Chris Crawford and interactive storytelling

Well, here is something, by way of Mark Barrett and Robin, that distracts me enough from trying to get to level 40 in World of Warcraft that I’m going to update my blog.

Two years ago, Greg Costikyan wrote a post-GDC entry on his blog that expressed a lot of the frustration that I think many people, or at least me, were feeling (even if I was a bit more optimistic than Greg). It looks like this year that honor may go to Michael Mateas, over at Grand Text Auto.

Michael makes many points that are worth commenting on, and I will do so later. But first a more personal issue.

Down in the comments, Chris Crawford writes:

Yes, the years of failure have sapped my energy. I don’t have the energy to work 10 hours a day on it as I once did. I work for a few hours, then my mind wanders. It takes enormous discipline to sit down and force myself to continue working on a project that the entire world – my wife included – thinks an utter waste of time. I take no creative joy in my work, nor any optimism that it will ever produce the results I hope for. I work now out of towering stubborness, and out of desperate fear of the thought that my life’s work – and therefore my life itself – has been an utter waste of time. I’m like a shipwrecked sailor in a rubber dinghy thousands of miles from any possible rescue, stubbornly paddling forward because there’s nothing else to do but die.

I remain absolutely certain that interactive storytelling can and will be achieved. Many of the arguments I witness on the topic no longer excite my attention, as I have long answered most of those questions to my own satisfaction. First among these is the “plot versus interactivity” debate. I solved that problem 15 years ago, published the solution, and nobody seems to have noticed it. Fine. They’ll figure it out someday. There remain serious problems to be solved, but I no longer consider any of them to be killer problems. They are what physicists like to call “engineering details".

So when others say that they are losing interest or getting discouraged, I can surely second that emotion. This is not an easy problem. It will not be solved by a few brilliant strokes of genius. It demands the solution of a number of gigantic problems. I believe that I have found one approach that solves those problems. I can see others making progress on very different strategies that seem promising. This is going to be a long, hard struggle. But make no mistake, someday we will plant our flag at the top of this mountain. If my role is to be the dead body holding down the accordion wire far below the summit, so be it.

So, a little personal history. At the spring ECTS in 1993, while I was a level 3 beginning game developer working for a small company in Germany and there still was a spring ECTS – remember the ECTS? – Richard Garriott gave me Chris Crawford’s telephone number. (For many years, this was my ultimate name-dropping story.) I called Chris, we talked about game design, he recommended that I read the journal he was publishing, the Journal of Computer Game Design, later Interactive Entertainment Design. So together with my good friend Erik I bought every single back issue and a subscription. (Most of the material is now available online.) This had a great influence on my development as a game designer, and I still believe that no-one has written as much quality material on game design as Chris. In fact, if I hadn’t read all that, I probably would have written a lot more, and it would not have been very good.

Chris and I kept in touch. I met him in person in Utah in 1994, and I visited him a couple of times in San Jose, meeting his charming wife and his many pets. We met at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 1996 (which started a five year run of me going back to the Netherlands once a year to watch twenty movies a week), and there he told me something along the lines of: "Jurie, you’re a smart kid, I want you to be working on interactive storytelling in five years time." Since I’d missed my personal goal of making the Citizen Kane of interactive by age 26, I agreed.

And I missed that new goal too. But interactive storytelling is basically what I’ve been wanting to do even before I started making games for a living, when I was a demo programmer in the late eighties. Chris’s obstinacy and frustration are a more intense version of my own. Even though I took a safer, more circuitous route, pretty much every career decision I’ve taken was to get me closer to somehow being involved in interactive storytelling. I’ve seen my share of failures and frustrations, and yet, because I am apparently a stubborn, unreasonable optimist who won’t take no for an answer, I keep going.

During all that time, there was always Chris’s inspiring example. He has dedicated himself to this endeavor for a ridiculous amount of time, making a huge personal investment. Who was I to call myself stubborn compared to him? I never quite worked up the courage to take the big step and focus on interactive storytelling full time, instead of, ah ah, trying to change the system from within.

This is the first acknowledgment of the cost and the frustration I’ve seen from Chris (as well as the first acknowledgment that there is more than one way to skin this particular cat). Perhaps perversely, I think it’s a good thing: it would have been bad if he had never shown this human side. Nevertheless, I hope it doesn’t mark the end of his involvement in interactive (so far the signs are good.)

