Schools are serving the industry, not their students

This article is a sub-section of a large report on French video game studies published by the STJV. You will find the table of contents of this dossier, and links to all its parts, here : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/

As a consequence of the problems cited, video game studies accustom students to working in poor conditions, being overloaded with work and having to organize and find solutions to problems alone, without support. This goes against the primary mission of schools: teaching. They also expose them to sexist atmospheres (often categorised by the term “boys’ club”) and harassment, while indulging in favouritism towards people with harmful or even dangerous behaviour. Finally, by promising them wonderful careers in an exciting environment, and dispossessing them of their work and knowingly ignoring labour laws, they push them into precariousness.

Taken together, these problems combine to reveal the true function of higher education as conceived in the video game (and many other) industry: schools serve the industry and companies, not their “clients,” i‧e. the students. Whether this function is conscious or not among school administrations does not matter, because the result remains the same regardless of the intention.

The first result of this submission to the industry consists in studies that ensure a pre-selection of future workers for the companies. While this occurs from the admission process, as previously stated, the material costs and studying conditions finalise the elimination of weakened, marginalised and disabled people. The “non-conforming” persons who manage to enter video game studies are under continuous pressure during their school years, pushing them to drop out. Among the few figures available on the French video game industry, there are two that speak volumes in the SNJV’s annual survey and expose the extent of the problem for women, one of the categories of people discriminated against, among so many others: for 2019, it indicates a percentage of 26% women in video game schools, but only 14% of women in the industry’s companies. This reflects discrimination in hiring, but also the large number of women who drop out during their studies.

This pre-selection allows companies to ensure that the majority of the people they recruit will be “fitted” to the industry, or “docile” enough to suffer in silence, and that they will therefore not need to adapt their offices, methods and work organisations, thus saving them money. It also has the effect of homogenising the industry: socially, by keeping a majority of employees from middle and upper classes, and culturally, by ensuring that the ideas, themes and intentions brought by workers do not go too far outside the current industry framework. Efforts to push students to create “marketable” games, and the consequent favouritism towards students who fit into the industry’s mould, play a huge part in this cultural standardisation. This is despite the fact that the industry would benefit from leaving more room for the exploration of new themes and mechanics.

In addition to this social selection, the schools also participate very actively in formatting students, pushing them to accept degraded working conditions in studios. Classes are mostly technical, to meet the requirements of job offers, and do not care much about the socialisation and well-being of students at work. Courses addressing labour law, corporate relations and the problems one encounters there are rare. But in a way this is understandable, since these same problems are present in schools (as evidenced by the number of them that do not respect labour laws). In the few schools that do offer them, they are particularly focused on entrepreneurship, which has multiple uses for the employers:

  • to make students dream of setting up their own studio;
  • to make them think like bosses;
  • to push them towards precarious situations such as self-employment;
  • to divert them from the legal recourses to which they have access.

« to get hired for sure, you should take on an auto-entrepreneur (freelance) status and ask for half the minimum wage for a full time job »

Statement from a manager at école Bellecour

« During a “contract and law” class, it was explained to us that if we had a problem, going to the labour courts meant taking the risk of being “flagged” as a troublemaker »

Former student at a video game school

Schools do not only offer talks by professionals and companies wishing to share their knowledge. They also invite professionals who simply come to advertise their products, production processes or studio like sales representatives, as well as employers’ lobbies (of which the schools are often members). It is thus almost impossible to escape from decontextualised business propaganda during one’s studies, the purpose of which being to teach students to love the degraded working conditions of the industry.«

« [We had] interventions from video game “professionals” to teach us how to crunch properly. […] We were conditioned to enjoy it. In our heads it was fantastic. »

Former student at a video game school

These professionals are now coming to select students directly in schools. This is done mainly through project juries, which are often treated by students and jury members as similar to job interviews, especially since these moments are presented by the schools as opportunities for companies to seek potential candidates. Typically, these juries are composed of professionals who volunteered after an announcement or proposal from the schools, sometimes relayed and approved internally by companies. What passes for a commendable initiative at first glance, is once again akin to free labour to the benefit of the schools, with many perverse effects. Indeed, these volunteers are almost never qualified to review student work, and their presence can be motivated by a wide variety of very personal and sometimes dangerous motives, with some seeing it as an opportunity to smear students’ work or even to harass them. Their presence also contributes to the reproduction and standardisation of the industry’s products, by favouring projects close to their personal tastes and to what they themselves produce.

« The school *** is looking for pros for its end of year jury. […] It’s the perfect opportunity to go and encourage the kids and/or to go take it out on them »

Internal mail from a French studio

The direct presence, at all levels, of professionals and representatives of the industry blurs the boundary between the latter and schools, particularly by ensuring the promotion of the industry to the detriment of informing students about its much less pleasant realities. Whether this is conscious and/or admitted or not, the purpose of schools remains to provide productive machines to companies, not to prepare people to live their work in the best conditions. The STJV’s interventions in schools, which we have been doing for several years and during which we introduce students to internship and labour laws and to the realities of the industry, are an attempt at compensating for their shortcomings and at counterbalancing the presence of employer lobbies within them. We will continue our efforts in this direction and remain available, with the aim of doing so in as many schools as possible. Do not hesitate to contact us.