Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Games And Intel Studies Are Exactly Alike... (Game Education Summit)

Really, they are.

It is one of my big take-aways this week from the Game Education Summit.  As an academic discipline, the parallels between games and intelligence studies are frightening.

Both are relatively new disciplines.  The University of Southern California's Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts is the leading games design school in the country according to the Princeton Review (It is housed in the George Lucas Building here at USC.  For an example of what an academic building should look like, check out the pic to the right...).  It graduated its first students in 2004.  Mercyhurst graduated its first students in 1996.

In 1997 there were a handful of game programs, by 2004 there were 80 and today there are 507.  Intel studies has not seen this kind of explosive growth (more on that in a minute) but it has grown significantly over the last twenty years.

The first PHD in games was granted in 2003 and there are still relatively few PHDs in the discipline.  I don't think there is yet a PHD in intel studies and darn few with even concentrations in intel. 

Games researchers struggle to find venues to publish their work as it is often interdisciplinary.  Intelligence journals, while good and a little older than the games-specific journals, are few and far between.

There is a conflict within games studies programs about how applied they should be versus how theoretical they should be.  Intel studies is the same.

Games studies have a hard time finding a home.  Are they art programs, computer science programs or do we just stick them anywhere (USC's program is in the School of Cinematic Arts for example)?  Intel Studies -- ditto (Mercyhurst's program began in its history department).

In fact, the biggest difference I can see is the level of support from the industry.  There is a deep level of support for academia from the companies that create and distribute video games and the hardware that runs them.  I heard lots of comments here that indicate there is an explicit recognition of the connection between academe and the health of the industry. There is a good reason for this: Video games (online, PC, console, hardware and software) are estimated to be worth 40 billion in the US by 2012.  That kind of an industry needs lots of trained and educated people.

While 40 billion is good money, it pales in comparison to the US IC's budget (75 billion).  Combine that with law enforcement intel and intel in business and even when you account for the very different core businesses of the two "industries" you wind up wondering "Where is the love?" for academic programs in intel from the intel communities.

I have a couple of hypotheses.

First, we suck.  This only makes sense if you believe that the intel studies programs out there (including Mercyhurst's) produce really worthless students that no one wants.  They have no skills and are not competitive with non-intel studies students.

Very little evidence for this from where I sit.  The New Yorker ran an article recently that indicated that, in 2010, the top job was accounting where 46% had job offers by the time they graduated.  At Mercyhurst, in 2009, in the depths of the recession, 78% of our students had offers (2010's numbers are not yet available).

Second, the IC and the broader community of businesses that support the IC don't care about intel studies programs.  To buy into this you have to believe that the men and women who run these organizations don't care; that they are more than happy to take the excellent products that come out of Intel Studies programs but that they could care less about whether they succeed or not.

Again, scant evidence for this.  Most of the IC's decisionmakers I have met and all of the corporate types worry deeply about the pool of qualified candidates to fill the growing needs of the IC.  Businesses and state and local law enforcement seem to be in the same boat.  It is absolutely not in their interests to see these programs go under.

Third -- and this one is worth considering -- there is no tradition of support for academia from the IC, contractors that provide services to it, law enforcement agencies, or businesses outside the IC who have intel needs.

Intel is different than games design and those differences are significant (despite my attention grabbing headline -- did you like it?  Worked on it all night...).  It is natural for a games company to look to a college or university to support it with educated game designers, artists and programmers.  It only takes a second to see that, if such a program does not exist, it is in the industry's own interest to fund it.

The value proposition is not so obvious in intel studies.  Despite the success of programs such as Mercyhurst's and others, there is clearly a hesitancy.  I think it is because tradition puts too much emphasis on those aspects of intel that can't be taught in a school setting instead of valuing those elements that can be taught (and, frankly, better taught, in a four year degree program than in a few months of training).

