday season, or rather the time between the start of the winter solstice and New Year’s Day. Basically this means I start doing nothing other than try to have as much fun as possible, especially given that this has been quite a year for me. Yes, I ask not much more of 2016 than playing video games, playing my guitar, and some reading I didn’t do, interspersed with a lot of movies. There’s still plenty of time for future blog posts between now and the time when I have to get back to work again, which will of course be some time in January 2017. Essentially, I’m going into festive mode as it were, and I plan to enjoy the fruits of a long fucking year.

Some academic faggotry

Please excuse the very crude title, but that’s who I felt at the time . And I don’t mean to refer to people who are homosexuals. I use the term “faggotry” in this case to refer to something severely annoying.

It was 9 in the morning and we were treated to a short lecture on “dissertation theory”, where someone from “contextual studies” (which sounds like a relic of my art college dies) talks to us about how best to write a dissertation, which follows three hours of “dissertation practice”, where one of the actual game design lecturers does kind of the same thing but we’re more oriented towards actually working on our dissertations (or researching for them in the early weeks). So anyways, the tutor addressed us game students, and since he was clearly unfamiliar with the games industry he jumped straight to Call of Duty as an example, which was cringeworthy enough as it is. Then he asked when the first game was released, I guessed 2003 (which indeed it was). Then he said, “what happened two years before then?”, and that’s when it occurred to me he was trying to refer to 9/11, which led me to believe.

In what I now consider to be sort of a misguided action (I’ll get to why later) I said “are you kidding me?” in a tone where everyone can hear me, and everyone looked at me as though I had said something stupid or unpopular. All I thought was “this game has no objective connection to 9/11 happening”, and I thought the idea was so outrageously retarded that I ended up vocalizing my disapproval. In his mind though, I was taking issue with him personally (who knows? maybe I was…). He even pretended to concede that I was right before sarcastically saying “and you know what else? 300 had nothing to do with Iran”, referring to some kind of political event or speech made about Iran in 2007 or 2008, I think. In my mind, the man was clearly either retarded or just being disingenuous or intellectually dishonest. Either way, it became obvious to my fellow students that I had developed nothing but contempt for the man and his reasoning.

And just to drive the point home further, he actually went on some spiel about how Back to the Future was probably based on the Jewish myth of the golem, based on invented connections between Jewish lore and the plot of Back to the Future. He even got the fucking myth wrong! He claimed that to bring the Golem to life you had to write the Hebrew word for “truth” (which he claimed sounded similar to one of the character’s names in Back to the Future, which to me is a weak basis of connection to the film’s story) and to reverse the effect you write the Hebrew word for death. That’s baloney! In Jewish lore, a Golem is animated by the magician putting a piece of parchment in its mouth, usually said to contain the written name of “God”, and to kill it the magician has to remove that parchment. He got it wrong, and I fucking knew it from the start!!

I remained frustrated with him for a good long while now, and talked with one of my colleagues about how I didn’t trust any academics other than my lecturers at game design for the sole reason that they are simply more grounded than him. That might be because they know the game industry and they’re dealing in a profession that requires them to actually be grounded in practical reality and not be flying in the realm of nonsensical pseudo-intellectual abstractions. Of course, the program director ended up having to talk to us about it because, unfortunately, I was seen as having made a scene. Fortunately we weren’t in any real trouble and nor did he claim to that we were or talk to us in a way that suggested this was the case. But it did seem that the dissertation theory tutor was not used to his game design class. Which I don’t find fucking surprising at all considering the dissertation theory tutor has nothing to do with the game design course. I ended up realizing that even though in my mind my frustrations are pretty reasonable and I’m right to have an aversion to nonsense in academia, my actions were more counterproductive than anything else and I’m probably going to get the program director in trouble if I repeat the same actions. I’m not an idiot, and I respect the man too much to do something that might get him in more hot water. Not only because he’s a pragmatist, a very grounded individual with an admirable attitude and he knows the games industry more than any new student who enters the course, but because he saved me from throwing away my potential as a game student based on emotion back in the first year. Were it not for that, I probably would have done something stupid and I might have taken somewhat longer to grow the way I have as a person.

