Personal statement - unusual topic


Hey everyone,

I am hoping to get some feedback about my SOI because I decided to talk about an unusual topic that I hold very dear to myself... it could be a risk that keeps me out of the app pool but talking with some of my TAs, it seems like I could showcase a passionate hobby of mine as well as potentially catch the interest of otherwise bored essay readers. I know that a lot of essays would be tailored specifically to each school, with their whole life plans laid out, etc., so I was a little hesitant about not doing that as well. I guess I decided to talk about how my hobby somewhat shaped my interest in design and architecture instead, but am still not sure if it's strong enough.

Anyone with any reactions to this (good or bad), please let me know so I can refine it for my final apps! I really appreciate your feedback here!



"One of my favorite pastimes is playing Roller Coaster Tycoon. This simple computer game allows players to build and manage their very own theme park complete with water rides, cartoony food stalls, and guests. Since its release, the game has evolved to be more akin to an isometric modeling program than a simple theme park simulation: the introduction of custom content allowed players to create increasingly complex architecture and landscapes. Although this has opened new doors for expressive parkmaking, the game’s restrictive nature continues to offer a fascinating creative challenge.
Recently I collaborated with two other talented parkmakers in an online competition hosted by New Element Designs, a RCT fan site. We won our round with a fantasy park with an unusual theme: set during turn of the century Paris, our park is the longing, nostalgic dreamland of an umbrella-maker under the threatening pressure of rapid industrialization. This fantasy park features soaring emporiums, Haussman-inspired architecture, umbrella chutes, and even flying parasols as coaster supports. In designing and planning the park, we were forced to find creative solutions in order to realize our ideas and concepts in a system of severe limitations and constraints. For example, a scenery block designed as a wooden brochure rack can create the illusion of ornamentation on the façade of a Belle-Epoque themed building. Crown molding corner pieces can simulate café tables if placed together to form a square, and even roller coaster track can be integrated into the architecture, dubbed by players as "trackitecture", to create curves and textures otherwise not possible due to the game's isometric graphics and strict grid system. Finding ways to work around these limitations honed my creative eye for composition, balance, and planning.
The imaginative process of constructing in the game has even informed my approach to making: my process and way of thinking developed in tandem with this game. The act of reappropriating objects so as to push the limits of what is possible in the system has bled over into my artwork and designs. I am intensely interested in the idea of a material crossing past its state of normalcy to a state of uniqueness. This became the driving force behind my sculpture work, which consists of testing the properties and limits of materials in small sculptural explorations. For example, tension has been a common thread throughout my work; in my investigation of vinyl with “Resistance”, I tried to further my understanding of this concept by delving into tension as an emotion, breaking out of the purely physical tension seen in my previous projects. Involving the ethical considerations of the audience through the perceived jeopardy of a live goldfish, I found an interesting intersection of material tension and emotional tension.
In fusing the conceptual with the substantial, I broke free of the normal conceptions of material limits, finding a new way of experiencing the predictable qualities of stretched vinyl. My exploration in architecture shows an attempt at expanding and melding this interest with spatial considerations as well, such as structure and human usage of space. The lessons that I am able to take away from something as trivial as a computer game shows my yearning to harness my creativity in everything I do. Seeking admission to ___________  in my aspirations of becoming an architect, I hope to reinforce my conceptual sensibilities while gaining the technical skills necessary to create inspiring spaces that question the norm."

Dec 16, 12 4:14 pm
ms. medici

This is a terrible idea. You sound like someone who is desperately trying to intellectually justify a tremendously childish use of his time.

Dec 16, 12 6:00 pm


I don't agree that a creative hobby is a childish use of time. Do you think people who play chess or crochet are wasting time as well? My TAs who are currently at GSAPP wrote their essays on similar topics, such as a sport or a hobby they enjoy and how that serves as an example of their design process, aesthetics, or what have you.

I'm glad you decided to share your view, albeit in a very harshly negative way.

Dec 16, 12 6:28 pm

I find it strange. Not sure if that hobby appeals to many other people.

Dec 16, 12 6:42 pm

I find it intriguing. I like how you describe your creative problem solving and work arounds to design these worlds with the program. Architecture is a form of creative problem solving, and this shows that you are capable of this

Dec 16, 12 7:52 pm

your first sentence made me laugh out loud---it's too ridiculous. your introduction is literally all about 'Roller Coaster Tycoon', instead of being personal. The rest of your essay is well-written, but i don't know... I would definitely rehash the introduction, making it more about you somehow and less about the game.

