Game Art 101: A Student’s Guide to a BS in Game Art and Design

Before I proceed into the guide, I would like to offer a special note to readers: This is by no means the solid way you have to do things to get into the industry. There are as many ways to enter it as people trying to do so. These articles are just my attempt at giving the perspective of a current student for anyone considering this path. The lack of information about these degree programs is overwhelming; for my part, I hope to change that.

Please note I am also in no way affiliated with the college, whose name has been omitted for privacy reasons, or involved parties other than being an enrolled, full-time student. The views expressed herein are my own.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them, and I will address them in the next article!

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From Nothing, There is Something

I am now officially enrolled in an online college, and begin classes to pursue a BS in Game Art and Design starting Wednesday, August 2nd.

How did this occur? There’s really not much of a grand story to it all. In fact, it’s quite simplistic. I was originally glancing through schools that offered degrees in web design or IT, as I had come to a point in my life where I figured I might as well do something. When I looked at this particular school, I saw something peculiar; a bachelorate program entirely devoted to game art and design. Nothing to do with coding. Nothing to do with excessive, eye-bleeding math languages. Certainly, it seemed interesting, but no grand epiphany occured. I filled out a form for a brochure and went about my merry way, expecting something to be mailed to me in a few weeks once my form was processed.

The next day, I received a phonecall from someone at admissions. I had just woken up, and was talked through an hour-long interview. My first instinct was to just talk through it and then consider it at a later date. After all, I had whole heaps of nothing to attend to. But the interviewer was insistent upon getting me a spot in the new term that began in August. August? August was only a month away. There was no way I was ready to begin such a large endeavor for a career I knew far more people were cut out for than myself. Though in the span of only seven months, looking back, my art had matured enormously, every self-doubt I could think of crossed my mind.

I wanted to just say “No thanks”.

That’s not entirely true. I wanted the power to cut off in a freak accident or to somehow ‘accidentally’ drop the receiver to where the phone fell dead. I had no idea what I was doing. I literally had $8 in my bank account, and here I was being persuaded to enter an expensive program I would never be able to pay for, and may not even cut it in. I asked about financial aid. There were several options, and the very worst case scenario would mean about $100 out of pocket monthly. Okay, I’d just get my old job back. I asked about career placement. The career department takes an active role in working with students long before they graduate to place them in jobs relevant to their field and interest. Well, I guess that’s pretty good…

By the end of the conversation, I had paid the application fee and was being processed for enrollment. Somewhere along the line, I decided to take a chance. The truth of the matter is, I’ve spent two years taking general courses in college trying to see if anything actually appealed to me. I had given up the hope of finding a job to mesh with what I enjoyed doing, so I resolved to get a job that would pay the bills, to where I wouldn’t have to worry about much. This program is the first that has interested me not as what I’ll eventually get with the piece of paper I am handed, but also from the journey along the way.

But I won’t lie to anyone. I won’t even attempt to sugar-coat it. I still have my doubts. Mostly they are self-doubts concerning my skill and my ability to start things that I never finish. Though, to my credit, art projects are the only things I really do finish. I am paranoid about finances, to the point where it makes me queasy just thinking about the fact that I’m going to owe thousands of dollars regardless of whether I get a job in my field or not.

However, I have filled out the paperwork. I have completed and signed my application documents, filed for financial aid, completed my orientation, ordered my books and software, and on Wednesday – well, I suppose we shall see how many doubts remain.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

But I can imagine its completion and rise as a great empire was considered every day. After all, how can we know how to get there, if we don’t know where we’re going?

My first day of classes officially started for me at about 9am EST Wednesday, August 2nd. I logged into my school dashboard and saw that my August 06 term classes were expanded. So I clicked on the first class, an introduction to drawing, and got started.

When you open up your class you are presented with a Course Homepage describing the class, listing announcements from the professor, and new topics since you last visited. On the left hand side is a menu to access course tools and sections. The description instructed me to read the Syllabus and take the Readiness Quiz, so I did just that.