But you know what? The program director told me that the dissertation theory lecturer said he recognized my brother, who now studies illustration in the same institution. My brother hasn’t been in university for very long and already he says he has to deal with bullshit academics. How bullshit you might ask? Then depends on how you take to a guy who tells you to consider “is the artist really an individual if he/she has to shop at Tesco?”. I take it as just fundamentally retarded. But my program director warns me that I might have to deal with more of it because of how hypothetical and theoretical the guy is and I’m expected to push through in third year. Personally, though, I think academia is supposed to be about learning and dealing with something in the way of objective truth, not pulling stuff out of your asshole and making spurious connections to look intelligent.

Once more for opportunity…

I remember earlier this year I was told about how tricky and complicated rigging and skinning a character is as a job, and that if I can not only get good at it but also good at doing it efficiently, I would become highly employable and a valuable asset to a game developer because not many people actually like doing the job. I felt a wonderful sense of opportunity back then. And yesterday, I got reminded of the possibility of that opportunity again.

One of the things I have to do for my third year is write a critical analysis document. Essentially, this document is a kind of research document where you have to try and learn something new about something you are already familiar with in your field. It could be character rigging, animation, something involving the game engine, stuff like that. It’s not the same thing as a dissertation, but it’s not considered a report either, but it is still an academic document and has to be treated accordingly. I am likely to consider researching methods of rigging or skinning a character in Autodesk Maya in order to discover the best, most efficient method of doing so. I was told by one of the lecturers that the method they showed me was actually a longer method of doing so. If I could find a better method through the means of research, as well as practical experimentation, it could lead me to a kind of mastery. And if I get that, I could be pretty damn useful, become employable in the games industry and perhaps go far within the field and attain some worldly success.

In addition, according to one of the lecturers, many researchers (98% apparently) have a habit of changing their hypotheses because they think being wrong would invalidate their research and their work. This is important because being right isn’t the point of a critical analysis document. You can put forward a hypothesis and have it proven wrong, but the whole point is what you find through background research. Being willing to not change your hypothesis in the document and show how it was proven wrong would make you among the few. In my mind, that meant the possibility of being among an elite of something, in a sense.

It all made me feel like the path of mastery awaits me, as well as, for some reason, self-overcoming. But it does feel like I might reach a time of attainment and cultivation of mastery and overcoming. I hope that’s the case, and I hope I reap the rewards of such attainment as well as see for myself as a Satanist the virtues of that path.

May the spirit of transformations, becoming and overcoming be with me in that journey.

My agenda

This week, I will return to university to start my third year of academic study. I am told that I don’t actually return to university until Thursday, where there will be a brief induction period getting started into the third year and on October 3rd things get real. Either way, at a certain point in the coming week I will be pursuing academic study once again. Naturally, this means I will probably be posting less often, though I might publish a new post every now and then if I can. But for the foreseeable future I am likely to be very busy with my coursework. My third year of study is going to be much harder than before, because I have to do more work within a shorter space of time.

Meanwhile, my twin brother has moved into the halls before tomorrow he begins his own course at, by coincidence, the same university that I am studying in. That for me has been pretty weird so far considering we’ve lived in the same house for so long. I’ve often argued with him, sometimes well into the night, and I don’t think I’ll miss that part. But it’s not as though I  never liked him as a companion, and we got along very well. I might miss having him around, if only because I think being alone make drive me mad for a while.

More importantly, there is something I have dwelt on recently. I was walking home, and I was thinking about what I have been doing with myself a lot. I felt like I have spent a lot of my life dreaming and thinking about how I want things to be, talking about ambitions and some such. I feel now like I am at a point in my life where a redirection is necessary. I want my agenda to be out becoming, transforming and manifesting, and to do less dreaming and thinking about what I want and how much I want. Action needs to be prioritized in my life path more than it is now, and I need to go in the direction of taking my desires and ideas and actualizing them as much as possible. As I go into an actual career upon completion of my degree, I think I will have to take this direction anyway. There will come a time where I need to get shit done more and think about it less.

