SOE: Teaching students to self-critique is crucial

The G.I.R.L. scholarship and its perspective on the changing role of education

Sony Online Entertainment is a big believer in education, and proves it by offering the G.I.R.L. Scholarship to game design students over the age of 18. The competition has been running since 2008 and winners receive $10,000 towards their education and a 10-week paid internship with SOE.

Joe Shoopack, director of artistic development at SOE, explained to GamesIndustry International how changes in games education are reflected in applications and he's suggested ways that schools can support students who are interested in a career in the games industry.

Q: As the competition evolves, are you noticing any differences in the way game design is being taught to young people?

Joe Shoopack:The range of education opportunities has expanded since we started the G.I.R.L. Scholarship in 2008. Opportunities range from associates degrees up through graduate programs for aspiring game developers. We see more programs treating game development holistically, combining students in art, programming, and sound to make complete game demos in school.

Q: What should educators be doing to support young men and women who want to enter the games industry?

"I'd like to see more educators encourage students to create 'user generated content,' even as class assignments"

Joe Shoopack:Stay on top of developing trends. I'd like to see more educators encourage students to create 'user generated content,' even as class assignments. As an example: SOE's Player Studio allows artists to submit original content to specific games for sale in the in-game marketplace. SOE in turn shares a portion of the revenue for those items with the creator. It's a fantastic opportunity to fill a portfolio with real game assets and also valuable in helping students acquire the skills of meeting style and technical specifications.

Q: How have the SOE internships been of practical use? Do winners go on to get design positions?

Joe Shoopack:Absolutely! Past scholarship recipients have gone on to work at Hasbro, Gazillion Entertainment, Tofu Girls, etc. One past winner currently works as an experience designer and strategist for and another is an artist at Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Having that first professional experience and mentorship in an SOE internship has been a launching point into diverse creative careers.


Q: What areas would you ideally like to see games design courses focus on?

Joe Shoopack:Teaching students how to self-critique. Once you learn to identify what's wrong with your work without an instructor's help, you've unlocked the key for faster personal progress.

Q: What should students be doing in their own time in addition to their education?

Joe Shoopack:They should dedicate themselves to continually advance their skills outside of class and not rely solely on just completing the required curriculum. It's a competitive industry and you need to be at the top of your game to land a good opportunity.

Q: Do the girls you've spoken with feel supported in their education choices?

Joe Shoopack:In my experience the answer has been yes. I see a larger percentage of female students in art and design than just a few years ago. Probably the biggest challenge area for schools has been to get more women enrolled in the programming discipline.

"Probably the biggest challenge area for schools has been to get more women enrolled in the programming discipline"

Q: Was your education keeping with your current role?

Joe Shoopack:I graduated with an illustration degree from BYU; my first games were for the Atari 7800, so I've seen vast transformations in how games are developed. The things that have been most important through those changes have been solid foundational art skills, openness to changing methodologies, and understanding that 'it's not about you, it's about the team.'

Q: How long before saying "I want to make video games" is as normal for a teacher to hear as "I want to be a doctor/lawyer/reporter."?

Joe Shoopack:I think teachers already hear that quite a bit and I think they'll start hearing it even more in the future. A few years ago, the Smithsonian created The Art of Video Games exhibit and that's an indication of the growing appreciation of the role games play in our lives and how they connect us to each other.

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Latest comments (5)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 4 years ago
Yah but self-critiquing "doesn't feel good"...
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany4 years ago

Tell that to the developer of "Earth year 2066" ;)
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 4 years ago
It's called sarcasm.
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Show all comments (5)
Ryan Locke Lecturer in Media Design, University of Abertay Dundee4 years ago
I agree - critique is essential and you really can't quite get enough of it - but where do you get it from? Busy lecturers? Class mates? industry figures? internet strangers? - I say get it where you can really. There is a risk that you come to rely on what other people think of your work with out any real confidence in your own voice. Ultimately the student needs self critiquing and evaluative skills, it will serve them well to step back and look at their work objectively. With so many social media and online communities, critique is easy to easy to chase down - but be careful to measure how much your relying on this - like most things, balance, a combination of external critique and self critique will serve best.
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Eyal Teler Programmer 4 years ago
There's a difference between accepting critique and doing what other people tell you. What people feel about your game (or other creation) is always valid. What they tell you to change rarely is. The trick is to find out where the critiquer's problems really lie and think of a way to solve that (if you think it's worth solving).
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