Like Chris, I think interactive storytelling can be done, it will be done, and it’s terrifyingly hard. But why try doing something easy? I can’t think of a more fascinating quest than trying to create a completely new artistic medium. Onwards!

Update: Robin has posted a bit more about this topic. She’s better at the touchy-feely stuff than me:

So here’s me fessing: reading his words really gave me pause. First
because… it’s… Chris – who has always been a huge source of inspiration
(he is heavily quoted, for example, in the first chapter of my thesis).
Second because he has always seemed so…. incredibly, inhumanly stubborn
and focused – at times, despite his own best interest. Reading such a
frank account of his doubts and struggles was just… a bit disarming.

What she said.

And changing perceptions of the industry over time, that’s a highly interesting topic of it’s own.


Comments 29

  1. Aubrey wrote:

    “So let’s stop writing games for these people! What? We can’t? It’s the only market the publishers are willing to invest in? Then let’s find a way to move outside the system and make the games where stories count.”

    Well, quite! I.S. starts at home :). There’s nothing to say that a typical shooter can’t be governed by an I.S. framework.

    Posted 11 Apr 2005 at 12:38
  2. Fran Willett wrote:

    Can you give some insight as to whether Full Sail and or DIGIPEN are good choices for someone wanting to get into the career?

    Posted 17 May 2005 at 16:33
  3. Lee Sheldon wrote:


    I know more about Full Sail than Digipen since I spoke there a few times, but they seem similar. They are both technical schools, not full-fledged universities. As such they provide access to great equipment and software, and seem to be pretty good about teaching students how to use it all.

    What they aren’t very good at is supplying context or lessons in how to use all that great equipment and software to create something meaningful. So, if you’d like to get a job as a programmer or artist at a game company, they may give you the tools you need. And being on the inside at a company is the best way to advance. However without the skill to focus whatever talent you may have, you’ll find it difficult to take advantage of that inside track. In short, if you want to design and/or write games, you’ll find yourself still at square one after graduation.

    I’d recommend a traditional education at a university that at least begins to teache you about Art with a capital A and Life with a capital L at the same time you learn C++ or Maya. You may then have the skills necessary, even though you may still start as a journeyman artist or programmer, to move up through the ranks.


    Posted 20 May 2005 at 16:42
  4. Physics Monkey wrote:

    Lee, please don’t assume you know what Digipen is like if you obviously haven’t researched or even visited it. Comparing it to Fullsail is like [making me feel slightly annoyed].

    Give Digipen a call, stop by sometime, look at the games they put out, talk to their graduates, but please– don’t [ruffle my feathers] again.


    [Unnecessary profanities censored by site owner]

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 11:46
  5. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    I just censored the anonymous comment above – maybe I should have deleted it? It’s so flamy, I suspect it might just be a troll. But let’s give Physics Monkey the benefit of the doubt before I ban his or her IP address.

    Let me give an even less informed point of view – the point of view of someone who was involved in hiring about 15 people last year. I know Full Sail and Digipen as being fairly well-known game development schools, they seem vocational but there’s nothing wrong with that, Chris Crawford teaches at one of them but I’ve forgotten which one. I have never been terribly impressed by vocational game educations, but I only ever look into them every couple of years or so. That’s just me.

    The first thing we tend to look for is recent credits on shipped console games. Then we look at good non-game-specific university degrees (ie computer science for programmers) and experience in animation or film (for artists). Then we look at experience in the modding scene or vocational game development degrees. Details may vary (there’s various people involved), but that’s more or less how it goes. Of course, we also look at work permits, location, that kind of stuff.

    So the difference between Digipen or Full Sail would be lost on me. Most likely, if you were in the US, we’d sooner get someone who has done a multimedia course in Austria, unless you had a really good demo reel. You would be a newbie, why go to the trouble of getting you to Vienna?

    Your mileage may vary of course.

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 13:04
  6. Jeffool wrote:

    Many Full Sail students don’t try very hard to find a job. They had a reputation of whining about not having a job rather than looking or trying.

    Others I know from Full Sail now have jobs making games ranging from cell-phone games to “AAA” titles.

