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Who Directed Star Wars?

November 11, 2011

Imagine a conversation with a recent film school graduate about the greatest films in recent memory. It would not be uncommon for such a student to mention Star Wars. After all, the film’s impact on culture was tremendous, and its effects are still felt daily among those in the video game industry. Some have joked that nearly every game made is merely some kind of retelling of some Star Wars meme. So, with this scene in mind, imagine the following conversation:

Me: “Star Wars: A New Hope – do you know who directed it?”

Recent graduate: “No.”

Again, I ask, can you imagine? No, of course you can’t. Such a conversation would be embarrassing, ridiculous, and a statement of failure upon the film school that graduated such a student. Similar comparisons could be made to an architecture student who knew nothing of Frank Lloyd Wright, or an art student who could not identify Michelangelo but was totally aware of the majesty of the Sistine Chapel.

I had a nearly identical conversation tonight with a recent graduate of a game program. I wish I could say it was uncommon. However, I regularly encounter graduates of game programs who know nothing of game history. They can talk about Final Fantasy, DOOM, the Sims, Age of Empires, and WoW, and acknowledge them as foundational in some way, yet they know nothing of the key minds behind these same games.

This has to stop, and we don’t need full-on game history courses to correct the problem. What we do need is early and regular reinforcement of the creative and technical people behind these games. Architects care about Frank Lloyd Wright because he was innovative and influential and they have much to learn from him. Likewise, I care about Dani Berry because she was innovative and influential, and though deceased, I still have much to learn from her. In most cases, the answer to, “Who made this game?” is as simple as a search.

Sometimes, we fall back on the old, “Well, lots of people made that game.” Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t build those houses by himself nor did George Lucas make Star Wars all on his own.

Students are paying thousands of dollars for an education. They have a right to get one.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2011 7:07 pm

    Where does this reinforcement come from? The developers themselves? Marketing? Re-working of game programs?

  2. November 11, 2011 7:29 pm

    1. Game credits should be way more prominent all throughout the experience. He didn’t have to title it “George Lucas Presents George Lucas’ Star Wars,” yet the big names behind the franchise are branded into most fans’ minds. Why?

    2. Way too many games are factory made commodified junk with no George Lucas to associate with them. But then, those probably aren’t the greatest games in recent memory (even if their MAU stats are off the charts.) Beyond that, players share some of the authorship with the designers because they have a certain amount of agency, and aren’t just passive consumers of someones grand vision.

    3. In keeping with the theme, George Lucas went on to make a lot of shitty decisions and almost destroy his legacy. It’s the fans and community that kept it going for decades. The same could be said for a lot of games. Historical context is important, and to that end maybe we need more than just a Mobygames search.

    None of that excuses a game design grad from not knowing things though, sheesh.

  3. November 11, 2011 8:43 pm

    Star Wars was directed by Irvine Kershner, not George Lucas, who only directed the prequels, and not terribly successfully.

  4. Chris permalink
    November 12, 2011 4:38 am

    I play a lot of board games, but not so many video games. So I have a sincere question here: why does it matter?

    For example, when comparing movies by the same director or board games by the same game designer, you can very often identify elements that reflect that person’s style. Or better yet, trace the growth of that person’s creative toolkit.

    I suspect you can do the same for video games, but I don’t know for sure. If so, then this would be a reason to emphasize the names you want and perhaps an avenue to making that education compelling.

  5. November 12, 2011 5:20 am

    Sorry for my ignorance, as a board game designer and architect I have a question. Is game design history accessible and available? In Architecture the core curriculum in most Architecture schools is Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture (12th Edition). Every Architect takes several courses in history. I had a history course every quarter for 2 years. So what book is available that really covers the necessary “history”? I have not found one related to board game design.

    Comments for bvicarious:
    1: If we keep the Architectural reference going, it should have been the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in NY city, not the Guggenheim Museum. What? NO.
    3. Everyone does some good and a lot of bad in their works. I can’t tell you the amount of garbage that Frank Lloyd Wright designed. You can look at all of a persons carrier and cringe or look at the best that they have to offer. Usually not both.

  6. Mzo permalink
    November 12, 2011 12:59 pm

    You should help scare them straight. Ask them “Who made doom?” and when they say they don’t know have John leap out from behind something and loudly growl “MEEEEEEE”.

    On a more serious note I do think there are at least some designers well branded into games such as Sid Meier and Will Wright.

    • rachel permalink
      January 7, 2012 10:15 am

      I love that idea.

      Personally I’ve had trouble finding games that really clicked with me, but Will Wright is a name I’ll never forget.

  7. November 14, 2011 6:15 am

    I was under the false assumption that this stuff *was* being taught. 😦 The history of ANYTHING is more than just the list of events and their impact, but the people who ushered in those changes and why. As another person mentioned above, I’m also interested in what books include key industry people in the history/timeline.

  8. Kelly S permalink
    November 18, 2011 10:30 pm

    I think a large problem is the fact that it can be very difficult to gain access (legally or otherwise) to older games for any sort of meaningful study. I believe to have any understanding of the people who made these historical games you need to have actually played their games, reading their wikipedia page just doesn’t cut it. For a film student it is fairly easy to find copies of older films on dvd or on the internet. But as a young game design student it can be tough to find a way to gain access to pre n64 era games, especially if you weren’t even alive to own the consoles they are played on (I was 2 years old when the first Doom came out to put that into perspective). While sites like good old game have been a godsend they are in no way comprehensive. One of the most frustrating things about being in the current generation of game design students is just trying to get ahold of these games to be able to study our own industry’s history.

    • rachel permalink
      January 7, 2012 10:21 am

      The industry definitely needs to figure out a way to keep old games alive enough to be studied and experienced. I still have my original SNES plugged in (next to an NES that doesn’t work nearly as well), but for old computer games, it comes down to what I’m lucky enough to find available online. I was horrified to find out that my boyfriend, older than me by ~5 years, has never experienced Commander Keen. Steam has (thankfully) stepped in to provide those games, but most games still just end up lost over time. We were broke when I was growing up so I spent a long time playing DOS games, and there’s a lot to be said for their simplicity.

  9. November 24, 2011 9:52 pm

    I did a search for Doom 3, COD4, Halo 3, and the latest Deus Ex.

    Some list “Lead Designer” or “Project Lead”, some “Game Director”, and some mentioned none of these.

    Are the above positions synonymous? Why do some provide no such listings?

    It’s trivially easy to determine the visionary-(ies) behind a given book, movie, album, etc. It’d be nice if the videogame industry would (a) agree upon a common nomenclature and (b) put that person(s) name front and center, be it on the box or title screen or in the opening moments of the experience. 🙂

    • November 29, 2011 9:41 pm

      Those are not one and the same, unfortunately. Some games provide no listings due to publisher idiocy.

  10. ninjaraiden permalink
    April 2, 2012 5:27 pm

    Wait, how can you spend years studying the subject and not know that? I realise that’s your point, it just baffles me enough to repeat it! Some of the names from your examples can be picked up simply by being a gamer and reading related material from interviews, reviews etc. I would have thought having the hobby would potentially go to knowledge and interest in a job. No?

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