The syllabi for all three of my classes are very similar, with small differences between professors. They conveniently list a breakdown of each unit, which consists of one week. On a typical week you will have a lecture, some reading in the textbook, at least one assignment, and a threaded discussion topic. I’ll discuss each of these individually, but for now I’ll just move down the list. The Readiness Quiz is more or less a contract saying you have read the syllabus and understand its rules. By completing it, you agree to comply or be penalized as outlined in the document. For example, if you are absent for two consecutive weeks, you are automatically dropped from the class.

The next thing to do in any course is to introduce yourself. This allows for a basis of communication between students, some of whom may be in your other classes as well. Specific courses may ask for specific anecdotes from you. For example, the introductory drawing class posed the question such as “What is your favorite game from an art perspective?” You can then respond to the introductions of others, but it is not a requirement. However, I do recommend it. These people will be with you for at least the next nine weeks, if not longer. Get to know them!

After that, it’s time to really get started with your coursework. I clicked on the Week 1 tab and found a summary of the information I would learn that week. Given was a list of tasks and the points associated with them, including reading two chapters in the textbook, completing a series of assignments, and responding to the threaded discussion topic for that week. Eager to begin, I got started.

Lecture

Just as you will spend a portion of your time at a traditional college listening to an instructor’s lecture, the same is provided in online classes. Sometimes it is just text, sometimes it’s a video lecture, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two. For read lectures, it is benificial to print out the lecture itself, and take notes on any video components. Though a good deal of exams are open book, it helps to be prepared and to truly learn the material. Just because you can pull up the information any time you like, doesn’t mean you should rely on that as a crutch. You never know when you might not have access to it due to technological problems or restrictions.

Assignments

Assignments include reading, writing, and/or completing projects. For my drawing class, the assignments were to read chapters one and two and then complete three separate drawing studies. There is no need to email your instructor your assignments – they can all be submitted either in the dropbox or document sharing, as specified by your instructor, where they will await grading in the gradebook which you can also view at any time, along with comments.

There appears to be no limit on when you can submit your assignments, except that they must be completed by the specified date: usually Sunday at the end of that week. I was inspired and excited, so I have already completed two of my assignments and have started on two more.

Threaded Discussions

Unique to online classes, and perhaps the most fun to me, are the threaded discussions. My institution has a pretty universal policy for these. You must respond once to the original topic by Wednesday, and twice to your peers by Sunday. Usually to preserve integrity, it cannot be all on the same day. Responses should be insightful and courteous, following proper netiquette.

But what kind of things will you talk about? My topics for the first week were as follows: How comfortable are you with sketching? What does success mean to you? and What do you believe made the electronic gaming industry more accessible?

Discussions are worth a maximum of 30 points, or 10 points per post. You are graded on grammar and spelling, knowledge of the subject, professionalism and courtesy, and insightfulness with original thoughts and ideas presented. I like to write. I like to ramble. I like to give personal anecdotes and respond to others’ thoughts and ideas. My best advice for someone who doesn’t like these things is to look at the question posed and answer every part of it with at least three sentences per part. When responding to another student, reflect on the original topic, state whether you agree or disagree with them, and explain why. I have not received a grade on this yet, but when I do I will reinforce my strategies for obtaining as many points as you can in this category, as it’s truly the easiest aside from posting an Introduction, which is also worth 10 points.

So far I have drawn a blind and semi-blind contour of my hand, begun an accurate perspective representation of a door at the end of a hallway, responded to questions asking what I want out of my education to form a solid mission statement, and sent an email to Sucker Punch Productions L.L.C. asking them about their company for an organizational analysis paper. I’ve done more work in one day than I remember doing in my life, but none of it has seemed like work, and I am truly having a blast. I haven’t had this much fun in school since ‘school’ meant building with colored blocks.

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