A Visit to AIE

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Speaking at AIE

Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking to a group of students at AIE, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, based in a warren of classrooms and skinny hallways upstairs at Seattle Center’s Armory. I had been asked to share my thoughts on VR to people who understand a lot more than me about how to actually create VR experiences. Students at AIE spend two years learning to code and design games, after which they find work in the video game industry. Some students find work in visual effects in the film industry.

The students asked questions about the art of narrative, careers, and cinematic vs. game-based VR. They were thoughtful and engaged across the board, but being young people, many of their questions bore an air of uncertainty about the future. When you’re young it can be hard to grasp just how remarkable your circumstances are. It can be difficult to conceptualize your life, with its day to day concerns, as part of a greater historical movement.

When I was a kid in the eighties, growing up in my dad’s civil engineering office, I didn’t appreciate what an advantage I was afforded by getting such early hands-on exposure to computers. I was able to write stories on my dad’s office’s eyeball-assaulting Digital computer before most families I knew even had a computer. And my grandfather, who worked with the ENIAC, was an early adopter who was one of the first people I knew to own an Apple computer. But if you were to ask me at the time, I wouldn’t have thought there was anything remarkable about my circumstances.

My impression of the students at AIE was that they are getting a massive head start in mastering the technology that’s going to upend our world as much as PCs and smart phones. The market is going to get hungrier and hungrier for their particular sets of skills, and a lot of opportunities are going to come their way. My dad, who graduated from college with an engineering degree in the late sixties, says that companies were so hungry for engineers in his time that they used to lure prospective candidates with paid recruiting trips to their headquarters. We seem to be in an equivalent era now.

Then again, maybe we’re in a bubble and this whole VR thing could collapse. That’s a possibility. But I highly doubt it. I told these students about the early dotcom boom, when there was a flood of companies selling everything from dog food to socks online. And a lot of those startups from the late nineties went belly-up. Did this spell doom for e-commerce? Take a walk through South Lake Union and you tell me.

As with the creation of an individual work of art, there are a lot of blind alleys and tangents involved in getting an industry off the ground. We’re in the rough draft stage of the immersive media age, and this means some rough waters ahead. If I were to put my faith in anyone, it would be in students like the ones at AIE, who stand ready to ride the tidal wave to come.