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/
Whatever the source of improvement in the situation – through global pressure at the society level, through sudden awareness of school administrations, or through internal activism – the actual changes will mostly target the hierarchical and political organisation of these companies. In the first place, the classes taught.
In many schools, especially private ones, there is an overabundance of technical classes, focused purely on practical applications, such as the use of a particular software program. Schools and companies have an agreement, more or less explicit, to train future employees to be docile and to be assigned to a simple, unjustified operational role. If they are not given insight into the creative, theoretical and technological world inside and outside of video games, they will be forced to remain at the mercy of companies. By only being considered, and sometimes by only considering oneself, as yet another person clicking on buttons, one locks themselves into a role that can theoretically be replaced at will by a multitude of candidates trained the same way. And by having learned only very specific technical tools, it becomes all the more difficult to sell one’s experience in places where they are not or no longer used.
It is therefore urgent to widen the field of disciplines taught, and to teach in the interest of students rather than companies. This will involve opening up to more “academic” and “theoretical” fields, often wrongly considered useless, especially when they are not directly related to “video games”.
To begin with, there is an imperative need for project management courses, one of the biggest gaps in the video game industry, and not to do it from a project manager or team leader point of view, since the majority of students will never be one. Some schools are already raising awareness about production planning and monitoring, in order to teach students to manage workloads and analyse their production capacities. This approach should be extended, in particular to teach students to detect any danger of going into crunch, and how to prevent it, but also so that future workers can understand the production processes at work in companies and identify the causes of organisational problems. Moreover, this would allow them to have an impact on it, and thus to improve their working conditions and no longer have to blindly trust their superiors and their abuse.
To move forward, it is crucial to enable students to develop critical thinking skills about video games, media and cultural products in general. Video games are one of the most significant media in the world, and it is necessary that those whose job it will be to create them have access to the knowledge that will enable them to handle its discourse and uses:
- Critical classes about the video game industry, its current state and future trends, will help them to better understand the important economic and social movements that run through it, and to position themselves within it.
- In addition, classes in art history, video game history, and even game history, could break down our industry’s exceptionalism myth, and expose its less glamorous sides (notably its links with the arms industry).
- Opening up to video game research would be an important starting point for breaking down the barriers between video game production and the fields that study them, and allowing a better circulation and valuation of the knowledge that shapes this medium.
- Analysis of mass media and their discourses would allow future creators to better understand their own role and place in the propagation of ideas to the public. Similarly, broad classes on sociology, philosophy, economics, politics, etc. could have a positive impact on video games as a medium. Understanding the social structures in which creators are embedded can only sharpen the understanding and design of the video game produced.
Finally, and this needs a paragraph of its own, it is crucial that students are taught about labour law. People graduating and entering the labour market, and this is unfortunately not limited to the video game industry, are unaware of their rights and the different employment regimes that exist. This makes them vulnerable when negotiating their contracts, and often delays their recourse to legal action when they are exposed to abuse, as we still experience all too often. Not informing them about these rights only serves the companies and reinforces predatory behaviour on young workers.
The STJV regularly gives talks in schools and universities to present the basics of labour law and provide information on how the industry works, but this is far from enough. In general, organisations and professionals that defend and represent workers (lawyers, workers’ representatives, unions, etc.) should have access to schools and give lectures there. Conversely, such classes should definitely not be given by entrepreneurs, speakers from employers’ unions, etc. whose material interests are diametrically opposed to those of workers.
For the same reason, it is also crucial that companies and their organisations no longer have a hold on schools, which must cease their partnerships with them. Representatives of employers’ lobbies and studios, who hijack presentations to advertise the industry and their companies, go so far as to lie, spread false information and cover up the disastrous working conditions that await entry-level workers there. They must no longer be tolerated. Even more necessary, partnerships between companies and schools for student projects must be eliminated. These must be pedagogical exercises, for the benefit of the students and not the companies! They must therefore be prepared by the school’s teaching staff. If the aim is to simulate a “customer order”, this can be done perfectly well without using companies. Making students work for an entity outside the school is at best a failure in the pedagogical process, at worst completely illegal and falls under concealed (“off the books”) work.
Finally, curricula that require the validation of numerous internships are detrimental to students, whether or not they follow said curriculum, and to the quality of their own teaching. When internships come to replace a third or even half of academic semesters, sometimes as early as the first year, the very point of pursuing these studies comes into question compared to directly seeking a job. The number of students looking for an internship each year makes this search so difficult, especially for short internships, that they are no longer done for any pedagogical or professional interest but with the sole purpose of validating grades, at any cost. Companies do not make the situation any better, the vast majority of them seeking to make interns profitable, not caring at all about the pedagogical aspect of the internship. This provides them with a weakened, abundant and almost free labour force to offload all sorts of tasks.
Schools must therefore reduce the number of compulsory internships in their curricula, in particular by eliminating short internships which are so difficult to obtain. While, given the amount of abuse it causes, we believe that the notion of internships as they currently exist in France should be abolished altogether, we understand that they are a real necessity for students in order to hope to land a job. In such a case, the STJV advocates keeping only an end-of-study internship, as a tool to validate and apply the knowledge acquired during the course of the studies in a professional environment. These long internships, which can sometimes lead to a job, are the only ones that can bring something to students that the school itself cannot. Reducing the number of internships also makes it easier for schools to set up a real educational project between students and host companies, and the monitoring that goes with it, which is currently lacking in the vast majority of internships.