    And there’s people like me who haven’t found a job, and have tried not to make a deal out of it on blogs. Yeah, I came from Full Sail and don’t have a job in games. And I’ve talked to a person or two on the Net about job leads, and I’d hope I’ve not made a nuisance of myself. And while job-hunting I’ve fallen back on what I did before going to Full Sail, studio manager of a TV station.

    So take from that what you will. Full Sail students are just like any other kind. You have those who fail, those who succeed, and those who haven’t succeeded, and are too hard headed to fail just yet.

    Of course, there are some things about the school ‘I’ didn’t like while I was there. It wasn’t perfect by a long shot. Some things were downright wrong in my opinion. That said I’m curious to know what about the school didn’t meet your standards when you visited.

    But to be personally offended that (assumedly) your school was compared to Full Sail? Aren’t were all in this to make good games?

    [Edited at request of author]

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 13:14
  7. Jeffool wrote:

    Unless I really missed something, Chris Crawford doesn’t work at Full Sail. Or at least he didn’t when I was there as of late last year. Though if you want ‘some’ geek credentials, Dave Arneson is there teaching a class on gameplay mechanics where he mostly uses board games and other non-video games as examples to compliment his lectures.

    Oh, and sorry Jurie, I began writing my reply before yours was up, it just takes me forever as I love to bother with minute details. If you want you can change that last sentence to “But to be personally offended that (assumedly) your school was compared to Full Sail? Aren’t were all in this to make good games?” Same point, I’d think.

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 13:34
  8. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Done :)

    I guess Chris teaches at Digipen then – are they in Washington? Whichever one is close to Oregon :)

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 14:02
  9. Jeffool wrote:

    Yeah, that’d be DigiPen then. It’s in Washington; the north-west of the country. Full Sail is in Florida; the south-east.

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 21:38
  10. Mike Shepley wrote:


    Can anyone tell me where Mr. Crawford got “&emdash” (?), it just don’t compute.

    The bit about engineers (I come from a long line there-of, back to when they were called ‘mechanics’)- Mr. Carwaford in his KIMtanktics could not figure out, for ten months, how to let a player pick the tank he (no she’s then,l anyway) wanted to order motion/action first (2nd, 3rd). You (or, correctly, “one”) had to start with tank #1, then #2 on thru to 8.

    He eventually found the way. The lesson, so much like in AA, keep putting one front in front of the other and you will get to where you thought you were headed.

    He did. Big time.

    There is another lesson in AA (not that I ascribe to any step): apolo9gize for past mistakes to clear your heart/mind/head/soul or what gots ya.

    To me he should be 1) pulling Ms Minnik’s rug & 2) grokking what he put out on the GA coll. site- it looks a little like the 2nd longest suicide note (the labor parties 1982 manifesto #1) in history.

    (By the way, I must say I am sorry I kicked his ass every time (minus one) we played BLITZKRIEG in old Ygnacio High days.l;


    (Is this tale in his book(s)?)

    Posted 31 May 2005 at 21:01
  11. Stephane Bura wrote:

    Dadaism is not plaid!

    Posted 03 Jun 2005 at 16:20
  12. Jurie wrote:

    Yes it is. It’s been plaid for a long time.

    Posted 03 Jun 2005 at 16:39
  13. Physics Monkey wrote:

    It seems everyone here misses the point, so I will restate it:

    Before you go judging an institution, do some research on it first.

    The median SAT score of the incoming RTIS student in 2004 at Digipen was 1320. Not Harvard, with a 1490, but rather somewhere near UCBerkeley with a 1310. SAT scores don’t say everything, but I think it starts to get at the heart of the matter.

    Let me tell you about some of the current students:
    1- A sophomore group (Ivar’s Adieu done by Habib Loew, Josh Beeler and David Siems) gave a talk at the University of Washington to the Applied Computer and Mathematics group last month. In their game, they had to solve problems that the juniors and seniors at UW were having trouble understanding. They will be giving a talk at the Northwest sectional ACM meeting this Fall.

    2- A senior, Marc ten Bosch, just had his talk accepted for presentation at SIGGRAPH next year. You should look forward to his team’s game, ‘Orblitz’ being presented as a finalist in the IGF at GDC next year.

    3- An entire senior team are being contracted to produce their product for Valve this summer.