Dec 16, 12 8:24 pm

hey man, on second thought, i'm advising you to write your statement on something else. I think it is too risky a topic. The idea that playing a theme park video game has shaped you as a designer is not an idea that will endear you to most people on admissions committees. you're a good writer and i am sure you will develop something else.

Dec 16, 12 8:34 pm

in my opinion, i wouldn't use this (as is). Needs some modifying.  I agree with @jk3hl on the laugh out loud part. At first i laughed, and said "this is cheesy". Reading more i got the jist. Don't spend the whole time writing about tycoon. Rather, use tycoon with personal work experience, and how this will benefit the school. 

I feel like you need to show what you will be able to provide for the school. It looks like you write all about the game then add the school name in. I don't know if that will persuade the reviewer.

Also, i know its not ideal to write a SOI for each app, but link what you have (tycoon), to work experience, to specific program curriculum for each school. Use what you have now in conjunction with how this will make you the best candidate for the school. get more personal with the school. 

let me know if you have any questions. if you do re-write: post it up! 


Dec 16, 12 9:39 pm

Your SOI draft could be 100% true, and still be a bad idea (or not).  The point is that it's a risky move.  Someone on an admissions committee might well read this and want to pound on your door until you agree to enroll in their school.  The chances of that are small.

Another risk is on the flip side:  This generation's "playing video game X taught me design" is the last generation's "playing with Legos taught me design."  It probably appears in a large percentage of SOIs in one form or another.  Again, all of it may be true; but is it original, or creative?  Does it say something they really should know about you personally?  Or does it say this is the best I can come up with when telling you about myself?

There is no clear answer here.  But you need to play the odds, and calculate the risk.

Dec 16, 12 10:12 pm

P.S.  You could tell the same story (or a version of it) without putting the game at or near the center of it.

Dec 16, 12 10:16 pm

Thanks everyone for your feedback! I was not expecting this many responses!

I seems like the consensus here is to change the topic altogether. I can understand why; after all, I knew the risk of writing about this topic is that it could seem 'childish' and 'not serious'.

@JosephK my thought was that it doesn't matter if the hobby appeals to others, given that only a handful of people play RCT religiously as I do. It matters if the lessons learned from it gets through to the reader.

@mdler thanks, that was the idea I was trying to go for.

@jk3hl I agree there is a little too much about the game itself. I guess I felt the need to explain the game and its mechanics or else I can't really delve into how I learned from it. This was actually a secondary topic that I decided to flesh out because I found it interesting. My first topic was basically a boring admissions essay about how creativity has always been a part of my life and why I want to do architecture, etc. Felt really generic, which is why I went for this topic instead. I guess it does seem a bit too ridiculous though, huh? : /

@green_thinker Your suggestions are great, thanks for your ideas. I agree that it could use more custom tailoring for each school. That was one of my original hesitations as well. I did try to limit how much I talk about the game, mainly just enough for the reviewer to know what I'm discussing; the rest of the essay is about what I took away from it and how it applies to my artwork.

@citizen completely right. I only thought it would be unique because all of the admissions essays I've been looking at has the same formula: "I've wanted to do architecture since I was a kid, I love creating things, I will be a perfect fit for your program, blah blah blah...". It brought back undergrad admissions nightmares about boring essays and 'trying to stand out'. I will definitely look back and try to put the game as an example instead of the full topic...

@disro yup, love that one. people give gaming too much flack for no reason. ;)

Thanks everyone for your feedback. It is really helpful to hear what this community has to say and I will definitely revise the essay.

Oh and lastly, I just wanted to point out how insulted I felt by jibjab's insolent comment. It offered nothing constructive while insulting both me and my passionate hobby by calling me "desperate" and calling it "a tremendously childish use of time". Thanks for your "help", buddy.

Dec 17, 12 1:33 am

I personally like it and I think people should always take risks. How well the letter is received may depend on the type of school you are applying to. I believe MIT may like this kind of stuff.

Dec 17, 12 7:12 am

Outside of the rather cheesy first couple sentences, I actually like it. I disagree that it's today's version of 'I was inspired by Lego' only because you actually go on to describe how you plan to take what you've learned into your interests. If you can somehow change the story around so that you focus more on what you are interested in (adaptive reuse, let's call it) and pare off the straight-analogy of RCT to the bare minimum I think you would have a pretty damn strong statement. You make reference to how this has influenced your work, I really like that.

Good luck!

Dec 17, 12 7:18 am

On balance I think its ok - but  if I was reading this, I would be looking for the work to be consequential - gaming has no consequence and barely rates as a hobby. Most people reviewing this would not read past the first 2 lines and put it in the bin.

I like talking about constraints and limitations but would talk generically about gaming environments and its restrictions as a tool for creative self-expression.

