Many suggested solutions to the issues of video game studies are dead ends or lies

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/

While schools are often the first to blame for these problems, they are hardly the last to attempt to solve them. Well aware of the economic risks of a loss of public reputation – or for members of the administration, the risks to their careers – they have found means of protecting themselves.

The first one, which we discussed in the first part of this report, is of course repressive measures. The “best” way to protect one’s reputation is to prevent the expression of any fact or opinion that might damage it. Intimidation of students, notably via school rules that violate basic freedoms, unlawful dismissals of people considered a nuisance, the use of crisis communication agencies to counter-attack and bury information, SLAPP suits … the range of options in this regard is unfortunately wide and heavily used.

These issues are those against which workers’ and students’ organisations, such as the STJV, are fighting on a daily basis through their actions: our goals are to prevent companies (and therefore schools) from abusing their power, to create a counter-power benefiting all workers, present and future, protecting whistleblowers, and, in the long run, to hand all power over to the workers.

Among the external actors of private education monitoring, we also find the state. Through schools’ subsidies mechanisms but also, and above all, through its system of degree certification via the Répertoire National des Certifications Professionnelles (RNCP). These certifications are very important, because a degree that is not recognised by the state “does not count” administratively, which has many repercussions:

  • Without ECTS credits, it is very difficult to obtain equivalences in order to continue one’s studies elsewhere, whether in the public sector or abroad;
  • some state subsidies are conditioned by the validation of a recognised education level;
  • some CNC grants for independent video game creators and studios require a recognised degree from a small subset of schools;
  • obtaining visas, whether in France to immigrate there, or abroad to emigrate, is often conditioned by the education level and therefore the recognition of the degrees achieved;
  • professional status and all that goes with it (salary, pension, holidays, etc.) may also be linked to the recognised education level.

If the monitoring of education by a public authority external to private education companies is useful and even necessary, these certifications are not without flaws, and schools are constantly seeking to hijack or circumvent them. Degree designations are sometimes misleading, for example the term “Mastère” which, unlike the term “Master”, is not an official designation and therefore does not guarantee the quality or recognition of the degree. The certifications given may not correspond to the classes taught, as is the case in a Parisian school where the Game Designer diploma delivered has an RNCP certification of “interactive designer”. But they may also have expired, despite being highlighted in schools’ advertising, leaving students at risk of obtaining a diploma that is not certified upon graduation.

As employers’ lobbies want to limit state intervention in their business, they often pretend to be ahead of legislation to show a positive image and negotiate the deregulation of their sector, in the name of some imaginary “self-regulation”. One example in the video game industry is the game rating and age recommendation systems, whose management by these lobbies is partly responsible for the uncontrolled emergence of gambling mechanics in recent games. This exposes children in particular to a practice that is normally highly controlled. As far as video game studies in France are concerned, this strategy takes the form of various labels, mainly the Réseau des Formations aux Métiers du Jeu Vidéo (RFMJV, formerly REJV, Réseau des Écoles du Jeu Vidéo).

But, like all private labels, this one is only a front for communication. It is impossible to trust it, and the people and organisations behind it know this very well, even going so far as to reject the title of “label” and any responsibility that goes with it when confronted about it. In an article in Libération in April 2021, the journalists recall that “admission conditions [to the RFMJV] do not imply any control over the content of classes, and the Syndicat National du Jeu Vidéo insists on the fact that this network is not a label“.

The shortcomings of labels are not only caused by the organisations behind them. Ensuring sufficient quality in educational programmes is a colossal task, beyond the reach of private actors, which in any case would only allow for a posteriori evaluations. It is simply impossible to guarantee that data is up to date, true or complete. This is why, rather than relying on necessarily imperfect communication tools, we prefer the implementation of systems that prevent schools from being judge and jury, and ensure that the problems and lies we are talking about do not occur in the first place.