    4- ‘Kisses’, a student project, was in the *professional* finalist category this year at IGF/GDC. Last year, ‘Bontago’ won innovation in game design (professional). Every year there are multiple Digipen finalists in the student shocase, but these were in the professional category.

    5- This year, graduates have been hired with full-time positions at Valve, NST, Microsoft, Bungie, Turbine, Midway, Activision, and a slew of other institutions. More than 60% of this graduating class had jobs BEFORE they graduated. They *regularly* turn down jobs at non-game-industry jobs. Names and contact information will be provided upon request.

    Digipen does not teach tools. Digipen is about building the game designers of tommorow, not the game testers of today.

    Why does putting Full Sail and Digipen in the same sentence drive me into rant mode?

    I would repeat what I said before, but perhaps my verbosity will convey my passion better than my low-brow humor. Digipen charges less than half of what Full Sail does, it advertises less, accepts fewer students, places more game programmers, but gets lumped with them when people talk about ‘game schools’. Graduates from Digipen have the skills and the drive to get jobs anywhere in the software industry. A Digipen bachelors’ in RTIS is no way less than a ‘real degree’ from a ‘real college’. Take a look at the curriculum:

    Game programming is not an easy field that can be done by anyone. It requires natural aptitude and a large amount of dedication. Game programming cannot be learned in 21 months by the masses for $65,000. Game programmers is not something your standard ‘vocational school’ can produce.

    Not all Digipen graduates are going to be market leaders. You may not see many of their applications floating across your desk. Ignore them if you want, it doesn’t really matter to me. However- I beg of you- please don’t tarnish their name to people who might actually take the time to look at what the Digipenners can do. They are smart and dedicated students who should be looked at with a fair eye.

    Feel free to email me with any questions you may have. Best of luck,

    The EPM, a graduate of a vocational monkey school.

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 12:49
  14. Jurie wrote:

    I thank you for writing such a detailed argument, there was a lot in there I didn’t know.

    However, you also missed a point, one that is unrelated to the relative merits of Digipen and Full Sail: some of the people who are involved in making recruitment decisions don’t necessarily know much about either school. That may be unfair, but that’s how it is. It doesn’t mean nobody knows about them, or that the recruitmnent process is broken. Mileage may vary per company and certainly per continent.

    Is Digipen trying to educate all of the people involved in HR decisions at the major game companies?

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 15:04
  15. Physics Monkey wrote:

    That’s a great question. What would you do to inform HR at all of the software companies in the world?

    It’s a daunting task. Wasting on advertising comprimises the education students receive, and there is way too much to be done. Digipen has taken the tack of producing quality BS graduates, and waits for the world to take note.

    The graduates get jobs in the game industry. Many times they are programming interface, tools, or some other less glorious tasks to start with, but their skills are usually recognized and rewarded. Their placement rates are also due to the fact that every year, the dP’rs make a game from start to finish. When they apply in industry, they can point to a portfolio of completed games, many of which are quite impressive.

    I think if Digipen were not placing its graduates, it would be taking more aggressive action to ‘get the word out’. The last two years, Digipen has had a Career Day where potential employers come by and meet the graduating class.

    Unfortunately, I think our reputation is not very well known in Europe. Hopefully, some of our European grads will take it back and show some of their work. Check out the aformentioned Marc ten Bosch and his 3rd year game:

    If you have the time, try out Orblitz. The single player and multiplayer are both worth some time. Marc is intent on going to graduate school next year rather than entering the game industry, but he’d be an excellent ‘poach’ if someone can pull it off.


    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 20:44
  16. Physics Monkey wrote:

    That link above should be changed to:

    I’m also still looking for input on how to remove the perception that Digipen is nothing but a training facility. Any ideas?

    The placement rate from the 4-year program at Digipen into the game industry is over 85%. I don’t believe they could get that sort of number if they produced nothing but trained monkeys.

    Digipen is always looking for more input from industry as to how to better prepare students.


    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 5:36
  17. Aubrey wrote:

    Do you provide your reading list on your site? I’d be interested.

    My experience of game design within games courses is that it has always been dissappointing to students, or, worst case scenario, damaging. Nacent art form, so it’s to be expected at this point.

    I don’t know much about digipen except enjoying most of its output since genjox, but looking at the site, I only see listings for game design as part of English courses. Hmm. Curious.

