Ripping The ‘Art From Our Chests – Arts Courses and Gaming
Every legitimate arts culture struggles through its infancy. There have always been sceptics, manipulators and – well – capitalists trying to convert art into money. And most of the time it works. And it works in a nice, self-replenishing cycle, too; art makes money, and (most of the time) that money goes back into funding artistry. At the risk of stereotyping myself with my repetitive rhetoric about “gaming as art”, I feel now is a better time than any to say this; gaming can save our country.
This is a bold claim. If this article was published in, say, The Independent or The Guardian, then people would get to that sentence, laugh, and find something else to read about (maybe about how Katie Price’s tits are a bit bigger now than they were four months ago, because that is more interesting). But I’ve got some very flimsy and subjective opinions to throw at you to try and prove my point. Also, I’m sure I can get my editor to put in a nice picture of some boobs for you, somewhere, if that’ll keep your attention a bit longer.
So hear me out; I live in Britain, and I have just heard some very startling information. The average tuition fee for British universities has gone up to ~£9,000 for submissions this year. To cut through swathes of muddled, debatable information, this basically means that it’s going to cost you about three times as much as it used to. I managed to get into uni two years ago, and am currently studying a Creative Writing course therefore I am technically an arts student. If I knew that I was going to have to pay back about three times what I’m already going to have to pay back, I would not have bothered going into such an uncertain world – I’d have gone somewhere where I knew for a fact that my skills would be needed, come graduation; academia or vocational skill-based work. As it stands, I am set to leave Uni with a bit of paper saying I can write a bit well. Not worth ~£20k (my housemate worked out that’s our repayment scheme.)
Where’s gaming in all of this? It’s coming, don’t worry. Just a few more facts and figures first. You may ask why I’m telling you about repayments and fees, etc – it’s because that bad bit of news I mentioned earlier is this (taken from a tweet by Jonathan Wakeham, campaigner at Arts Emergency);
“2012 UCAS stats show arts literally decimated: Soc studies -12% European lit & lang -11% Creative arts -16%. Please support @artsemergency”
UCAS is the official site used to measure applications to Universities and Higher Education courses. What the tweet above outlines is a severe drop in arts-related courses in general. The national feeling is very similar to my own – why bother going into arts when you can go elsewhere and have a better shot at employment? According to UCAS (source), the only specific category that has seen positive results since the fees went up is Medicine, and this was only by 1.3% (the other, rather vague category is “general, combined and other”). Overall, submissions are down by 7.1% – now I’m no statistician (clearly), but I know that’s a big chunk of students.
So, let’s bring it back to gaming then. Why mention all of this? Why bring this all up here? Because the gaming industry is currently worth over 25.1 billion US dollars, that’s why. Despite the recession. And it’s still growing. That figure was taken from ESA annual reports. The same reports valued “The Industry” at 11.7 billion USD in 2008. Over two years, the value almost doubled, and the trend of increase seems set to carry on for a while.
This and the decline of arts, to me, seems like an anomaly – gaming is one of the strongest industries at the moment, and while it does require a fair amount of technical expertise to put a game together, there is also a lot of demand for the “arty” side. Every game needs composers, writers, scripters, artists, voice-actors, mo-cap actors, concept designers, art directors… the list is extensive. I’d class all of these positions as “arts-based”, and yet the awareness of these jobs is, at best, meagre. The general public just seem to think games happen. A lot of people still see this industry as a bit of a curiosity – a bit of a joke.
The profit to be made from making games is incredible, and is increasing at an exponential rate. Losses of physical merchants like GAME Group send out the wrong message to the masses – they see a weakening industry that’s lost its strongest British supporter. What they don’t see is that GAME went down because of their own mistakes, but that gaming is still strong because it is advocating cybersocial evolution; online communities and downloadable content are words in our everyday lexicon. To us, losing GAME is a bit of an inconvenience; we can shop online/download our merchandise, but to non-gamers, “we’ll all just have to go to HMV”.
There is a certain smugness about non-gamers when I say that I want to “go into the games industry”. The majority push up their lips, nod a little and say “whatever floats yer boat”, and are honest about telling me “oh, it’s all low-pay, you know?” and “that’s a bit nerdy”. Both are wrong. Employees under games publishers and developers are, generally, above the national average in terms of skill-to-wage ratios. As for the “nerdy” argument, I would rather be in an open-planned office, writing with a team of Hollywood execs working on the next Halo title than stuck in a job I’m not really enjoying, watching everyone else go about their lives.
I am taking a gamble – I am very very aware of this. I know writers make next to nothing, day-to-day, being writers. But it’s a gamble that will pay off if I end up with BioWare, Bethesda, Bungie or any of the other narrative-driven studios (or any studio, for that matter). I have auxiliary skills that I can fall back on, and degrees like mine (and most arts, to be honest) are good door-openers into PR companies, publishers and events-based work. All of this helps when building up a CV for gaming – I’m only 20, and I’ve already managed to land work-experience in a game-centric TV studio, write articles for a respected website and rub shoulders with some important, industry people. I honestly don’t think I’d have had these chances if I hadn’t picked up a thing or two from my Creative Writing course.
So, this is my message: if you’re reading this and you’re trying to decide whether or not you want to go into Arts at uni, do it. Every country needs culture to proceed, and culture comes from arts. The fact that the Great Betrayer (Clegg) and his overlord – the archfiend Cameron – are trying to diddle our country out of its artistic heritage should be a moot point; every society succeeds on culture and science, and (as author Philip Pullman recently said) “the ability to study [arts] should be a right, not a privilege”.
This doesn’t change the fact that you might be paying up to £9,000 a year to learn how to write a sonnet (true story). Nor does it change the fact that you might be pushed through uni and still end up working that old bar job you had when you were 18. But, as far as my over-romanticised and possibly over-zealous mind goes, it’ll sure as hell be worth it when you’re penning the next Mass Effect and get to see the ending before everyone else…
[P.S – there’s no point going into any “smart” stuff, anyway. China’s top 10% of students almost outnumbers ALL of our students. We can’t compete with that. Just try and get famous instead. Everyone loves fame.]
Last five articles by Dom
- Defining Games, Part I: ‘Culture’
- Best of 2012 - 10 Games and Their Classic 8-Point Story Arcs
- 10 Games and Their Classic 8-Point Story Arcs
- Tekken Tag Tournament 2 - Review
- Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier - MP, Campaign, and Film Preview