What to do about it?  Well, that is up to the IC and the corporations that support it, the businesses and law enforcement agencies who will be looking for intel analysts in the future.  They need to step up, in my opinion.  The time is now.


Anonymous said...

There have been multiple multi-year efforts to reform and advance intelligence studies as an academic discipline over the past decade, originating from government, commercial, and professional associations. Millions of dollars have been channeled from these programs, ranging from grants to contract awards. These efforts continue to founder due to profound disconnects between the priorities of the academics and those of the practitioners. When so-called intelligence studies programs are not teaching fundamentals of analytic tradecraft - or are attempting to brand longstanding traditions with a particular school or professor's name without exposing students to the origin and evolution of those traditions - there is little reason to continue support. When programs refuse to listen to alumni feedback - even when those alumni are hiring managers responsible for setting recruiting standards that will determine the competitive threshold which new hires must meet - there is no reason to continue to fight entrenched and hardened mindsets. In the end, it is the students of such programs who suffer the most. The intelligence studies discipline will persist - but it will do so in places other than the university if the university is unwilling or unable to meet the needs of the profession.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


I appreciate your comment from what is apparently an insider's point of view but I could not disagree with you more.

I simply don't see any (from my obviously limited vantage point) of what you see.

Lets' start at the top -- millions of dollars over multiple years. Is millions really enough? The US spent nearly a BILLION to professionalize policing back in the 60's and 70's. My take on the games industry is that they are spending much more on education than the intel industry is yet they are a smaller industry. And, as I pointed out, they seem to have many of the same problems.

The difference is also a long term view. The games people understand that moving academia is going to be tough. It is not a turn on a dime institution. They may get frustrated but they don't give up.

The longest program I know of in support of intel in academe is the Communities of Academic Excellence program which appears to be funding start-ups. That program is only about three or four years old. If the IC expects returns from an academic investment in that kind of time, maybe it is hopeless.

What other programs are there? I really don't know and I hope you read this and post a comment outlining some of them. I have seen little that is directly aimed at intel studies as a discipline.

The same holds true for contracts. Yes there is some contract work available but you don't grow a discipline on contracts. All of the money there goes to support the contractual work. There is no money to grow, expand or research. You would not expect a new business to grow without a loan or two or maybe even some venture capital. There is nothing like that out there for intel studies today.

I also don't get your comments about "attempting to brand long-standing traditions" and not talking to alumni. I talk to a good many intel studies professors and get emails from alumni nearly every day. I even know one professor who is thinking about starting an academic journal in this field with his own money! Most professors I know are too busy trying to get ready for the next class to have any sinister designs on "longstanding traditions" and we all welcome what feedback we can get from alumni because it allows us to do exactly what you suggest -- make the curriculum more appropriate to the profession. and I can't both be right. The truth probably is that neither of us are entirely right or entirely wrong and what it takes is a more concentrated effort to communicate.

Thanks for your comment.


Anonymous said...

As an alumni of the Intel Studies program at Mercyhurst, I have to give a huge amount of credit to the professors in the department, and their ability to take the "real-life" experience and make it work in the classroom. I felt extremely prepared for a career as an analyst, and always felt that they put the class room experience above and beyond any "personal gain". One of the great things about MCIIS is its ability to change, and make the program increasingly more well-rounded and better for future students. In that sense, the Intel Studies program does not necessarily portray typical academia environment, one that is not willing to accept its weaknesses and make the necessary changes.

Anonymous said...

I'd respectfully have to disagree that there's 'scant evidence' that "the IC and the broader community of businesses that support the IC don't care about intel studies programs."

While I can't speak for all aspects for the IC I feel confident in saying that at least in law enforcement intelligence there is a near universal lack of interest in intelligence.

Now, almost all agencies have learned to adopt the rhetoric of prioritizing intelligence but if you look at resource allocation, organizational structure, procedures and talk with analysts working in the field, I'd argue you really get a very different opinion.

btw, great blog and I'm looking forward to the posts on games as a teaching tool.