    I suppose that a lot of the mechanics part of game design comes across in software engineering, but there is an art to it, and it seems a shame that there’s no course for it specifically. I suppose that every class in that list works to help people understand game design as a whole. Perhaps it would undersell game design to segregate it into one class, as it’s an aggregate of so many other skills. I’m finding in my work that design is really the glue which brings all the other elements of development together in a guided and artful manner, so it may be fitting that game design is something the students come to find is something that exists inbetween the other modules.

    Looks like one of the better courses I’ve seen.

    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 11:49
  18. Aubreya wrote:


    GAM 100 Project Introduction (3 Cr.)

    I swear this wasn’t there the first time i looked! Sorry! I take everything back! Go Digipen!

    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 11:50
  19. Physics Monkey wrote:

    The GAM series (100, 150, 200…400, 450) that students take every semester is the lab class for which they make games.

    These courses are taught by industry producers/technical leads/designers and feature guest lectures by local interested parties. A good amount of the ‘theory’ is discussed in these classes, but not ‘tested’. The grade is solely dependent on the project: Design, Documentation, Presentation, and the game itself.

    GAT classes (Game Application Technology?) will also have more game design courses.

    How should ‘video game design’ be taught? Digipen seems to think it’s by making games. I think we could also benefit from a history of video game design course as well. Who would be qualified to teach such a course?

    I appreciate the thoughts. Feel free to stop by the ‘pen any time you’re in town and chat with the people here.

    One of the major issues faces the GAM professors is keeping current with a quickly changing field. The technical instructors for the GAM classes tend to enjoy their time at the ‘pen, but feel the need to create (and make 150k/year) again after a while. How can Digipen continue to attract skilled designers with code experience? Sabbaticals? Would companies be interested in sending more senior guys off to think, reflect, condense, and teach?


    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 22:47
  20. Mobile ICBM wrote:

    “I don’t believe they could get that sort of number if they produced nothing but trained monkeys.”

    I guess that would depend on whether the games industry needs monkeys who are trained in whatever you’re training the monkeys to do. I.e., apart from your ego involvement, it’s possible to look at a roomful of artists working on meshes and skins as trained monkeys if they’re doing little more than executing someone else’s plans. Same goes for engineers carrying out the experiments designed by a physicist. Yes, they’re all wonderful people, but whether they can think on their own, let alone think on the cutting edge, is an open question.

    If Digipen is training people for the industry in any capacity then they’re doing the same thing any trade school does, and should be applauded for it. But implying that Digipen is anything more is a reach, and one predicated on the assumption that because one is working with computers one is smart. If the games industry has taught us anything for certain, it’s that that is not true.

    Posted 31 Jul 2005 at 23:47
  21. Aubrey wrote:

    Man, I’d sabbatisize my self in a second. But maybe I oughta release game #1, first :).

    Regardless, I can tell you that you’d definately see a desire for professionals to have a change of scenery for a while, especially in an industry which is so happy to work so excessively.

    Posted 01 Aug 2005 at 11:20
  22. Physics Monkey wrote:

    Interesting. So your contention is that any place that prepares people for a particular marketplace is nothing more than a training institute?

    I would immediately ask what you think of Film schools…

    Granted, creating games is a much more technical exercise than film production, but it still requires creativity and independent thinking. I think the Digipen student’s ability to think and create comes out in the games that they produce. Even with limited time and resources, they are able to create some fun and interesting games.

    I suppose it comes down to a specific philosophy on the purpose of higher education. I believe that a real education is one that teaches you to think rather than how to act. The acting part comes naturally once you know what to do.

    I must politely disagree with your statement:
    “implying that Digipen is anything more [than a training facility] is a reach, and one predicated on the assumption that because one is working with computers one is smart.”

    This is a complete nonsequitor. You are saying that because Digipen graduates end up working with computers, I am claiming that they’re smart. Any claims I lay beyong that are a “reach.”

    Each student is different, and certainly, those that are not able to get a job have to apply to more places, thereby increasing their relative visibility. That being said, I would argue with your implied claim that these graduates are merely, “working with computers.” They create games from the ground up, without SDKs or premade engines.

    I will explicitly state that Digipen is more than a training facility.

    My first bit of evidence is the first-hand experience of having seen the students go through this education. I would encourage you to refute this one– please stop by and see what the students at Digipen are doing.

