GDC Soapbox: Teaching Students to Make Socially-Aware Video Games

Ruberg GDC 2017 soapbox slide

This week at the 2017 Game Developers Conference I had the opportunity to give a “soapbox” talk at the Education Summit. Soapbox talks tend to be energetic, opinionated, and powerful (they used to be called “rants”), so it seemed like a good moment to channel my anger and frustration in the name of social justice.

My talk was titled “Teaching Students to Make Socially-Aware Video Games,” and it encouraged games educators to do more than teach their students how to make games. Students also need to know about the social contexts and impacts of the games they make. Here’s a bit of the transcript:

Even with all the wonderful things that we are accomplishing in games education today — it is not enough. It is not enough to produce great developers with top technical skills. It is not enough to graduate students with polished portfolios who land industry jobs. It is not enough to teach students to make games. They need to know that games have meaning.

They need to learn to make games that don’t just unthinkingly replicate all the things that are already wrong with video games — all the implicit and explicit biases that are already pervasive. Whether our students like it or not, the games they make influence and are influenced by culture. They need to know that.

Because the talk had a political angle, it stirred up some backlash online. I’d like to think that the truths that most need speaking are also the ones that ruffle feathers. If you have access to the GDC 2017 Vault, you can watch the rant here, along with the rest of the wonderful Education Soabox talks.

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