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We Are MA: Games

We Are MA: Games

Norwich University of the Arts was voted the UK’s Best Educational Institution in the 2017 TIGA Games Industry Awards. 

MA Games student Jake Montanarini discusses changing careers and developing games as teaching tools.

What brought you to NUA?

Before I started at NUA I was working for a sales department of a wine company. It was quite a creatively sterile environment and not really satisfying. I decided to change my career path and return to University to take on a new challenge. After leaving the wine company I applied for the MA Games at NUA and was accepted.

I think my application was in complete reaction to the lack of creativity I felt in my career and general life. I came from a conventionally academic background undertaking a Film and Television Studies degree, which was bookended with a working career made up of short expeditions into different working environments. But I found most places I ended up did not satisfy my need to create and practice my passions, so I moved on and eventually found myself here.

Can you tell us a bit about your practice and how you got into games?

Getting into games was really just a pursuit of passion. I love playing games, and being a part of the gaming community was a small part of my life that I wanted to make bigger. In the last few years I’ve branched out into the table-top gaming world and noticed that the growing dialogue around Games Studies seemed to be missing out board games. I wanted to be a part of that conversation but represent, discuss and showcase the board game community. 

Currently my practice revolves around the philosophy of play and how we use play to navigate social situations, important topics and even relationships with ourselves and others. I love the story played out in a table-top game. When you compete or cooperate to meet a goal and your victory hinges on a dice roll or a certain move by another player, the experience becomes a tangible community narrative and it feels real. When we look closer at these experiences we can start to see their worth as resources for teaching and personal development. It’s early days with my research but very exciting. 

At the moment I am working on a project that looks at sustainable development and how we can use games to communicate environmental and ecologically conscious messages, learning about city development in the process. Through play we can break down complex issues and communicate ideas for change by simulating real-world experiences. I want to empower people to see how we can make these great human habitats better for the planet. Alongside this I am working with another student to develop the idea of table-top gaming as a teaching tool. Aiming to take the project out into the wider community, we hope to help people of all ages overcome learning of complex issues and encourage skills development. We are looking to create a structure within which anyone can create a game and use that to discuss personal topics. It’s a big project! 

"The course connects you with the resources you need and then gives you the responsibility to develop your practice in the ways you feel are important and meaningful. "

Jake Montanarini

What’s been the most enjoyable aspect of your course so far?

The course connects you with the resources you need and then gives you the responsibility to develop your practice in the ways you feel are important and meaningful. The tutors, lecturers and course leaders are always there to support and challenge ideas, stimulating progress. They act as consultants, leaning on their expertise to improve ours.

I think the most enjoyable aspect is the freedom to express and experiment. This is made even more valuable through the support from the whole university community; from your peers and course leaders to the technicians and library staff all the way down to the learning resources available and the books in the library. I think the university reflects what I love so much about board games; there is a definite sense of community that helps to shape the narrative you want to play out.

Where do you spend your time on campus?

I love the fact that the campus is integrated into the city, not just geographically but historically, and having us students doing weird and wonderful new things within the walls of the old is a picturesque metaphor.

I am a huge nerd and a big fan of the library. There are tons of resources to get you inspired for your next project and to keep you connected to the wider creative communities. Also the staff are so lovely and helpful!

Sometimes I find myself looking for a quiet place in a building I haven’t used before to work or eat my lunch. Unlike traditional campuses where you have buildings you never really have need (or sometimes permission) to go in, the buildings that make up the NUA campus feel like they are there for you. Every now and then I will just find a place I haven’t been before and work there. Putting myself in different environments helps me to think differently and I become productive in new ways!

What do you think about the creative community here?

The creative community is best resource you have around you as a student. I like to think of Norwich as a village city because it has a very distinct community vibe to it but is big enough to maintain your creativity. The village vibe you get makes you feel safe enough to take your wacky game idea out to audiences of strangers and have them engaged enough to give you honest constructive feedback. This is true for the NUA community as well as the wider city. 

This village vibe is also really conducive to experimentation and community. It is very easy to put on an exhibition or play-test a game and gather a handful of new people that are enthusiastic and want to contribute. The creative community around us are all passionate about their own practices, but also how your practice works. I think it is the nature of learners; we’re all looking to learn a new perspective, or different way of approaching something.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about studying a Masters?

I would recommend writing a sort of manifesto to yourself about what you want to get out of the course and why you might be deciding to study. For me it was quite difficult at the beginning but when I sat down to write my list I kept coming back to this idea of being challenged, developing my own philosophy around my practice and being involved. This Masters has ticked those boxes for me so far and given me other things to consider. I still have my list hung up on my noticeboard and if I ever start to feel I am straying from my goals I revisit it and make adjustments to get me feeling back on track.

I would also advise to get involved with as much as you can. Places like NUA offer a rich environment to test other passions and experiment to really hone your skills and grow your creative network—you learn about yourself and what your art means by experimentation and, by getting involved with as much as possible, you are opening yourself up to inspiration.