Production and Pedagogy

Teaching Game Development in the University Classroom

For several years now I have been interested in, and indeed troubled by, the power dynamics of the pedagogical relationship. Something about teaching as a profession, as the execution of a certain authority, feels like a betrayal of the very impetus of teaching itself, a betrayal of the dynamics of the classroom, of study, those same dynamics that swept me along into graduate studies and then into a teaching role, and that keep me coming back, semester after semester, year after year.1 I have stayed with this trouble, interrogating it periodically, but always find myself unable to resolve these feelings—apart from whatever statements of refusal I can muster.2 But as time wears on, it becomes ever more pressing that I arrive at such an elusive resolution, especially if I am to continue gleaning my food from the university’s halls. It is appropriate, then, with this ceaseless forward progress of the clock, that it is with time that I will begin.

To talk about pedagogy, we need to talk about its past, its present, and its future. I am not a historian, so I will leave the chronological consideration of these temporal factors to such an individual, and instead focus on time as a complete structure—an existential structure, we might say—a structure that we can understand as being formally constitutive of human beings in the given context of the educational institution.3 To be as clear as possible, the basic claim with which we begin is that we human beings exist in time, cannot escape from time, and so our projects (such as education) are necessarily temporal in their make-up.

Let us discuss the temporality of pedagogy. Firstly, the past of pedagogy is a past characterized by ignorance. As Jacques Rancière writes in The Emancipated Spectator, “the very logic of the pedagogical relationship … is to abolish the distance between [the teacher’s] knowledge and the ignorance of the ignoramus.”4 The student wallows in their ignorance, oblivious to their state, but the teacher has left his own ignorance behind, left it in the past. In this framework, to become a teacher is to gain the “knowledge of ignorance,” to be able to say to a student, you know nothing, and I will teach you what you do not know.5 There is a “distance separating knowledge from ignorance,” a distance that the teacher leverages in order to show the student how their ignorance is the very “opposite of knowledge,” a distance that functions by way of the “interminable practice of the ‘step ahead’” that separates the teacher “from the one whom he is supposed to train to join him,” that separates the teacher from his own ignorant past.6 This temporal move permits the teacher to distinguish “two intelligences: one that knows what ignorance consists in and one that does not.”7 The pedagogical relationship depends upon the institution of this “radical difference” between ignorant past and knowledgeable present.

Secondly, then, the present of pedagogy is concerned with the establishment of a position from which the authority of the teacher’s voice can emanate. As Michel de Certeau writes in The Practice of Everyday Life, to be a teacher is to convert one’s “competence into authority,” to “exchange” it and take on the title of “Expert.”8 As the newly minted expert consolidates his position, “he abandons the competence he possesses as his authority is extended further and further, drawn out of its orbit by social demands and/or political responsibilities.”9 The expert learns that his role as a teacher was never actually about teaching, but rather only about power, about institutional priorities and economic processes. If this stark revelation concerns the expert, he can speak of the solemn responsibility to train the leaders of the next generation, eliding the “abuse of knowledge” that created the “basis of the place” upon which he “pronounces” on this and other very important subjects.10 In constructing the radical difference between his own ignorant past and his present expertise, the expert “submit[s] himself to [an] initiatory practice,” a practice that provides him entry to a new “socioeconomic order.”11 The expert, with his knowledge of ignorance in hand, may speak “as an ordinary man, who can receive authority in exchange for knowledge, just as one receives a paycheck in exchange for work.”12 As ordinary as this exchange may seem, it is only the expert who is permitted to participate in this game of “economic powers and symbolic authorities,” because he has been initiated, and he is in on the secret—his present position depends on it.13

Thirdly and finally, the future of pedagogy is the absolute radicalization of the distance between ignorant student and knowledgeable professional. Pedagogy must always create distance from its past, must always be a step ahead, and so the position of the teacher, of the expert, cannot be allowed to remain, to dwell. To make another existential claim, this means that the future is the “primary meaning” of pedagogy.14 As Stefano Harney and Fred Moten write in The Undercommons, the “university needs teaching labor, despite itself, or as itself, self-identical with and thereby erased by it.”15 Pedagogy must fly toward the future to prevent being erased by its past. Because of the temporal constitution of the expert’s position, its concretion in the disavowal of the very past that authorizes the expert’s speech, teachers are forced to get “beyond” teaching if they hope to become experts, to become professionals.16 “If the stage persists, there is a social pathology in the university,” a pathology that threatens the powers and authorities of the institution, the powers and authorities that allow the university to continue initiating new professionals, always a step ahead with yet one more beyond for these professionals to reach.17 The pathology of teaching is a threat because it reveals that the past of pedagogy is always right there, the radical difference between knowledge and ignorance not so large as the institution requires. Before professionalism, before expertise, “there is the experience of being taught and of teaching”—indeed, it is “teaching that brings us in.”18 Power cannot abide such close contact with its subjects, because contact threatens erasure, the collapse of the symbolic order into tautology. The university needs teaching labour, is self-identical with this labour, but maintains its power in the annihilation of that which authorizes it, the teaching that must only be a phase.

