Parsons New School for Design is considered one of the leading art schools in the US. The school offers an MFA in Design and Technology — a rigorous program in which students explore the design implications of emerging technologies and the evolving connections between technology, design, and the human experience. Within the MFA, students are able to focus on a variety of subject matters, including — but not limited to — video game design. The school is located in New York City. Matt Plotecher is a student at Parson’s, and he’s sharing with us his thoughts on the school’s Design and Technology MFA program.
What school do you currently attend, and what is your specific field of study?
I attend Parsons School of Design, part of the New School (formerly known as the New School University). I’m in Parson’s Design & Technology program, which covers topics such as computation, narrative, and interactivity.
How long is the program, and what are the requirements to get accepted?
The program is just a couple of years. Requirements are a BFA/BA, as I recall, and then just a good portfolio and personal statement. When I originally talked to admissions, they said to send in whatever I thought helped show my work, as varied as that may be. My impression was that they were more interested in seeing the passion and drive you had as opposed to a certain degree of polished technical skills. The latter, of course, just makes things easier when you start classes.For example, my portfolio included ink drawings, photos, videos, animations, and Flash interactive pieces.
How much does the program cost, and what options exist for financing?
Currently, the program, including all the “little” fees and health plan and everything, runs a little over $30,000 a year. I, and many students I know, have scholarships that help offset the costs, but we all have dived headfirst into federal and private loans. There is the possibility to earn some money teaching at the school, but it usually doesn’t happen until after the first year.
Ultimately, what sort of job do you want when you finish with the program?
That’s a really good question. When I first entered, I was looking at digital filmmaking and animation, given my background. But now, I’m being drawn strongly to the world of game design and interactive narrative. Currently, I’d really like to get into the story development and design of how the narrative works within an interactive structure. I’d love the chance to work on some games (video games especially) that deal more with emotion and characters than just straightforward shooting (as much fun as that is).
Also, it’d be nice to brush up more on the programming on games, strictly because it’ll help if I have to explain my ideas and concepts for the programmers to build.
What is the size of your department? Do you feel that you are getting enough meaningful contact with your professors?
The department isn’t too big. Classes max out at 17, and I’ve had a few classes with only about ten or so students. That makes it a lot easier to get to know the group, as well as get some one-on-one time with the professors. Also, all of the instructors hand out their contact information, so it’s always fairly simple to reach them outside of class through e-mail.
What is your opinion of the faculty in your program? Do you have faith in their industry experience and knowledge? Do you have any particular favorite professors?
I hate them all.
Okay, I’m kidding. Seriously, I’ve had pretty good experiences with all the instructors I’ve had. I know that some students have had problems with other instructors, but that’s usually just personality quirks as opposed to ability to teach.
What I like most about the herd of instructors roaming the halls is that they all work in the fields while teaching, and that means that they can comment on the latest trends in the industry, they can help you network with the people they know, and they can speak with authority as someone who have spent time in the trenches.
I really have enjoyed all of my professors so far, but I suspect that my favorites would be Katie Salen and Nicolas Fortugno, as they both have really been the ones to get my passion stoked about games and the capabilities of them.
What are the school’s facilities like? Do you feel that the equipment is up to date, and do you think that there is enough of it for the entire student body?
The facilities are pretty good. Usually, you can get on the various machines and computers, but naturally the days around midterms and finals the place is packed. Things are in pretty good shape in terms of being updated, and while we don’t have a THX Surround Sound Dolby screening room, we really don’t need it that much to show off our work.
One of the things that helps is that we have access to both the Parson’s lab, as well as the New School’s labs, as well — thus, you can usually find what you need.
What is the focus of your education? How do you feel about the balance between the practical/technical skills you’re learning, and more theory-based aspects of game development?
From the first year alone, I really came into much clearer understanding of both game design as well as how much potential remains for it. The balance between theory and practical is really up to the student in a lot of ways, based on the courses they choose to take. While most people take a mix of both, you could go hard-core into the technical side or completely over into the analytical part if you wanted.
Do you feel confident that you’ll be able to get a job when you graduate? What sort of post-graduate services does your institution provide?
Honestly, since I’ve just come into the realization that I’m very interested in the world of game design, I feel like I have a lot of “catch-up” to do before I’m completely up to speed, esp. since so many people have been pursing it longer than I have.
The fact that I feel like I can handle this is because of what I’ve learned so far in the program. Another big boost is that I know I can bounce ideas off of my instructors and get their feedback on how the games are shaping up, what’s already been done, what to avoid, and what problems I need to think about.
As for after graduation, I already have made a number of contacts, and have been involved in several projects that I would have not known about if not for the networking through my instructions. For example, I’m working on a game for the Street Game Fair in September, a conference game for the Nokia Game Conference, and I’m working as a QA person at a local game company. So, already, the program and the instructors have been a huge bonus to my hopefully budding career.
Oh, and I found out about this interview project, as well, through them. Not bad, eh?
Do you feel that you have a leg up on prospective game developers who started in the “trenches?” Why did you choose to take this route, rather than trying to get your foot in the door as, say, a tester?
I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed game design until I came to this school, honestly. I had originally done some work on games in my first few classes because I think everyone feels the urge to try making a game at some point in their lives. Before attending the school, I had thought about making the stories for the games, but now, I really see all the options, history, and problems that games and stories have had.
At this point, it’s hard to say how much, if any, lead I have on people who have worked their way in from the bottom rungs. I am worker as a Tester, now, myself, so I’m starting from the same place. But, I also feel that with my education on my resume, and the ability to work on creating a variety of games of my own in the lab, with the instructors, will give me a lot more to show when I get out. I also feel like I have a much better understanding of “why” some things work, rather than just “how” they work. As a result, I feel like I have a better chance to avoid rehashing games already on the market, and that I can do some more innovative things, be it in story, design, or even just sound design.
I think that the education background, plus the networking that I’ve been getting through the program, is really going to help out in terms of making inroads into the industry.