August 11, 2005

Selling science careers

by Michael Mateas · , 11:59 am

A recent New York Times article describes a new Pentagon research project in which 15 researchers are being trained at the American Film Institute on how to write sellable Hollywood screenplays. The reason?

Fewer and fewer students are pursuing science and engineering. While immigrants are taking up the slack in many areas, defense laboratories and industries generally require American citizenship or permanent residency. So a crisis is looming, unless careers in science and engineering suddenly become hugely popular, said Robert J. Barker, an Air Force program manager who approved the grant. And what better way to get a lot of young people interested in science than by producing movies and television shows that depict scientists in flattering ways?

It’s an uphill battle, though; with 75,000 screenplays floating around Hollywood, only 500 movies are made a year. Maybe they should train scientists in game design so that games depict scientists in flattering ways (since it’s so much easier to pitch new IP in the games industry). Maybe this is a good Persuasive Games area – Ian should get right on this. I’d prefer government grants to pay for researchers in, say, interactive drama, to participate in screen-writing workshops.

3 Responses to “Selling science careers”

  1. nick Says:

    It might also be effective to take Pentagon researchers and create some manufactured pop bands – particularly if those researchers are Russian, wear Catholic schoolgirl outfits, and kiss each other on stage.

  2. Ian Bogost Says:

    In fact, I have done some of these. A suite of seven games we made about telecommunications technology is being deployed this year in 4 – 6 grade classrooms in North America, and I’m currently finishing up a game about basic chemistry. To be fair, these games represent science, not *scientists*.

    But isn’t the problem that science and engineering professions are represented poorly in the popular media, or that they are integrated poorly into all other walks of life? Personally, I think the notion of the “scientist” might be the problem here. Don’t we want scientifically literate people in all professions, rather than less socially deranged people holed up in the sciences?

  3. mark Says:

    Part of the shift, IMO, is that Americans are in general wealthier than they used to be, and therefore no longer as worried about going into a career that will actually result in gainful employment. When someone is being sent to school on their parents’ dime, and can look forward to parental support in the case of unemployment for years (if not decades) to come, there’s no obvious reason to earn a “hard” degree like electrical engineering, with the exception of the relatively small proportion of the population that really loves it.

    So you end up with far more aspiring filmmakers than the country really needs, and far fewer aspiring engineers than the country really needs, because going into filmmaking sounds more fun to a larger number of people than going into engineering does.

    Immigrants generally don’t have quite as little regard for their future employment, so they tend to take the radically capitalist step of entering areas with labor shortages, rather than those which are already overpopulated.

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