BAFTA initiative equips kids for the UK’s video games industry and beyond

Last week the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) relaunched its Young Games Designers (YGD) initiative. While the programme is geared towards helping young people into the UK’s £1.7 billion video games industry, the experts say that the skills learned could also equip them for jobs in other digital sectors.

YGD participants can receive support and advice from industry experts

YGD participants can receive support and advice from industry experts

Speaking at the scheme’s launch at EGX London 2014,  BAFTA Games Committee chair Harvey Elliott said this year’s initiative would build upon 2013′s “really successful” programme with added material and expert access for 10 to 18 year-olds looking to enter the industry, helping them to make better subject choices at school to prepare them for their future jobs.

“This industry is almost one that is embarrassed to talk about itself,” he told an audience of partners and developers at Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London. “I think it is our responsibility to inspire young people and tell them what we do.”

Dan Sutch, head of development research at headline partner the Nominet Trust, said the support the YGD scheme provides to young people is invaluable to their progression. “Something that seems to be really important to young people coming into this industry is finding someone who really inspires them,” he said.

One developer lucky enough to find this support was Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, who explained that one of his school history teachers allowed him to submit games instead of essays for two years as long as they contained the required information.

BAFTA Games Committee chair Harvey Elliott speaking at Earls Court Exhibition Centre

BAFTA Games Committee chair Harvey Elliott speaking at Earls Court Exhibition Centre

But not all young people receive such opportunities, which is why BAFTA set up YGD, providing developers a chance to showcase and develop their skills. 2010 competition winner Dan Pearce spent his early years pitching to companies on the internet, and says the organisation’s links helped to push his career to the next level. He became a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit last year.

“Every single step of the way BAFTA have been there,” he told the audience. “If you want to speak to someone at a certain company BAFTA will do that. I got introduced to people who understand what they are talking about and can say, ‘You are doing this right.’ I cannot thank them enough for that. This initiative is the reason I have a career.”

Other industries will benefit, too. Elliott says games are a great way to develop core skills and get children thinking about how the systems around them work, meaning that they could eventually go on to work in other areas including cyber security, which is currently facing a skills shortage in the UK, putting companies’ data and reputations at risk.

“You might start your career as a software engineer in games but you might see that you have an aptitude you need for cyber security,” he told Business Technology. After all, he explained, kids want to be racing drivers, astronauts and games creators – if asked, very few schoolchildren in Britain will say that they want to become a CISO.

BAFTA ran a workshop for young game designers at EGX London 2014

BAFTA ran a workshop for young game designers at EGX London 2014

Sutch added that the skills learned by breaking down the systems used by games are vital to other careers, too. ”It about the way things you are using have been constructed,” he said. “Being able to make stuff is just a brilliant way to understand how things work.”

And it is not just the participants themselves that will benefit from the scheme. Pearce thinks that initiatives like YGD will provide a boost to the industry as a whole with more young designers joining companies – or setting up their own – with better skill sets.

“Hopefully it means that the industry can get better designers faster,” he said, speaking to Business Technology at the YGD 2014 launch. ”It gives you an opportunity in your teen years to get some expert feedback, and hopefully better games come out of it.”

To find out more about the BAFTA Young Game Designers 2014 initiative, see the official website.

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