Beyond labels, companies, including schools, have many other tools at their disposal. Practices such as over-communicating about the slightest effort, whether real or not, appropriating minorities’ struggles while undermining their core message, or exploiting marginalised people are unfortunately common. They are better known as pinkwashing or socialwashing. Inauguration of a building accessible to persons with reduced mobility while the rest of the campus is not and never will be, promotion of a gender discrimination awareness week while the school turns a blind eye to the sexual harassment that takes place within it, a ban on crunch in a school that explicitly leaves project rooms accessible 24/7 and overloads students with projects… There are many examples. Highlighting the 5% of things that are going well often conceals, sometimes intentionally, the 95% that are not.

While the benefits of making discrimination more visible, the representation of marginalised people and ‘role models’ have been demonstrated, these are just the tip of the iceberg, and can never replace fighting discrimination from within and in a systemic way. Attracting marginalised people is a small and inexpensive step to take, preventing discrimination against them throughout their education and career, whether one is the perpetrator or it comes from someone else, requires far more effort.

In this respect, charity is a good example of dissonance between publicly stated intentions and actual impact. For example, but this is not the only case, the positive direct effects of a private scholarship are completely undeniable, and one can acknowledge the light it sheds on the material problem of access to private education. But one can also lament the far greater benefits it brings to video game companies, and to individuals who capitalise on the positive image of such initiative to promote themselves despite any misconduct they might be accused of.

Many schools and studios have been quick to jump on the bandwagon to give themselves a ‘humanist’ image, making financial donations that are cheap compared to their annual budgets: tax exemptions means that 60% of them will actually be paid directly by the state. The motives of institutional sponsors can thus be seriously questioned when they include schools that explicitly discriminate against some students during the recruitment process and continue to raise their tuition fees every year, or companies that cover up the material and personal discrimination they impose on their marginalised employees.

In recent years, many schools also added various ethical codes of conduct to their communication arsenal. These codes consist of a series of proposals to improve diversity and inclusion in schools, and can be incorporated into the school’s rules. On paper nothing negative, and schools have not hesitated to stage the signing of these codes during important events of the French industry, in the presence of ministers, or to communicate intensively on their introduction to their students and during their open days.

However, these codes are only notes of intent, or recommendations. They are not tools for solving problems, only communication tools to express the intention to solve them. This is why, unfortunately and not surprisingly, there are schools that have signed an ethical code of conduct but continue to cover up problems internally and to repress the people who try to solve them. Some of the first schools to communicate publicly about such codes were reported to have actively protected sexually abusive students or teachers in the year following the implementation of their respective codes.

Ethical committees, whose name and composition may change locally, are a key measure found in the majority of recently adopted codes. When they are set up, they are usually composed of volunteer students and teachers and can be tasked with collecting testimonies and complaints, discussing problems in the school, and/or proposing solutions to the administration. The existence of such representative bodies is good news, as it is a significant step forward in student representation and democracy in schools.

However, a number of biases remain, of which we must be aware. The composition of these committees, necessarily only people from the school and mixing teachers and students, can lead to difficulties of judgement, as in a recent case where an ethical committee initially did not want to study in detail reports about a former and high ranking teacher, or when students are deprived of their right to speak (voluntarily or involuntarily) because of the hierarchical superiority of teachers over them. The members of these committees are very often temporary, preventing a long-term monitoring that is often necessary, and preventing the identification of repeated situations: no matter the band-aid solutions, the obstacles that marginalized people face are systemic. But in most cases, the main problem is the lack of resources and power allocated to these committees, and the resulting inactivity or inefficiency.

This is in fact the main problem behind all attempts to solve problems. Actions and regulations without the will to allocate resources to ensure that they are respected and carried out properly are in fact merely propaganda and camouflage tools for employers (or the state, depending on the type of regulation).

As in almost all fields and sectors, more resources are needed first and foremost. There are already laws, decrees and other regulations that take into account existing problems: we don’t need one more law (let alone a code) to prohibit (again) rape, harassment, breach of contract, embezzlement, etc. Before talking about more regulation, the existing ones should be enforced.