    My second peice of evidence is the games they produce. Again, I will encourage you to download and play them.

    My third chunk is the graduates themselves. Look at where they are hired, and talk to the employers. In the Seattle area, try NST, Valve, Arena.Net, Suckerpunch, Bungie, and a whole slew of other employers.

    My fourth piece of evidence is still emerging. Think of how long a particular skill set in computer game creation is useful. At some point, the products of a training institute would become obsolete and outdated. Those that graduated Digipen with the first 4-year degrees in 2000 are the start of this testbed.

    There is one final peice of evidence, but one that you’d have to email me to get.

    Best of luck,


    Posted 01 Aug 2005 at 20:42
  23. Terry wrote:

    Presently I am listed as, a very-VERY, enthusiastic computer hardware person because of all my computer, “hardware”, skills I do NOT have a “certificate”, OR any other type of paper, to document my accumulated computer skills. But I can build, from scratch and mix-matched parts, a complete computer unit (recently I’m trying to collect information on doing Laptop computers because I’ve worked mostly on desktops/towers); I can also refurbish literally any unit, etc. I’m NOT employed and often been accused of being “overqualified” by employer/interviewers because I have more computer skills than they can “RE-“train me for, and well I can go endlessly on-‘N-on on this subject. But mostly I’d like to do “something” in purely computer tech on-my-own while I’m waiting for “some” discovery of my skills and waiting to get into “some” college/university to develop Graduate-level computer skills classes to further my computer skills and knowledge.


    Posted 05 Sep 2005 at 18:08
  24. Physics Monkey wrote:

    Don’t wait to be ‘discovered.’ It turns out that it’s not a passive process. If you want to be ‘discovered,’ you have to go out there and present yourself.

    I would advise you to get in to the best school you can, show them what you can do in the classes, and expand your horizons. You can get a McTechJob if you want, but that won’t take you anywhere. Computer maintainance and repair will not get you to ‘the next level’. You are overqualified because the world doesn’t need top-notch computer repair guys. You have proven, to yourself at the very least, that you have technical ability and interest. I am convinced you will succeed, so long as you can find a field that interests you.

    Best of luck,


    Posted 08 Sep 2005 at 19:07
  25. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    Geez, I’m sorry I didn’t notice this thread had been dragged back to life until today, and apparently by my post from months ago. (Jurie! Feel free to tell me these things!)

    First, I checked my remarks, and I do say clearly I know more about Full Sail than Digipen.

    However, I just went and looked at your course offerings in your key degree programs. For the BS in Computer Engineering I found TWO (2) courses, Art Appreciation and Creative Writing for Game Design out of FORTY-SEVEN (47) offered over four years that might deal with the history of other media and how it has mirroed and shaped our world; and none that explore reasons people build games and the responsibilities inherent in doing so.

    The BFA did better with FIVE (5), including a media ethics class.

    Physics Monkey,

    Your heart may be in the right place, but look at any self-respecting university on the planet and compare liberal arts courses to math/science/engineering. I lumped Digipen with Full Sail because both are clearly trade schools. I’m not interested in your rivalry. We actually share opinions about Full Sail. But…

    Check this link for Digipen’s answers to questions from

    Look at where the teachers come from. Wonder why the curriculum is so obviously trade school? This is not putting your professors or your school down. Please understand that my only objection is both school’s representing themselves as something they are not. Be a trade school and be happy. You aren’t MIT.

    You mentioned film schools. Strangely enough I got my MFA at a film school: California Institute of the Arts. We had more courses in a year concerning context, history etc. than you have in your entire program. Before that I received my BFA in theatre at Boston University. Most of my courses at both places were focused on my degree tracks: making movies and plays, but there were still always requirements for other courses that were far afield: literature, history, philosophy. Why? For cultural context. Without that context all you have is budding talent stifled by understanding the technology, but not what using it truly means to the big world out there. This industry is awash in very intelligent, very gifted people making meaningless games. The only time we get press is… oh don’t worry, Jurie, I won’t bring -that- up again… We are impacting wallets for sure, but our work is virtually ignored other than as an acknowledged media trend. What an empty victory.

