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Over at SMU at This Very Moment, They're Playing Guitar Hero -- For Work

This is Tipper Queen. She's a professional gamer. I know, right?

Gamers of the world, unite! And get a job. And, um, move out of your mother’s basement.

That’s the message over at SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Student Center, where the school is hosting the first national Game Education Summit today and tomorrow. Attendees threw down $350 a pop to hear lectures covering a wide variety of video game industry topics, ranging from “A Case for the Documentary as a Game Form” (had me) to “Relevance of PC Gaming and the PCGA” (lost me).

Unfair Park stopped by Hughes-Trigg this morning to catch the keynote lecture from Colleen McCreary, director of strategic education and outreach initiatives at Electronic Arts. The title of her speech: “Gameface: Faces in the Games Industry.” Basically, McCreary talked about what it takes to make it up the virtual ladder in the world of gaming design.

“Part of my job is to really help educate both the player community, but then, also, future gamers as to what skills they need and how they can be developed,” McCreary told Unfair Park. (She also said her first video game romance was with Space Invaders.) “It’s much easier when you have a centralized place, so then you’re open to lots of colleges and universities that we may never have a chance to visit personally.”

OK, so what did I take away from her lecture? Well, there are things called “large bases of code” that are difficult to “clean”; some chick named ALICE should be popular with female gamers; and, evidentially, America’s best and brightest scoff at the traditional occupational powers nowadays. Lawyer? Yawn. Doctor? What. Ev. McCreary ran through a number of recent hires’ résumés, and they read like a compilation of my college rejection letters: Stanford, MIT, Penn, Amberton University (OK, maybe not Amberton). They all wanted to work in an industry that’s become more lucrative than the Hollywood box office.

After McCreary’s talk, people filed into an exhibit hall that was, frankly, a little sparse. Dell’s set-up was definitely the best, with a projection screen positioned behind the booth, and professional gamer “Tipper Queen” slashing through any amateur who dared challenge her at Guitar Her.

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“She’s here to embarrass people and sign autographs,” a Dell rep told us. And even if her competition wasn’t embarrassed, I projected a little bit of my own upon them. After all, it’s always humiliating to get your ass handed to you by what looks to be 14-year-old girl in pink shorts and knee highs. There were only three other booths occupied: one by gaming recruiter Mary-Margaret, one by technology company Wacom and one by software company, Softimage. All of these set-ups too closely mirrored Dunder Mifflin’s booth at the Scranton Internship Fair.

But it was fun to speak with a few members of SMU’s The Guildhall, the university’s graduate-level video game development program about which we wrote in the paper version of Unfair Park a few years ago. Law school dropout (see!) Matt Wilkinson and Andrew Nguyen, both stage designers, told me that Guildhall was more difficult than law school and that the school places some 95 percent of its students in industry positions.

The most amusing-interesting comment of my experience there, however, came from Nguyen. Everyone I talked to conceded that the gaming industry is established, but still very young. The way Nguyen put this concept warmed my heart.

“I liken it to The Right Stuff,” Nguyen said. “The Chuck Yeager days are over. All the symbolism of the one cowboy in the experimental plane, that’s not going to happen. No one’s going to know our names outside the industry. But you work with part of a team, you’re highly educated, motivated people who try to do good work.” --Spencer Campbell

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