Thursday, July 31, 2008

Burn them all down!

Back in '94, I got the fool idea in my head to learn a computer programming language so that I could make my own video games. I tried to get my other friends interested, but none of them shared my passion for the medium. Unfortunately, over four-thousand dollars and one correspondence course later, I had learned nothing, and swore-off computers forever.

Forever lasted about five years, and in '99 I was ready for another PC. This time though, I wanted to focus on coming up with ideas for games and not actually building them myself, to learn programming at my own pace. This never happened - I had a job as a computer operator, but was not well educated enough to get a job programming for my company. This is when I decided to go back to school to learn more about what I wanted to do - make video games. Unfortunately, by the time I managed to get everything together to do it, a stock market crisis (9/11) robbed me of the funds that I wanted to use towards that end.

As a result of my destitution, I began working part-time at a local video game retailer. The plan was that (along with my subsequent bankruptcy) having basically no income would allow me to borrow more funds to attend school. My parents made it clear early on that they would not help me in this endeavor, as their finances were stretched thin as it was. Yes, it is indeed a twisted system, but the funds would have been forthcoming.

I began to seek attendance at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP), who was starting a Game Art and Design program. I want to make it clear from the beginning that I wasn't really interested in the art so much as the design. I was hoping that the school would help me unlock the process by which games were made, as well as honing the skills that I would need to express my ideas more clearly. While I wanted to wait until the summer quarter, the school insisted that I sign up for the spring. In doing so I had to use an older 1040 tax sheet which showed my income as considerably more than what I actually had made the year before, thus denying me sufficient funds for awhile. The school began charging me interest when I had opted to wait on interest, and their financial department seemed bound and determined to squeeze every last cent that they could out of me while I attended school, leading to some very bad weeks where I couldn't even afford ramen noodles to feed myself (I actually went five days without eating because I was broke, while the government refund checks that I was given had to be signed over to the school every quarter, for reasons they never sufficiently explained to me). Not that I didn't work during this time, but my employer seemed satisfied to give me four hours a week sometimes, just to spite me, I guess (you need at least twenty hours a week as a student to qualify for food stamps).

As time went on at AIP, I began to notice a great bit of disparity in their standards: I was apparently not good enough for the game art and design program from the start, so they put me in animation, a course that I was not interested in at all, for what they told me would be two quarters. When those two quarters were up, they told me that it was actually three quarters and that I was S.O.L.. Meanwhile, in the classes that I shared with the game art students, I noticed that quite a few of them were drawing stick figures ala third grade art class, and wondered if they really were better artists than me (the answer was a resounding "no."). By the time I actually did get into game art, I was behind. I wasn't learning anything in most of the 3D classes, usually because the teachers couldn't sufficiently answer any of my questions, but also because I later found out that they were forcing us to learn not the basics of the programs, but ancient, outdated methods of doing things that should have been avoided from the start.

Nearing the end of the three-year Bachelor of Science program, I began to feel as though I had completely wasted my time and money. I didn't know how to do anything that they wanted me to do because the teachers kept changing the cirriculum on us based on their own inability to manage time. My under-paying job was starting to get on my nerves, and the school career counseling department, which consisted of one bitter eighty-something senile old lady (who is as of this writing dead - and the new students won't even know what they missed, and should be thankful) wouldn't help me find something more in-tune with my major. I have to say that the school's counselors at that time were the most inept, impotent bunch of worthless human garbage I have ever met, and that's coming from someone who considers themselves worthless, impotent and inept!

My uncle at this point had decided to renege on his promise to me to buy my grandfather's house (not that I blame him for that, it's just that he couldn't have picked a worse time), so I had the added stress of losing a home that I couldn't make payments on - this too was my own fault, as I had taken a mortgage out on the place to pay debts some years earlier. I came home one winter to find that part of the ceiling had collapsed and that the cold had allowed the mildew to take over the old place.

I'm sorry, let me sum up my points:

1.) I had declared bankruptcy so my credit was a mess.

2.) School was stressful, demanding, and unrewarding

3.) My job was stressful, low paying, and also really stressful.

4.) I was losing the house that my late Grandfather had entrusted to me, that I had never really appreciated until I had lost it. 

School portfolio review was coming up, and I didn't have anything to put into it. The new teacher they hired, Gabe, was just plain crazy as he wanted the game art students (who hadn't had any solid education in how to do anything) assemble a working 3D game in two weeks. I got a "D" in my low-poly modeling class because the teacher (Ruth Comely) decided to make it a high-poly modeling class, and spent all of half an hour explaining to us how to rig a skeleton to it. The horrifying thing was that at that point Ruth was teaching almost all of our classes and giving us Herculean homework assignments for each one, so she knew that we didn't have time - she just wanted to make our classes as hard as her master's degree classes were at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). She gave me the "D" as a favor - I couldn't figure out how to rig my model or do facial movements - when I should have gotten an "F." That's when I decided to leave school. I just couldn't compete anymore with all of the bullshit; I had come there to learn, but all they wanted to teach me was that I didn't know anything about it.

I left AIP in early '06. Almost a year later a collections agency contacted me and said that I owed them $7000, because AIP had charged me a little over $4000 but never bothered to tell me, and that they had tacked on collections fees and interest. I couldn't pay because I was making less than $20,000 a year at my new job, and most of that was used for paying rent, transportation, and utilities. I deferred those payments in a consolidation loan.

Why am I putting all of this in my blog? Well, a few weeks ago I received a call from Westwood College, wanting to know if I was interested in going back to school with them. I was skeptical, because I had such bad experiences with AIP and the correspondence school, but they talked me into applying, only to spring on me at the last minute that I needed someone to co-sign the loan. As per my parents telling me never to ask, I told them that it was an impossibility, and that I was sorry I had wasted their time. Last week I got a call from another recruiter for the same school, who told me that I didn't need to have a co-signer, and explained the options to me. I spent $100 for the application fee, only to be told by Westwood's financial services department that I needed a co-signer to get all of the funds that I would need. I restated for about the tenth time that there was no co-signer, and then they began suggesting "scholarships."  

An aside:

My view on scholarships is that they only benefit two types of people: 1.) Suburban rich kids who are so well off that they can spend time volunteering at various humanities and don't have to get a job by the time they're sixteen just to pay for a car that their father pressured them into buying. 2.) Rich or poor kids who are so ingenious that they probably don't need to go to college anyway. As I fit into neither category, I have never found a scholarship that I am eligible for.

At this point it was clear to me that I had been right all along in my assumptions that they were just pressuring me to sign up to fill some stupid quota, not setting me up to succeed, but hoping that they could drain me for tens of thousands of dollars before I failed. As part of the application fee was refundable, they only took me for $25.

I hate colleges, post-secondary schools, and trade schools. It is probably because I am so stupid that I can't grasp the tools that they insist that I use, but in my mind it is because of all of the hoops of bullshit that they make you jump through, making escaping them a financial mess. If I had it to do all over again, I'd tell AIP to shove it, and wait until I felt comfortable starting school; I wouldn't let them pressure me into starting something that I was unsure of right away, or let them change the rules on me at the last minute.

They've helped me to ruin my life more than I could ever do alone.

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