    A lot of your graduates get hired? Great. I mean that. That’s something to be happy about. But how many are lead designers? Turning out any game writers? Are any of your graduates creating games that touch our souls or just our tendons? Let me know when the first Digipen graduate does something that advances human beings as well as technology. Then prove it was your robust programs in the humanities that influenced her or him. Then you’ll have something special.


    Posted 20 Sep 2005 at 19:07
  26. Physics Monkey wrote:

    I feel obligated to clear up some of your misconceptions, Lee. I don’t mean to be cruel, but there are few things you need to know.

    1- The RTIS program is for making games. CE (computer engineering) is something different– it’s made for embedded systems design. I would happily detail that degree, but I’m afraid it might distract from the topic at hand. RTIS has at least 3 required courses that deal in history of other types of media. 8 courses (each of the GAM courses) in which the lecturers often discuss the history of games themselves. There *is* even a required course on society and technology– the effects of games on society and vv. This is not to mention the elective courses that everyone *must* take to graduate. Those that are interested may pursue Art, Literature, Film, or a whole host of other subjects further.

    2- That link to was made over six years ago, before the first four-year graduates had graduated. The instructor that answered the question, ‘What are the backgrounds of the Digipen’s professors?’ was in the GAM department, and answered it specifically in response to his department. He unfortunately did not talk about their academic backgrounds, only their business ones. I think it’s unfortunate that a person espousing the importance of context so clearly ignores it when making an argument. Art without context is like a window with the blinds drawn.

    3- I don’t consider Full Sail a rival. I do see Digipen and Full Sail in the same sentence way too often though. They exist for completely different reasons.

    4- How many Digipen graduates are lead designers? When they’ve been out of the school for 0-5 years? A few, and most for smaller studios. That being said, there is a team working at Valve that has full freedom in designing their own game. Our students have won many awards at game developer conferences and gatherings. They didn’t win them for making clones of brain-dead games. They didn’t win them for flashy graphics. They won them because they were creative, artistic, and intriguing. I’ll give you a list, but you can get a list if you bothered to look at what independent games were being presented at the GDC in the US. Turn this question around, Lee: How many game designers are there 3 years out of undergrad? Not many, but I’ll put money down Digipen has the most.

    5- Since when are literature, history, or philosophy courses, ‘far afield’? They are fundamental to all artistic endeavors.
    That being said:
    How many scientific courses have you taken? Have you taken a technical course on quantum physics and relativity? Talk about context– these are the rules that bind our universe. The analogies given in popular science are not the rules themselves.

    5- Games that touch souls? Tendons? How many people anywhere are writing games that touch souls? Your writing touched me, but in a *bad touch* kind of way ;)

    All that being said, I might even agree with you to a certain extent. I am not impressed by the drivel that comes out of the mass production ‘entertainment’ business today. It is clearly a business and not an art form. Lee, this is a problem with capitalism, and nothing else.

    Digipen is *not* a liberal arts college. To call it merely a trade school, however, is to sell it short. If I were a betting man, I’d put down money that your BC/CIA training gave you less exposure to science than dP students get to liberal arts.

    I will repeat myself with renewed vigor: before you make comments on what Digipen is or isn’t, do some research. Come by and take a look around. Allow me to buy you lunch and chat. Find some of the Literature professors and discuss narrative in games. Search out some students and see what’s on their minds. Look at the games that they create from scratch, and give yourself an opportunity to evaluate them for what they are and aren’t.

    If you have more recommendations on what Digipen can do *for* the industry, I’m more than willing to listen.

    All the best,

    Physics Monkey

    Posted 22 Sep 2005 at 7:48
  27. Lee Sheldon wrote:


    Be cruel, even sarcastic. Don’t worry about me. You seem sincere despite the fact that your arguments are all over the map, and sometimes off into the blank areas marked simply as “Here there be monsters.” You obviously think highly of your school. I’m sure it’s a wonderful school. I hope it and its students are very successful.

    I’ve rechecked the curriculum offerings. Digipen appears to be an enlightened trade school in that it does acknowledge the need for a few courses other than the basic programming and art courses, not something that Full Sail does. But it -is- a trade school. I went and checked to be sure my definition of what that means is accurate. I believe it is. Here’s one of many similar definitions easily Googled:

    “A vocational school, also sometimes referred to as a trade school is one operated for the express purpose of giving its students the skills needed to perform a certain job or jobs. It is usually a post-secondary school…”

    I don’t see that as a negative. You obviously do. Maybe someday Digipen will grow into something else, if its vision demands it.

