Mailbag: Courses of Study

I want to dive into narrative design. [Professors at a game program] say that it’s possible for them to teach graduates on how to be indie developers. That made me laugh, I don’t really believe their tales. Yet I doubt which faculty should I choose in order to gather some useful skills. There are some options for me: philology, journalism and linguistics. Which one would be more useful? I quite like them all, I guess, and I can’t make it clear.

I’ve redacted the identifying details of the program in question, but it isn’t one where I happen to have personal knowledge of the teachers or graduates, so I can’t speak to that.

That said: I wouldn’t assume that the faculty have nothing to offer on game design. It may be a good program. In my experience, the only real way to learn this kind of craft is to do a lot of work in the space, but the guidance of teachers can be helpful with that, and so might the company of other students. A lot depends on how you naturally learn best and how much you like your education to be autonomous or directed.

It’s true that if your aim is specifically to become an indie developer, it’s very hard for any course of study to guarantee that you will have a secure career afterward. But that’s just because indie game development is a very difficult and precarious space, not because what you would learn would be valueless.

However, if you are inclined to self-teach narrative design topics and prefer to get a strong grounding in more traditional academic subjects, that’s also a solid approach, and I know many developers including myself who started out that way.

Writing games is an art and a mode of communication. An education in other subjects can help prepare you to have something meaningful to say.

I can’t tell you what is best for you here. But I would suggest you think about the question not as “which of these traditional subjects has the most bearing on games?” but as “which of these traditional subjects will most help me think about the problems I care about? which will most help me find true answers to my questions? which will give me an ethical groundwork on the issues that matter to me?”

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