Past, present, future—the temporality of pedagogy here presented figures as a seemingly inescapable horizon. But, as an unprofessional teacher, tasked with the formation of new game development professionals, I find myself in a strange and tenuous position. Our game production courses—beginning with a single semester in GAME 110 and GAME 290, and continuing into the upper level two semester courses GAME 390 and GAME 490—unite students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and ask them to make a game. Programmers and artists, designers and musicians, these students bring what knowledge they have to the studio, and the instructor is merely there to facilitate the process. Certainly, I can instruct students in the use of tools with which I have familiarity, or impart my opinions about what makes good game design and what does not, but in the last instance, I cannot hope to be an expert in all of the areas of specialty required by the project. I frequently find myself without answers, unable to provide solutions, required to collaborate with my students to achieve our goals. I am constantly caught up against my own limitations, and yet the outcomes of the course do not go unrealized. We make a game; my students graduate as professionals; the knowledge required to do so was there all along.

I do not believe that there is something metaphysically distinct that separates the game development classroom from any other classroom in the university. Rather, it is in game production that I discovered a point of inversion for my own pedagogical practice, a point of inversion for the entire existential structure of pedagogy here elaborated. Harney and Moten write of the “tribe of moles who will not come back from beyond,” the “self-incurred minority” that chooses not to overcome the supposed “pathology” of teaching, the “impractical,” the “naive,” and the “unprofessional.”19 The future these moles choose is about “not finishing oneself, not passing, not completing; it’s about allowing subjectivity to be unlawfully overcome by others, a radical passion and passivity such that one becomes unfit for subjection, because one does not possess the kind of agency that can hold the regulatory forces of subjecthood.”20 This is a profound upending of the futurity of pedagogy, because it refuses the “individualisation of research” in a prophetic “disclosure of the commons.”21 The past is here—that is how “prophetic organization” has always worked, that which “predicts its own organization,” that which was here the whole time.22

Where the expert exchanges their competence for authority, the game production classroom is marked by its “operations.”23 De Certeau writes about how authority always speaks from a position, from a “proper place,” but in the “ways of operating” of game development, we see that knowledge in action is organized “relative to situations,” never as an absolute locus of power.24 These operations take the form of “tricks”—try these key strokes, use this shortcut, download that application—the skillful means whereby one takes advantage of the “opportunities afforded by a particular occasion.”25 An operational trick is precisely not an ordered form of knowledge that can be imparted from expert to student; tricks are scrounged, gathered, and collected, constituting a “repertory with which users carry out operations of their own.”26 The “facts” of operation are in no way universal, but rather form a “lexicon of users’ practices.”27 Through operational tricks, students in the game development classroom “make do with what they have,” and in so doing learn things I could not have taught them.28 Like workers on the factory floor, students take what they find and make something of their own, “divert[ing] time” from the university into “products whose sole purpose is to signify [their] own capabilities through [their] work.”29 The game production classroom is entirely disinterested in the pedagogical gap between knowledge and ignorance. Production begins with a simple enunciation: here are the tools, here are the machines: now make something.

And so we return to the past of pedagogy, the past of ignorance, a past that now shows itself for the false construction that it is. As Rancière writes, “there is no ignoramus who does not already know a mass of things, who has not learnt them by herself, by listening and looking around her, by observation and repetition, by being mistaken and correcting her errors.”30 Pedagogy would declare that “such knowledge is merely an ignoramus’s knowledge,” but this is precisely how knowledge works in the actuality of its operations.31 A student in the production studio “advances by comparing what she discovers with what she already knows,” is “concerned solely with knowing more, with knowing what she did not yet know.”32 The only distance here “is not the gulf between her ignorance and the schoolmaster’s knowledge,” but rather the distance of the “path” from here to there. In game production we learn that “[e]verywhere there are starting points, intersections and junctions that enable us to learn something new.”33 A narrative designer learns scripting; an artist learns project management; a programmer learns level design; at every point, in every moment, there are students learning, exploring, and making do.

In The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Rancière puts forward the remarkable claim that “all intelligence is equal.”34 Drawing on the “intellectual adventure” of a peculiar French lecturer, Joseph Jacotot, who taught French to a group of Flemish speaking students without “explanation” or “explication,” indeed without any traditional “teaching” whatsoever, Rancière sets about overturning the “enforced stultification” that he considers to be the basic principle of education in this pedagogical mode.35 Rancière relays how Jacotot, in his experiment with non-teaching, had the revelation that it is the explicator “who constitutes the incapable as such,” and that the “pedagogical myth” of the existence of “an inferior intelligence and a superior one” was precisely that, a myth.36 When “two individuals … in the first moments of life” can be seen to have “absolutely the same intelligence,” doing “exactly the same things, with the same goal, with the same intention,” there is no such difference, no gap.37 For Rancière, “these two humans have equal intelligence.”38 So why is it that later, when these two individuals are observed again, they “are no longer doing the same things, are not obtaining the same results”?39 Rancière argues that it is a matter of attention—for the two individuals in question, as they grow, their “[c]ircumstances become diverse, and [they] develop[] [their] intellectual capacities as those circumstances demand.”40 The human being is “a will served by an intelligence,” and it is this will that determines a student’s success in a given subject.41 When education begins with the knowledge of ignorance, the first lesson that is taught is how to say “I can’t.”42 But if the “virtue of our intelligence is less in knowing than in doing,” less in explication than in exploration, if the focus of our educational practice shifts from pedagogy to production, the first lesson is altogether different.43

Rancière recounts another of Jacotot’s lessons, this time in drawing and painting, a lesson that I have found profoundly useful in my own instruction.