The black sheep of art and entertainment

Throughout the history of the video games industry, there have been many instances where the industry has been unfairly vilified or looked upon with suspicion or disapproval, and where its consumers are also unfairly vilified or looked upon with suspicion or disapproval. The video game industry has been around for well over 40 years, but only relatively recently have video games become more widely accepted.

In the 1980’s, video games were seen as market that only appealed to children. This is just one reason why Nintendo in 1985 had to market their Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) and its peripherals (like R.O.B.) as toys rather than as games systems. The other reason was the notorious games market crash that happened in 1983, which caused games to be viewed as commercially non-viable and most stores were unwilling to carry games systems until the NES became as successful as it did. The perception that games were played only by children continued to be perpetuated until at least the mid-to-late 1990 when it was clear that the industry was catering to a more mature audience, or an audience that has grown out of the games produced by, say, Nintendo when they were younger. Even before the 1980’s though, when games as a general medium tended to be associated with controversy over violence, there was an arcade game released by Exidy in 1976 called Death Race, which became controversial because the object of the game is to run over “monsters” that flee the vehicle and scream when hit. Then in the 1990’s, games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat became the centre of hysteria over violent video game content. As the decade drew to a close people began to blame video games for the Columbine Massacre because the media reported that the perpetrators of the massacre played Doom and created death match maps that supposedly resembled Columbine High School, and people have been trying to video games for violent crime ever since – of course, their attempts are in spite of the significant reduction in violent crime that coincided with the rise of people playing video games, along with the general lack of evidence that video games cause violent crime in the first place. Not to mention, the media never got bored of a chance to paint gamers as psychopaths, such as in the controversy that surrounded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 over the airport level. There was plenty of whipped up hysteria over violence in video games and usually it came from social conservatives.

When video games weren’t accused of making you violent, they were accused of being bad for your health. Back in 2009, the British government released a poster which insinuated that video games were the main cause of obesity and that children who play video games may die early by playing video games. This poster was released as part of the government’s Change4Life campaign which was, surprise surprise, their attempt to tackle obesity. Not only that, but the poster referred to playing video games as basically doing nothing. Apart from the premise just being inaccurate and misleading, what was really egregious this campaign was that this poster was released at a time when the video game industry was responsible for boosting the economy during a time of recession. And in general, this and similar accusations are generally based on the stereotype of gamers as fat nerds who don’t have a life.

And more recently, when games weren’t accused of causing violent crime or being bad for your health, they were accused of being misogynist, and their consumers were accused of being savage, racist, sexist and generally backwards. It’s significant that around this time we started to see the gaming press being infiltrated by feminist ideologues. This combined with the revelation in 2014 that Zoe Quinn, the creator of a text-based choose your own adventure book style game called Depression Quest, had sex with gaming journalists, apparently in order to get her game promoted, led to the online revolt known as Gamergate, and the controversy that ensued. Those who supported Gamergate did so because they were tired of what they saw as corruption, cronyism and a lack of journalistic ethics within the gaming press, along with its collusion with feminists like Anita Sarkeesian who were basically out to convince the press that gamers were sexist and misogynistic in order to advance their own agenda. But the mainstream media – even the gaming press – dismissed Gamergate as a hate mob concerned primarily with harassing women, even though only a few Gamergate supporters were actually guilty of doing so. As a result, there were now those who shunned gamers collectively and denouncing them as backwards individuals, thus effectively siding with the feminists and the mainstream media narrative.

A visual illustration showing exactly how things have changed for gamers.

There’s a certain aspect of this mistrust and ignorance that extends to game designers. Not many people understand game design as a discipline, people still tend to ask “what do you actually do?”. This is illustrated by Scott Rogers in his book Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design:

Let’s talk about making video games. To most people, making a video game is a mystery. The average party conversation goes like this:

“So you program video games? Is it hard to write all that code?”

No. I said I design video games.

“Oh, so you draw the characters? That must be fun.”

No, I don’t draw them. That’s what an artist does.

“I don’t get it. If you don’t code the games or draw the games what do you do?”

Apparently nothing.

