Saturday, April 11, 2009

In Which I Reveal More Than I First Intended, or Life in the 'Pen

Not including weekends in my countdown until the end of the year was a great idea, because, hey, it makes the number that much smaller, but it's a bummer because it means that I still have eight more days today and I'll still have eight more days tomorrow. I've tried to shuffle thing around so that I can actually take the weekend off of school (And why shouldn't I? I've certainly done enough work this year and it's Easter tomorrow.), but I'm not good with time off. I can't stop stressing. I try to distract myself with things I enjoy, but then I feel guilty and I'm completely unable to have any fun or even relax.

I've never directly come out and said that I hate DigiPen on this blog because I haven't exactly kept my identity a secret - there aren't many Jakes here and I've posted enough pictures of myself to make me identifiable to anyone who wants to link me to what I write here. Let's face it, we live in the Google age; and member of the DigiPen faculty or, worse, any future employer could find me without difficulty. I've never come out and said that I hate it here, but I try to be honest in my writing, and anybody who reads this site could piece it all together without any trouble.

So although I've never explicitly typed the words, the sentiment has been clear for a long while: I hate DigiPen. Completely and utterly. I've hated my two years here so far and I expect to hate the next two.

If you are considering me for a job and you've stumbled across this blog years after it was written, you now know the truth, and I feel that's better than me putting on a happy face and saying that everything's alright. I don't think this should preclude you from hiring me.

I've always hated school. I hated high school. I hated junior high. I hated elementary. I hate college; all three of the colleges I've attended so far. When I've told people this, some have asked if I dislike learning, and the answer is no, of course not. I adore learning. There's not much I love more. It's the very reason I hate school. School has done nothing so much as get in the way of my learning.

I'm not dropping out, though. This is, as I said, my third college, my fourth major, and I intend to stay here until I'm done. Most people who come to DigiPen leave before graduation. I can't remember the exact statistic, but I believe it's something like 2/3 of the students who enter never reach the end. The freshman always ask why, and the upperclassmen always tell them that it's because they're not tough enough to get through it. They present it like a challenge. They say they're lazy or not dedicated enough. They say they entered with unrealistic expectations. That last part's certainly true for me. I expected an education. Ha!

The upperclassmen are always so smug in this; so proud that they've lasted. We're not superior. Our only survival advantage over those who got out is that we didn't have the sense to do the same. Some great trait that is.

My best friend here - my only friend here, until recently - dropped out shortly into our second year only to learn that DigiPen is "accredited differently" than real universities. In other words, he couldn't transfer an of his 60-something credit hours to another school, much like I couldn't transfer my previous credits in. At the time, they told me that they didn't accept credit from other colleges because their standards were so much higher that they wanted all DigiPen graduates to have taken the classes directly from DigiPen in order to maintain the integrity of the school. What a fool I must've been to believe that. Just another spoonful of their propaganda.

It's too late for me to get out. I've sunk so much time and money in this dump that I feel like I have no choice but to work through to the other side. At the end, I'll have gained an experience, for better or worse. I can only hope it won't have taken too much of a toll on me by then. Even now, halfway, just two years in, I hate the way this school has made me dull and bitter. I've been through some times in my life, though, and beyond that, it's like I said: school's always been rough for me. I'm resilient. I've always bounced back from whatever's hit me, and I hope that in two years I'll see that this was no different. It does feel different, though.

You want to know my fear? That life in the video game industry really is like life at DigiPen. Want to know the hope that gets me through each day? That life in the video game business isn't like DigiPen.

That's largely why I spend as much time as I do studying this field. Not just the games that I like, but what games mean and why they are the way they are; why the business is what it is. I want to know that there are people making these games; people - real, individual humans - putting themselves and their lives and their worlds into games.

DigiPen is so unreal, so science-fiction. Everyone here is the same, and, at the risk of sounding arrogant, everyone is no one. There's no life beyond school, Magic cards, anime, and Dungeons & Dragons. It's like everyone I meet has the same interests. They all have the same ignorance of the world beyond geek culture, the same bizarre fashion sense, the same hygene, the same ego and sense of entitlement, the same mental strengths and handicaps, the same irrational fears and anxieties, the same inflexability, the same desires. There's no place for me.

I've never felt like I didn't "fit in." Not really. At the same time, I don't know that I've ever totally belonged. The smallest group from which one can be an outcast is three, and I've always thought that in a group of three there would be three distinct people. Now I'm in a school of maybe 1,000 and I feel that the only ones here are them and me, and I'm certainly not them. It's a bizarre feeling, loneliness. Redmond's a beautiful town, with dense buildings downtown, secluded parks and forests, amazing wildlife, varied seasons and weather, rivers, valleys, and mountains, but despite the beauty of it all, I feel like I'm in some hastily constructed research facility in Antarctica, an unsightly blemish in a majestic place far outside the world of my own species.

