Friday, January 18, 2013

Jose Rizal Does Not Throw A Spinning Fireball Attack

Our students, it seems, have finally discovered video games. Not in the sense of playing them -- of that they already have plenty of experience -- but rather in the sense of making their own. All I can say is: it's about time.

The occasion for these projects is their senior year thesis. This is just about the final hurdle that our students have to face, the sine qua non on the road to graduation. Every year, it's a mad scramble: to find the right topic that's acceptable to the faculty, and then to conduct the research and write the paper. For computer studies students, there's also the added challenge of building a workable prototype.

In recent times, we've had more game-oriented theses. This year probably marks the bumper crop. Half the proposals now concern games of some sort, and not just for the PC but also for iPads and Android tablets.

It really shouldn't be that surprising. Students will do what they know best, and I think it's a sign of honesty on their part and hours that we're finally letting them venture into this territory. And why not? Games are mainstream now, part art form and part business, in many ways a bigger market than traditional media.

Somehow these game proposals, in search of a mentor, manage to make their way towards my desk. I suppose it's because in the faculty I'm the only gamer who's really and truly out of the closet. (See, Mom and Dad? All those hours on the Atari finally paid off.)

Sadly, though, many of the proposals that come to me for evaluation don't really stand a chance in the market. As thesis projects, yes; as viable marketable products? No. Not quite just yet, anyhow.

It's not the lack of talent or skill; these students are really just starting out, and it's almost a given that their output will be a little raw. Rather, their most significant deficiency is a crippling tunnel vision that keeps them from venturing into a space that they truly believe in.

What do I mean? Aren't our students already following their interests when they propose to make games? Yes, but sadly only in a half-hearted manner. The real tragedy is that they don't even see it.

Because invariably, when our students propose a game, they compulsively qualify it with "educational." Now who the heck wants to play an educational game? If it's a game, we'll play it for fun! Educational games are boring!

Worse yet, there's also the compulsion to tack onto it "nationalism." Just as the games are educational, our students also feel they have to make it culturally relevant, with an obligatory hat tip to history or to hagiography.

And the coup de grace? A pitifully limited sense of history that's obsessed on the expedition of 1521 and the revolution of 1896 -- and in between? A black hole that spans 375 years.

Mix all this together and what do you get? Nine times out of ten: "We want to make a role-playing game that will teach kids about the life of Rizal." Now there's a formula for a blockbuster....

Whenever I get this proposal, I want to shake the students by the shoulders and scream in their face: "STOP GIVING ME WHAT YOU THINK I WANT! BURN YOUR CARICATURE OF NATIONALISM! BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF! DAGNABIT, HAVE FUN!"

But of course, being the dignified teacher that I am, I must be content to just tell them: "Jose Rizal does not throw a spinning fireball attack."