At this point in the conversation, I tell the person that games are made by elves. (Sometimes it’s just easier to tell someone a fantasy than explain what I do for a living.)

–  Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design(page 28) by Scott Rogers

Also, when we were having our talk about what to expect of the third year, we were introduced to the third year space and the lecturers had to explain a few things about the space. We were encouraged to put content on the walls such as concept artwork and research, but we were warned about putting up anything that was too violent on the walls because of the possibility that such imagery would be noticed by passersby (some of whom are apparently women in their 50’s) and by the lecturers’ boss, which would mean that the lecturers have to fight for the right to keep that space for us third year game design students. You have no idea how lucky the third year students are to basically have their own space where they can just work on their projects, and apparently there are people who would do anything to take that from the game design course, and any thing that convinces them that games students don’t deserve that space is enough to make them feel that they can take it.

To be honest, regarding my university, I feel like there’s envy coming into play. The game design course I study under is a course where you can potentially learn a wide pool of skills. You need to know not just how to make a nice 3D model, but how to do it efficiently, up to standard and in a way that you can get your computer-generated asset to actually work in the game engine. You need to know how to rig the characters you make for your games. You need to know how to animate them. You need to know how the game engine works so that you can import your assets into the game, or if you’re going to actually manage the content in engine in order to make it work as a cohesive whole. You need to be able to communicate effectively with the rest of a given team, and even how to operate as a team – which also means you’re going to have to balance working with others with your own individuality. You have to figure out how to tell a good story, design good characters, and design levels. You to learn how to organize and plan effectively, because good game design really needs good planning. You might even have to learn skills involving leadership and even entrepreneurship. You learn and grow as a designer and as a person.

This is a course that offers several skills, some of which can be transferable in that you might find a way to use them outside of game design, and our course is apparently home to some of the hardest working students in my university. So if you’re a game designer or game design student and someone asks you “what do you do?”, you may actually have to respond with “what don’t we do?”. Some art and design courses are, by contrast, geared towards more specific areas of work, which may offer less skills.. The animation students, from what I understand, are just learning 3D animation, possibly geared towards the film industry. Then you have photography students who do, well, photography in an artistic context. Fine art students make visual art under a nebulous category that includes painting, sculpture, and everything else. Illustration and graphic design students, to be fair, actually might have a number of profitable jobs going for them, with graphic design students finding work in advertising for major companies and illustration students designing covers and illustrations for books (sometimes children’s books) and magazines. Then you have the glass art people who seem to me like they spend their days making stained glass windows and other stuff that exists mainly for show. I could go on. The way I understand it, other art and design students may have less options open to them because there are quite the few art courses where you’re basically just an art student without much transferable skills. And from what I hear from my course’s program director, there are students from other courses who complain that they don’t have what we game design students have.

In our course, we’re the black sheep of arts courses probably because what we are working on is not purely artistic and passive media, we are very much learning how to make entertainment. Video games are not a purely artistic medium, like a painting, a sculpture or generally anything passive. Video games are a medium of entertainment fundamentally defined by interactivity and whose primary goal is not artistic consumption but simple enjoyment by a player. There is certainly artistic and intellectual merit that can be found in video games, but it’s important realize that fun and entertainment – and functionality I might add –  come first when designing the game. In other words, we’re an art and design course that isn’t purely about making “art”, so we’re looked upon a little differently by people of other art and design courses. Again, at least that’s going from the program director. And I’ll tell you what, I am glad and also pretty lucky to be studying under the tutelage of lecturers at my university who understand video games as they are and clearly appreciate the medium accordingly. Going back to Gamergate, it seems that other academics did not understand this, and wanted video games to serve a role that it might not need to serve by turning it into a more “artistic” or even social medium. It should come as no surprise that these academics were rejected by actual gamers. But for this, they have been vilified by those same academics and their allies in the mainstream media.

To me, it’s telling that games and game design students have had this reputation of being the black sheep in culture, even as video games are already accepted in the mainstream and have been for years now. It’s also telling that video games give people what they might want in a very powerful way, and in turn provide happiness and entertainment to people in a powerful and direct way. It just feels like there are individuals and interests who are very much against such a thing.