    In the meantime, I think it’s best that we agree to disagree. If I’m ever in the neighborhood, I’ll ask at Digipen’s reception for Physics Monkey, and maybe we can have lunch -if- you promise not to throw food.


    Posted 27 Sep 2005 at 15:37
  28. Physics Monkey wrote:

    I would laugh, but I must again protest your unresearched attempts to disparage. Let me start off with your quote:

    “A vocational school, also sometimes referred to as a trade school is one operated for the express purpose of giving its students the skills needed to perform a certain job or jobs. It is usually a post-secondary school…”

    What you didn’t include was the end of that sentence nor any of the next. Allow me to complete it:

    “…but in some instances may take the place of the final years of high school. Vocational schools do not exist to further education in the sense of liberal arts, but rather to teach primarily or only job-specific skills, and as such are better considered to be institutions devoted to training, not education.”
    [Wikipedia Definition of Trade School, Sept, 2005.]

    I take the title, ‘trade school’ to be vastly different from what we do at Digipen. Digipen is NOT around to train students in a particular skill. Digipen is around to educate students interested in a *field of study*. When they leave here, if they have not learned how to LEARN, they will be useless in years, if not months.

    In an attempt to dispell your ignorance, I will detail factual differences that separate Digipen from a Trade School.

    1.”…giving its students the skills needed to perform a certain job or jobs.”

    The students who graduate from Digipen aren’t trained for the game industry, they’re *prepared* for it. They can and DO get other ‘jobs’ in completely different industries. A sizable contingent end up working at Microsoft doing non-game, highly-technical work. They have all of the education of a ‘Computer Science” graduate from a high-powered 4-year university.

    2- Trade Schools don’t have a significatn percentage of graduates going on to graduate school. Graduates from Digipen can and DO go on to graduate school. Give me the name of another ‘trade school’ that has sent graduates to NYU, Brown, and other graduate schools this year (within a graduating class of under 100).

    3- “[A trade school] is usually a post-secondary school but in some cases may take the place of the final years of high school.” Digipen has a master’s program in computer science. How many trade schools offer master’s degrees? Mastery of a trade comes with its application, not with its study. A sizeable fraction of Digipen *undergraduates* already hold degrees from other institutions (Oxford, Princeton, Northwestern, others).

    4-“…do not exist to further education in the sense of liberal arts…”
    Again, I’ve got to hit you over the head with facts here. Perhaps you’re unware of what “liberal arts” means:

    “The term liberal arts has come to mean studies that are intended to provide general knowledge and intellectual skills…” [Wikipedia, “Liberal Arts”,Sept., 2005]

    Many of the courses taught at Digipen are indeed taught only for the purpose of expanding the student intellectually. Tell me what purpose our current quantum mechanics course serves for someone not going into physics? Perhaps you could be so proud as to explain in what manner Art History trains someone to be a game programmer. Wait, you could certainly explain why every student has to take Mythology. Well, at least you could explain Storytelling, Charater Analysis and Development, Creative Writing, Media and Ethics, Society and Technology, Probability and Statistics, Wavelets, Graph Theory, Abstract Algebra, Art Appreciation, Electromagnetism, and a list of other such courses. Find me a self-titled trade school that includes those classes for graduation.

    5-“…institutions devoted to training, not education.”
    The faculty believe that they are providing an education, not training. Those that visit Digipen come to understand the same thing.

    You say Digipen *is* a trade school. Back up your statements with an argument. Just because every argument can have two sides does not mean that each side is equally valid.

    You say that, “I don’t see [being a trade school] as a negative.” If you understand the never-ending learning and adaptation required by the game industry, then you will certainly recognize that game development is NOT a trade. Any school that treats it like one will not have useful graduates; they will be outdated and useless.

    I believe the front office will know where to send you when you come by, but I cannot guarantee that food will not be flung. It’s in my nature.

    Best of luck,

    Physics Monkey

    Posted 27 Sep 2005 at 21:06
  29. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    There will be no food-flinging here :P

    Seriously. Interesting as this discussion has been (and increasingly far removed from the original subject), I think it has run its course. I’m closing comments on this thread.

    Posted 28 Sep 2005 at 0:22