Thursday, January 24, 2019

Spring 2019 teaching memo

For the Spring 2019 semester at NYU Game Center, I'll be teaching three courses:


This is a required core class for all first year graduate students in our MFA program. It's basically just about spending more time making games in groups. Hopefully these practice projects prepare them better for the thesis process in their second year!

I usually teach more undergraduate students than graduate students, so it'll be fun to adapt my teaching style to this older demographic. It's also a huge class, with more than 30 students; we usually cap most Game Center classes to 16 students because we have such a hands-on, one-on-one teaching approach, but here it's important for the whole cohort to get to know each other.

It's going to be a big challenge to scale my attention to a class that's basically double the average size, and I think I'm going to have to tweak a lot of my methods. We'll see what happens.


This will be the second time I teach the level design class, and the main lessons will be conducted in Unreal Engine 4 again. (Most of our other classes are usually taught in Unity, but it's important to mix learning contexts and avoid monocultures.)

This year I'm planning three big changes:

(1) I'm going to push more architectural theory to try to train their "eye" for good or bad composition in level design, with readings from architectural historian Erika Naginsky and some excerpts from Francis Ching.

(2) Some projects last semester could've used more rigorous conceptualization, so I'm going to impose the architecture school tradition of "pin up" critiques where students pin drawings to the wall and then we have group discussions about their ideas.

(3) I'm dropping Substance Designer, and going back to emphasizing basics in Maya and Photoshop. Their projects might look less shiny, but I'd prefer students to understand what the heck is happening. Also, Adobe just acquired Substance, so I anticipate its relevance to plummet in the coming years.


This is my attempt to try to teach video game streaming in an academic context. At first, we will focus on watching a diverse slate of broadcasters and videomakers to understand how each of them performs games on video... and then the second half of the class is about becoming a Twitch streamer or YouTuber yourself.

The big game-changer for designing this course was the 2018 release of T. L. Taylor's book Watch Me Play, which approaches the topic with sociological rigor and solid field work. We will read 15-30 pages a week, and cover about 75% of the book.

While I imagine the students are mostly excited by the prospect of watching Twitch for homework -- to me, this is secretly (shhh!) a way to trick them into reading a game studies book so that they can see the field isn't just reciting Huizinga or Caillois. Instead, game studies is a living breathing research field that examines big questions about game culture, questions that game design alone cannot answer or understand. (Plus at the end of her book, Taylor notes how it's all basically a strong refutation of Caillois. Yeah, fuck him up T. L. Taylor!!!)

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If you're interested in following our program, the NYU Game Center website is over here, and we run many free and public events in the New York City area.