Studying conditions lead to the reproduction of the industry’s problems

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/

The absence of questioning of the industry’s methods and the lack of a development of a critical perspective, combined with the high porosity between teachers and the industry, leads to the reproduction of the industry’s problems in schools. Many of them even come to consider them as normal for the industry and encourage their students to adopt them in their work organisation and social behaviour. These students will then join the video game industry and act in the same way, thus ensuring the reproduction of everything that is wrong with it.

The first articles in Libération and Gamekult discuss at length the practice of crunch in schools, and for good reason. Even in schools that make great efforts to limit workloads, students are expected to work 60-hour weeks or more. And that is without counting “pools”, very intensive work periods with various names such as workshop, intensive week, project week, etc., or project submissions, which result in very busy work periods with no special working time arrangements. The deadlines for these projects very often fall just after weekends and holidays, with the implicit idea that these breaks will in fact be used to do very long days (and nights) of work until the last minute before the deadline. It is not uncommon for educational departments to value all-nighters and projects with scopes far greater than what is manageable by students, as we have witnessed on numerous occasions in emails and messages sent to students. This unacceptably high workload has, as everywhere else, serious consequences for health and social life. Many students are already burnt out by the time they leave school, even before they have worked in a company.

The multiplication of working hours is also often encouraged, indirectly, by the opening hours of the school facilities. It is not uncommon for school buildings to be open to students until very late in the evening and on weekends and, in extreme cases, to never close. If access to the facilities is important for students to be able to use the school’s equipment, especially for those who cannot afford to buy expensive equipment by themselves, the resulting abuses are unacceptable. Systematic open hours, keys to the buildings provided to students, educational directors present on the premises to encourage project groups: when a school explains that it is possible to work at night in their facilities, they are normalising an abnormal practice, which the students integrate into their work process.

Discriminations of all kinds are also widespread in video game schools. Sexism, racism, ableism, LGBTI-phobia, and all other forms of discrimination are commonplace, reflecting the present of the video game industry, and shaping its future. Numerous testimonies we received speak of discrimination and harassment suffered during the course of studies, going so far as to push students to quit their studies or, worse, to end their lives. The second articles published in Libération and Gamekult go back through numerous testimonies about these discriminations and about the failure of schools to react, when they are not themselves at the origin of these discriminations.

Indeed, schools have a lot to do to stop discriminating against students. And this starts with the admission process, as it has been reported to us on several occasions that some schools have deliberately sidelined applications from disabled and/or LGBT people, considering that integrating them into the school would be “too complicated” and that “it causes problems”. This intolerable and of course illegal practice shows that the problems start before the actual studies begin, but of course they do not end there. People with disabilities, chronic illnesses or, in general, who need special accommodations to their studying environment and rhythm, either temporarily or permanently, virtually always run into a brick wall: schools expect them to fit in or leave the school. Those who try to report discriminations to the administrations are at best ignored, and at worst their voice is belittled and questioned, and their future within the school is jeopardised.

Speaking out alone is not always without consequences. Too often, the perpetrators of discrimination (teachers, administrators, students) are protected by the educational management, which does not sanction them, sidelines the victims instead of protecting them, etc. Many educational departments actively participate in discrimination in this way, but also by being a direct actor in it. Testimonies of educational directors telling women that they do not belong in video games, or disabled people that they must adapt to the industry and not the other way around are not so rare, and some schools even refuse to pass a year without any real justification other than pure discrimination. Cases of favouritism at the expense of marginalised people and/or those who speak out about the schools’ problems are also legion.

There is also a great deal of sexism in schools from men teachers towards women students. All too often, teachers use the leverage that the student/teacher relationship gives them to make unwelcome comments or engage in asymmetrical and abusive sexual or romantic relationships with women students, and face no consequences. These predatory behaviours towards younger women who are more vulnerable due to their hierarchical position are reminiscent of behaviours that can be seen in companies and in the social circles of video game workers. In schools they are facilitated, among other things, by the lack of preparation and training of teachers, who are sometimes not even aware of the potential dangers of this student/teacher relationship, and think that they can behave with students as if they were friends.

Students also often follow the toxic examples of their teachers, and engage in forms of discrimination and harassment that are common in socially homogeneous environments, such as the video game industry. This happens at school, but also on social networks and students communication channels such as Slack and Discord servers, etc., which very often exist in students spheres and which schools pretend to ignore in order to absolve themselves. For example, in a testimony we received, a student suffers “increasingly frequent humiliations on the school’s Discord”: transphobic, sexist attacks, to which the school’s management responded “that they could not do anything about it because it was not happening at school”.

Degraded working conditions for teachers

These conclusions on the student side are accompanied, with no surprise when one is familiar with the working conditions in video games and in higher education, by similar conclusions on the teacher side: schools can be a hell for students but ALSO for teachers and lecturers. Precarious contracts, very low salaries, lack of time to prepare lessons and to mark assignments, little or no educational coordination, hierarchical pressure, illegal lay-offs: the working conditions are excessively bad.

Even more disproportionately than in game studios and other video game sub-sectors, the teachers of the various video game disciplines are largely employed via precarious contracts. Fixed-term contracts covering only one semester, hours of teaching paid a posteriori as freelancers, etc. : for many, it is impossible to project themselves on their teaching and their students’ future, and even less on their own finances or career development. This precariousness also hinders teachers who would like to improve the curricula, since schools can simply opt not to renew the contracts of people who might stand up to them.

This precariousness thus serves to pressure workers into accepting intolerable working conditions. Video game schools often offer lower salaries than in other sectors, which already pay very poorly, even if you only take into account the class hours. For one hour of class, there are also hours of preparation, course editing, marking of assignments, discussions with students, but also commuting and hours of waiting between classes (without access to a workstation). Compared to the actual number of hours worked, the salaries are so low that they are not enough to live on.

« Whatever the experience and qualifications of the teacher, if they do not agree with their working conditions, they can simply leave at the end of their fixed-term contract and be replaced by a younger teacher who will accept the job and its working conditions. (…) I was almost always made to sign my contracts after the classes had started. Signing contracts very late is also a means of pressure for HR. The teachers are up against the wall. »

When these conditions are not accepted by the teachers, the schools put even more pressure on them, for example by resorting to emotional blackmail by blaming them for abandoning the students. And if they do not give in, they are replaced. When they express concern about the school’s problems or bring up students’ problems to their managers, their concerns and even their suggestions beneficial to the students are at best ignored by the school management, and at worst suppressed with harassment and illegal firings. Our findings show that the latter is particularly true in cases of discrimination, making schools direct accomplices to it.

While these working conditions do not excuse the misconduct that some teachers may exhibit, they can explain some of it, and show how the whole system is a vector of discrimination and abuse. They also partly explain the low quality of teaching, since they do not allow professors and lecturers to stay for a long time, to gain experience and to follow students from one year to the next. Again, one may notice a loop: the low wages of the industry encourage young workers to accept precarious contracts in schools to supplement their income, regardless of the conditions (sometimes, ironically, to pay off the loan taken out for that same school).

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