We begin by asking the student to talk about what he is going to represent—let’s say a drawing to copy. It would be dangerous to give the child explanations of the measures he must take before beginning his work. We know the reason for this: the risk that the child will sense in this, his inability. We will thus trust in the child’s will to imitate. But we are going to verify that will. A few days before putting a pencil in his hand, we will give him the drawing to look at, and we will ask him to talk about it. Perhaps he will only say a few things at first—for example, ‘The head is pretty.’ But we will repeat the exercise; we will show him the same head and ask him to look again and speak again, at the risk of repeating what he already said. Thus he will become more attentive, more aware of his ability and capable of imitating. We know the reason for this effect, something completely different from visual memorization and manual training. What the child has verified by this exercise is that painting is a language, that the drawing he has been asked to imitate speaks to him.44

This is the first lesson, and in it we “verify that all wanting to do is a wanting to say and that this wanting to say is addressed to any reasonable being.”45 Such instruction, such cultivation, is “not a matter of making great painters; it’s a matter of making the emancipated.”46 The knowledge of ignorance requires that the teacher say to the student, you know nothing, and I will teach you what you do not know; but in working for the intellectual emancipation of our students, we make “people capable of saying, ‘me too, I’m a painter,’ a statement that contains nothing in the way of pride, only the reasonable feeling of power that belongs to any reasonable being.”47 And here, we can substitute the terms for whatever discipline it is we are responsible for teaching. For myself, it is my singular goal that my students be able to leave my classroom at the end of the semester and say, me too, I’m a game developer, that they be able to look at the tools and machines before them and say, I can.


Stein, Eric. “Production and Pedagogy: Teaching Game Development in the University Classroom.” Presented at the TWU CREATE Conference, August 26, 2022. Mirrors: Academia, ResearchGate.


  1. Eric Stein, “Teaching for Food,” April 20, 2018,

  2. Eric Stein, “Teaching for Food, 2: Not to Be Called Rabbi,” May 29, 2020,

  3. There are significant problems with Heidegger that I have discussed elsewhere, but when we start talking about time, it’s hard not to reach for him. See Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2010), 364: “the being of this being [Dasein, which at this moment is the human being] is constituted by historicity.” Thinking of time structurally is also something unavoidably Heideggerian. Contrary to “vulgar” temporality, the “pure succession of nows,” existential temporality consists in its “ecstasies,” “the phenomena of future, having-been, and present” held together “in their equiprimordiality” as the structure that is the “‘outside of itself’ in and for itself.” See Being and Time, 314. 

  4. Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London, UK: Verso, 2021), 8. 

  5. Rancière, 9. 

  6. Rancière, 9. 

  7. Rancière, 9. 

  8. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven F. Rendall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 7. 

  9. De Certeau, 7. 

  10. De Certeau, 8. 

  11. De Certeau, 8. 

  12. De Certeau, 8. 

  13. De Certeau, 8. 

  14. Heidegger, Being and Time, 313. “The ‘before’ and the ‘ahead of’ indicate the future that first makes possible in general the fact that Dasein can be in such a way that it is concerned about its potentiality-of-being. The self-project grounded in the ‘for the sake of itself’ in the future is an essential quality of existentiality. Its primary meaning is the future.” 

  15. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe, UK: Minor Compositions, 2013), 27. 

  16. Harney and Moten, 28. 

  17. Harney and Moten, 27. 

  18. Harney and Moten, 27. 

  19. Harney and Moten, 28. 

  20. Harney and Moten, 28. 

  21. Harney and Moten, 28. 

  22. Harney and Moten, 28. 

  23. De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 21. 

  24. De Certeau, 30, 38, 21. 

  25. De Certeau, 26, 37. 

  26. De Certeau, 31. 

  27. De Certeau, 31. 

  28. De Certeau, 18. 

  29. De Certeau, 25. 

  30. Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, 8-9. 

  31. Rancière, 9. 

  32. Rancière, 9. 

  33. Rancière, 9. 

  34. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, trans. Kristin Ross (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 46. 

  35. Rancière, 3. 

  36. Rancière, 7. 

  37. Rancière, 50. 

  38. Rancière, 50. 

  39. Rancière, 50. 

  40. Rancière, 51. 

  41. Rancière, 52. 

  42. Rancière, 52. 

  43. Rancière, 65. 

  44. Rancière, 66. 

  45. Rancière, 66. 

  46. Rancière, 66-67. 

  47. Rancière, 67. 

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