Sep. 11, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas — In recognition of National Video Game Day, Sept. 12, we asked Robert Denton Bryant, director of the Video Game Development Program at St. Edward’s, about the “Wizard of Oz,” breaking into the video game business and getting more women into the industry — a few topics that are not only close to his heart, but also inform his approach in the classroom. 

Question: What can "The Wizard of Oz" tell us about video game storytelling?

We study Oz in my "World Building" class because it’s the first great American transmedia "imaginative world." Author L. Frank Baum’s original children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900, but very quickly became a successful stage musical for adults, a newspaper comic feature, a number of silent movies, an animated short, and then the classic 1939 MGM musical, which went on to become an annual television event. Oz, like the worlds of “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a rich story space with deep lore and a wide cast of fascinating characters, cultures and technologies. The medium of video games is the best way for us to explore these imaginative worlds first-hand and gives us the freedom to create our own stories as we are freed from following one character through one story.

Question: What should the video game industry do to increase the number of women in its workforce?  

We should begin by acknowledging that there have never been more women working in video games. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen more and more women enter key roles in every department, so the numbers have and will continue to increase. However, industry leaders should continue to make their workplaces as diverse and as collaborative as possible. Toxicity continues to be a problem in the cultures of certain player groups and in certain workplaces. Groups like Women in Games International (WIGI) and the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) continue to be valuable forces for change when it comes to making the game development community (and the player community) more inclusive.

Question: Politicians have long blamed violent video games for mass shootings. What do you want the public to know about this claim? 

It's absurd to claim that the imaginary assault weapons in some video games are a greater contributor to mass shootings than the real assault weapons on our streets and in our homes.

Question: Is becoming a video game tester a good way to enter the video game development field? What skills do you need?  

Yes, it is, and I'm a living example of that. My first job in games was as a tester at Mattel. Game testing, community management and customer service continue to be the easiest way to get your "foot in the door" of the games industry. Those roles are increasingly important in this new "games as a service" era, where new content is released on a regular basis and players are treated as valued ongoing customers. Good testers have the ability to think analytically, write clearly and concisely, and solve problems with tenacity.

Challenge: If high school students are interested in studying or pursuing a career in video games, what would you challenge them to do?

Games have been hampered for a long time by a lack of imagination. As my partner and I wrote in Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games, too many games are too obviously inspired by earlier video games. I would ask someone who wants to make their own games to think about something they learned or something they are inspired by or concerned about that isn't a movie, or a comic book, or another video game, and think about how they could communicate that passion or that worry through gameplay.