We often hear, especially as students and aspiring game developers, about how small the industry is and how important it can be to present oneself well to it, as word does get around. And I would certainly not try to counter that assessment, neophyte that I am where the real deal is concerned (I wouldn’t anyway—everything I’ve experienced in my limited experience has shown it to be true). But that’s not quite what I want to talk about today.
What I’m actually more interested in is using this as background to frame a conversation I had with another student today. We were talking about the ITGM department (that would be Interactive Design and Game Development for those playing along at home), and remarking on the fact that, at least at our campus, it is a relatively small department. I don’t have precise numbers or anything, but there aren’t really a ton of students—especially grad students; I can count the number of them I personally know of in our department without taking my shoes off.
That isn’t what I found interesting. What I found interesting is that it’s resulted in a sort of microcosm of the industry in a way. Most of the ITGM students know each other and most of the faculty know a sometimes surprising percentage of the students. Especially true of graduates. Also true of those students’ projects. It’s also true, perhaps especially, of one’s accomplishments and failures, whether one likes it or not. I’ve been surprised to find that professors I haven’t taken a class from know something about work I’ve done or am doing or even have stated an interest in doing.
Word gets around, you see.
It doesn’t take long to develop a reputation among the students. Whether you can be counted on in a project team or not, what you’re good at or not, how serious about what we do you are, whether you’re generally brilliant or a blathering idiot, are you personable or just intolerable… opinions form based on what you do, and they get around.
And they get back to you.
Brenda Brathwaite noted at some point (I think. I’ve been reading a LOT lately, and I can’t quite remember where it turned up) that every designer has their Playboy: the Mansion or Daikatana or Sims Online just as much as they have their Wizardry or Doom or SimCity. Well, that doesn’t start when you get out there. Students have those too, and it can be as brutal, if not always as career-shaping.
I view this as a basically good thing. It gets us thinking about how we present ourselves much earlier, if only we realize that it occurs. I’ve been finding myself thinking hard about how I present myself to the industry of late—to be honest, I’m not sure I don’t come off as an uppity grad student that thinks it qualifies him to talk about things like he knows them better than he does, or an argumentative newbie, a pretentious vocabulary-laden windbag, or… whatever. My hope is I manage to represent myself as I am, or at least intend to be: intelligent, forward-thinking, open-minded. Often I think it doesn’t come off that well in text, but I digress.
The point is that I realized today that the industry starts where I already am: at school. It can’t be neglected or blown off any more than one’s projects can be. We have, in many ways, a very similar environment, and ultimately, the time will come when we will be the industry people (we all hope). And we’re going to remember what happens now, and we’ll have to live with our triumphs and mistakes through to that future. This isn’t just “practice” for the real world. It’s real now.