A Student Sit Down: an emerging viewpoint on games education
I had the chance to interview Michael Dellapi, a NYU Game Center BFA student, on his experience, thoughts, and history with games and his time at the recently-founded BFA program.
Q: First off, can we have your name and a little bit of background information?
A: I’m Michael Dellapi, and I’m a sophomore going into my junior year at NYU. I’m part of the Game Design program.
Q: Can you give us a bit of your history with games?
A: I’ve played them for as long as I can remember and they’ve been a part of my life ever since. My first video game I ever played was at my cousin’s house Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. Games have been a big part of my pastime, and I eventually ended up studying them.
Q: And what about the first game you ever owned?
A: First game I ever owned Donald Duck: Goin’ Quackers for GameCube, which was also my first console. Playing games also kinda became a family thing because I would play Dragon Ball Z Budokai with my dad. They were always a family thing, but eventually around the time I entered high school I wanted to look into them more seriously.
Q: Was there a specific game that made you think ‘games are worth a deeper look’? Something that marked the transition between games just being a pastime into something greater?
A: Spec Ops: The Line made me want to study it. I first saw it on a Zero Punctuation review, and he [Ben Croshaw] had nothing but praise for it, so I looked it up and played it. I really liked how it combined a really good narrative story with game mechanics into one unit…. Seeing that was possible made me really want to take a deeper, critical look into games.
Q: Okay, follow-up to that question — if you had to pick one game for someone to play, someone who doesn’t know anything about games, to show them that games were
A: Uh… -thinks for a long time — Undertale. I know Undertale is a cop-out answer, and everyone uses that as their game of choice, but it’s so charming, and it’s a good game about game mechanics. In addition to the mechanics, Undertale kind of speaks to conflict and combat, something you do a lot in video games, and subverts it…. Undertale is the landmark game in thinking about conflict.
Q: I haven’t played Undertale, but in that last aspect you could draw parallels to Spec Ops: The Line, right?
A: Definitely. Both those games do a really good job about it. Actually, Far Cry 3 does that a little bit, too. But I wouldn’t recommend that game. Actually, another game I’d pick [for the previous question] would be Just Cause because it’s what you make of it…. Player freedom.
Q: Okay, interesting…so, back to to the time you started taking games ‘seriously’.You were in high school. And right now you’re in the first graduating class of NYU’s Game Design BFA program. Did you know you wanted to study game design in college and beyond?
A: Yeah. I wanted to look into studying games as a full time major. I literally just looked up ‘Best Schools for Game Design in the Northeast’ online and actually found about NYU’s program around the time I played Specs Ops: the Line; around that time other games, looked into studying into games as a full time major. NYU was also my favorite college I that I visited, so I put two and two together.
Q: So now that you’ve been in the program for almost two years, what’s your experience like?
A: I think it’s great. It helped me look into games as a interdisciplinary experience… it was an invaluable experience — everything completely changed. At first I only wanted to get into writing games, but the program made me have a holistic view on every aspect of games, and now I want to do all of it; designing, coding, writing, audio. It even helped explore interests outside of games, like architecture and art history.
Q: Was there a favorite class you had?
A: Yeah. [Intro to] Game Studies with Charles Pratt. It made me look at the history of games and in a perspective that I had not considered before, like, play as a universal experience across human history, how people play as culture, different civilizations and people play them. It made looking at action of play more meaningful.
Q: What about a favorite teacher?
A: My favorite teacher was Winnie Song, who taught Intro to Visual Communication. I really liked her because she had a very individualistic approach to each student. The critiques and feedback she’d give was… tailored to each student, and lot of assignments were given to fit the student’s needs.[Her class] very different from other classes and other majors.
Q: Okay, so with all your experiences in mind, do you think that having dedicated game majors such as your current program will change what types of games are made in the future?
A: Uhl… no. I don’t think it will change nature of games, it just makes you think more critically about them. The types of games won’t be different.
Q: Well, what influence do you think it’ll have on the industry as a whole?
A: Well, games right now… there’s kind of like a fork, like two types of games, and there’s a divide and people think indie games are small, passion projects that largely go unnoticed versus triple AAA, high-production games that are borderline soulless. And I think there’s room for both, obviously; there’s a bridge between them. Learning about the intricacies of both is very valuable thing. Based on just the circle of people I know, people tend to be very subjective about them. Games education helps build the bridge, it gives people a more holistic view of the categories and all the in-betweens. Thank to game education I’m certain that there will be more people playing games, it’ll be more democratized, because there’s a lower point of entry for making games now. But the more game education we offer, the more it gets people making games. And that’s very beneficial, just more people making more games.
Q: What kind of game would you like to eventually make?
A: My dream to make a game with a high level of narrative complexity. Not exactly the same subject matter as Spec Ops: The Line, but a game where narrative is focal point mechanics don’t suffer
Q: So do you think this program helps you enter the industry well?
A: I think? I can’t say for sure because that’s hypothesizing about my own future. I hope it does!
Q: Alright, so last bit. Do you have any lingering thoughts that you’ve wanted to say, anything words at all?
A: … uh, are you writing down that I paused?
A: I got it. Play more games, and care deeply about why you’re playing them… care more deeply about everything you’re doing.
[this Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity]