Video games are sometimes given a bad press, accused of inciting violence in young people and distracting them from more important pursuits such as playing sport and doing their homework. However, I just don’t think this is the case.
Far from being a negative influence, the games industry offers a wealth of interesting, exciting and rewarding careers for today’s young people. It is a significant contributor to the UK economy, employing 7,000 people in around 500 different companies across the country. It is also a young industry, with the majority of the workforce aged 35 or under.
Companies in the sector range from big name publishers such as Sony Computer Entertainment and Electronic Arts, to hundreds of small independent studios.
There are a diverse range of roles for talented individuals – from programmers, who write the code that forms the structure of the game, to game designers, who start with the “big ideas” but also project manage the programmers and artists.
Often, teams require a combination of skills in game design – a mixture of people who may have studied arts subjects and can write a strong narrative for a game and technical thinkers who can visualise how a game will work and communicate that to the programmers. Teams can work together for years, meaning that people skills are equally important.
At a time when the government is calling on schools to review “boring” ICT lessons and make them more relevant to future career opportunities, this is an opportune moment to engage with games design. As well as offering young people career options, games can enliven the study of computer science by demonstrating real-life applications and bringing students into contact with leading companies and universities with expertise in the field.
Video games can provide the crucial bridge between learning to code – which can put-off students less confident in maths, or who perceive it as “geeky” – and doing something fun that does not feel too much like work.
There are plenty of ways teachers can introduce games to the classroom. Software to design games is available online for free, along with extensive guidance on how to get started by showing students how to make their own game.
One such resource is the Young Game Designers initiative from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which invites 11 to 16 year-olds to design and make their own while also giving them the chance to then develop their game with professionals.
Winners are awarded at BAFTA’s Children’s Awards in London and get to visit a leading games studio as well. Now in its third year, the competition has already seen some great successes, with the prototype of the 2011 winning game now available on the iTunes App Store and Google Play, and a winner from 2010 preparing to study games design at university.
This year’s entrants can enter the Game Concept Award by submitting an idea for a new game, including storyline and characters.
Alternatively, those who show an interest in the technical side of game design can make a game to submit to the Game-making Award, presented by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Supporting resources including lesson plans and worksheets for teachers are available online.
Nurturing an interest in game design among school children is applicable to a number of subjects, from ICT to English. Research has shown that computer games can also help to support children’s cognitive development and higher order thinking skills such as logical thinking, planning and strategising.
Additionally, the study of games design could help with accessing subjects such as physics – crucial in making a game work – that some students traditionally find difficult to engage with.
There may still be obstacles in getting young people interested in learning the skills necessary for a career in tomorrow’s tech-orientated workplace, but there are several other promising signs that this could be about to change.
The launch of the Raspberry Pi – a low-cost, credit card-sized computer that aims to help young people learn to programme – has rightly been heralded as a turning point for a generation that has switched off from coding.
I believe that, if students realise that they can easily make their own games and share them with their friends, it could help advance the level of coding literacy in schools.
The video games industry is an important one in the UK and offers a range of opportunities to those considering it as a career option. With teachers having more and more tools at their disposal, now is the time to help students engage with the different skills involved in game-making.
Further informationThe BAFTA Young Game Designers 2012 is now open and closes on October 22. The winners will be announced in November. Visit www.bafta.org/ygd.
Harvey Elliott is a games industry veteran and chair of BAFTA’s Children’s Committee.