I digress.

Last summer I worked at Nintendo. You could walk between Nintendo and DigiPen in a minute or two at a moderate pace. DigiPen is actually a part of one of Nintendo's buildings, so they look identical from the outside. Inside, though, they're different planets. DigiPen is Pluto: small, dull, far outside the reach of the sun; not even a planet really. Nintendo is Earth. There are people there, and they are alive. I spotted it my first day there. I had never seen people who seemed so happy to be at work.

This DigiPen hate is nothing new. I had admitted it to myself long before last summer. The fear that the entire industry I had longed to join since I was five or six was the exclusive dominion of DigiPeople had already entered my mind by the time I started at Nintendo. At Nintendo, I quickly discovered that my fellow DigiPen students stuck out tremendously from the rest of the employees. With a surrounding of diversity, even the DigiPen people didn't seem as offensive.

Here I am, the school year still going strong for another week and a few days. Even with all of this in perspective, the only thing I can think is how much I hate the whole situation. The semester can't end soon enough, but I know I'll be right back in the middle of this mess in a few short months, and again the year after that. I'll get through that, too. Somehow.

No, I know how. The same way I've plowed through the last two years. The hope that it's going to get better once this rain clears.

The reason I put up with this torture day after day, the reason I force myself into the school each morning, is the same reason I abandoned my life and flew here in the first place: I want to make video games. It's that simple. I do think I would've learned more useful skills and gained more valuable life experience for gamemaking if I'd gone somewhere else and studied something different. I've known about DigiPen since I was in sixth or seventh grade. One of the main reasons I didn't come here straight out of college (I didn't even apply) was that I didn't think gamemaking had reached a point where it could be taught as a college major yet. By the time I did come here, I learned I was right. The people running this school don't know what their doing, and that's not entirely their fault. I commend them for having the bravado to dive in and be among the first to try figuring out how to teach the gamemakers of the future, but the truth is that they're still very much experimenting and they're a long way from getting it right. Years from now I may be proud to have been among the first generation of Game Design majors, but I doubt that that kind of prestige is actually going to mean as much to me as a real education would have, or a real life during these four years. For now, I only feel cheated.

I said that I didn't think future employers should judge me for sentiments expressed here. Publicly deriding my school like this could sour my reputation. To that I say, let's keep perspective and be honest. I'm a kid whining about school. Don't take it as a sign that I will be disloyal to an employer. My mom and I have given a lot to pay for this education, and I don't think I'm wrong for expecting something out of it. For now, it looks like all that will be a is a degree, a receipt, as I think of it, a sheet of paper that will tell future employers that I have worked and sacrificed. It's a sign of dedication; dedication, even, to a school I hate.

Why would you hire someone who admits they've gotten nothing out of school. I don't know. It's funny that I'm driving myself crazy over a stupid degree. I've heard a DigiPen degree is a valuable thing. I've heard companies are often quick to scoop up DigiPen graduates. I've met enough of the people who will be earning them in the next few years to know that they're no guarantee of quality, talent, or skill. I almost want to separate myself from it all rather than succeeding on the merit of a school I don't believe in.

I guess that's something I need to figure out. For now, all I can do is keep striving for that piece of paper and the hope that it will get me far enough ahead that I can put DigiPen and this whole empty, lonely chapter of my life behind me.


Anonymous said...

eight more days!

Jake said...


Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem clear what exactly you hate about DigiPen. Is it the people that go there? The staff or faculty? The curriculum? Education is a two way street. Many DigiPen grads have gotten plenty out of their time there and have proven themselves to be a valuable asset to the industry.

Jake said...

It's so many, many things. You're right, it's not clear from what I've written. It was not my intention to explain myself; just to state the situation. You'll have to forgive me for not conveying the source of my anger. This took about two hours to write, and I didn't even get through the awful feelings that have engulfed the last two years of my life. Maybe I'll back up and give you an explanation another day. When I wrote this, I needed to vent.

I assure you my frustration is not without cause.

Who is this, by the way?

I don't mean to be rude, but I'd like to say that I'm not asking to be cheered up or told that things could be worse or that I'm the one who got myself into this mess or that I need a positive attitude. I'm sorry that I occasionally feel driven to open up and write bleak, depressing things here, and I appreciate the sentiment, but if you've ever found yourself in a bad situation, you probably agree that that type of thing only brings you down more. Again, I'm sorry to lash out, but that's an awful way to treat someone.