Thursday, April 17, 2008

Centennial Middle School Talk

I gave a talk yesterday at Centennial, a middle school out east of Portland, about careers in the games industry. I'd given a talk at the same school when I last lived here, and it was once again a blast.

The format changed some. Last time, they rotated 5 groups of 25-ish through for a 15 minute presentation each. This time, we got the whole group of 150 kids in one room, and did a 30 minute talk followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.

[BTW, if you are one of the kids I spoke to, you here's the list of resources I posted last time on 'game development for beginners'. It's a little out of date, and I'll be updating it later today, but if you are eager, that should get you started.]

Now for everyone else, here's some observations from the talk:
- Number of kids out of 150 that play games: 148. There were two outliers, both girls, for what that's worth.
- Number of teachers that play games: 3 of 6.
- Number of students that even *heard* of Space Invaders (I'd been asked what the first game I played was): ~1/3.
- Games about which I was asked the most questions: Grand Theft Auto (3,4), Halo. Remember, these are 12-13 year olds. ESRB, you still have work to do!

It's worth noting that the socio-economic split between the students is pretty big. Some are from newer development areas and are lower-middle class or slightly better off than that. On the other hand, 50% of the kids in the room are on free or subsidized lunches. The teacher I was working with pointed out that while many have computers at home, most are very old, and many are not connected to the Internet (as she put it, "many of them are used to having the phone cut off in the last week of the month").

As well, the school reflects this. "Non-essential" courses (e.g. computer science, *ahem*) have been cut from the curriculum. They have computers in the school, but they are almost exclusively used to administer standardized testing. Kids get very little time on PC's to actually explore/create/experiment. The school has one Smartboard which was paid for via a grant. Contrast this with the public school I saw in an affluent part of Redmond and blogged about here.

Despite this, I was getting some awesome questions. Some examples:
- How does the Wii do motion tracking?
- How do the chips in a game console differ from the ones in my computer?
- How does a game being connected to the Internet (cited Live as example) change the process of creating it?
- How do motion-capture rigs work? (was phrased as "those suits with the ping-pong balls on them")

Also lots of pragmatic questions about how much money will you make in job X or job Y.

A few questions were a little more basic. My fave was this three-part question from a young lady in the audience:

"How long have you been in this business?" (My answer: "15 years")
"How old were you when you started?" (My answer: "24")
"How old are you now?" (My answer: "You just wrote a math problem!")
Another kid then cried out "You're 40!?!".
*sigh* "Close."

Other favorite moment: A number of kids were asking for autographs afterward (why? I don't get it either). The last kid that came up as I was packing up asked for one as well and I asked why on earth he wanted it. His answer? "I've never met anybody OLD before... that plays games, and I want to prove to my parents that you exist!".

Anyhow, it was a blast and I'd highly recommend to others that they do similar things in their community.


Anonymous said...

Hello,i was one of those kids in the audience.The one that came up to you,and asked "I know someone already asked this,but What games have you created"? And then the last kid came up and asked for an autograph.Anyway,i just thought your job is really fascinating.And,i think that will be my future job.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kim again for your fantastic talk! The students loved it!

-Ms. Dickey

Anonymous said...

i was one of the kids in the crowd i was the one who asked about gta 5 i just wanted to say you have the coolest job