I have seen gaming being discussed seriously in architecture and academia, but only in the context of developing or modifying existing software platforms for architectural (consequential) ends.

Dec 18, 12 5:56 pm

Oh and lastly, I just wanted to point out how insulted I felt by jibjab's insolent comment. It offered nothing constructive while insulting both me and my passionate hobby by calling me "desperate" and calling it "a tremendously childish use of time".

welcome to architecture school, dude

Dec 18, 12 6:24 pm
Jono Lee

+1 up on what FRaC said!

I'm applying for this Fall 2013, but I will definitely rip people where it's due... I'm expecting people to do the same for me.

Dec 18, 12 7:41 pm

i thought it would be interesting but lost interest fairly quickly.  it isn't as bold a statement as i was expecting after the buildup, and yeah a bit lego of the next gen sort of vibe going on.  you might try starting with the important [bridge to the future and society] points first and wrap them around the hobby rather than the other way around.

you will def need to get used to harsh criticism and learn to separate yourself from what you make.  people are going to say much worse and with less tact than on here.  it doesn't get any better in real world. 

Dec 18, 12 8:49 pm

thanks for the responses!

@fobmasta I'm glad you liked it, we are in the minority though.

@Stephanie Braconnier Thanks for the encouragement!

@dia I agree, I think I may take the gaming as a single example in a larger statement about object reappropriation. I don't think I was trying to bring gaming into architecture though, I was merely trying to use gaming to show one side of my development as a designer/architect.

@FRaC @Johnathan Lee  I've had architecture studios before, and yes, I've also had harsh criticism thrown my way before. However, if I disagree with it, I will defend myself. You can't criticize without backing yourself up. When a critic censures your work during a critique, he/she has good reasoning for it, and a good critic would explain/support their dislike for something. Jibjab offered nothing constructive and was pretty much attacking me rather than what I wrote. I disagreed with his points anyway. To me, if you get therapeutic benefits from a hobby, or if it is a creative outlet, etc., then it isn't a waste of time. And since my hobby acts as this for me, I laugh at his statement that it is a "tremendously childish use of time". I also don't sense the tone of desperation he calls me out on.

@willgalloway I agree, thanks for the feedback. I think it's good to put the "what I am interested in" first and use the game as an example of that.

Dec 18, 12 9:59 pm

by constructive criticism you mean a mile of archi-jibber jabber to go with the commentary?  be glad it was straight and to the point ;-)  tactless but easy to decipher.  i'd take it as a sign of what many will think and try to get around the issue (which is real) in creative way.  i have read a few letters that say the same thing but with sim city.  also a few articles and projects.  it isn't so fresh an idea as you might be thinking...although it could be if you can work the angle in a cool way.

anyway,  playing the understood and persecuted architect is not a good place to stand in this business.  much better to literally not give a shit, or else to take it as legitimate even if you think it sucks.

Dec 18, 12 10:51 pm
On the fence

My 9 year old son plays this game.  He is very good at it.  He also plays mine craft.

Hope it never ends up on his resume.

Dec 19, 12 2:18 pm

you could build the taj mahal in minecraft.  or the death star if you were so inclined.  i think that one would be more along the lines of showing the sort of creative process involved in architecture (same as lego), especially from a studio professor's perspective.  you can show pictures of your design too.  I'm not familiar with rollercoaster tycoon, but at first blush it does not sound like the sort of world-building skill-set a studio professor would be interested in.  sim city is also not an architect skill.  the constraints/mechanics don't even make it relevant to urban planning, except to show you have a passing interest when it's fun.

if you could say 'i designed a building and even kind of took into consideration structural and mechanical systems' with your rollercoaster tycoon model, i would lean towards explaining that and show pictures.  your explanation seems very broad and stylistic, which would mostly just appeal to those who like french city planning and cafe tables.  i'm not on a review committee for these things, but i suspect including the term "crown molding" could disqualify you from at least a couple schools. 

if your interest is in rollercoasters or being a tycoon, those are different fields.

Dec 19, 12 2:53 pm

@will galloway no, why does constructive criticism have to equate bullshit? I find it strange that architects don't understand the benefit of defending a viewpoint, which is basically all we know how to do in a critique!

You're also not getting the point, which is one of the reasons why I was hesitant to use this topic in the first place: the idea of finding creative solutions to realize an idea in the game because of the restrictions that are in place is what I'm trying to push. This is not something you can do in SimCity, which is more of an urban planning simulation. In RCT you have building blocks that you must use to construct everything in the game. When you don't have the right type of block to make what you want, you get creative and combine other blocks together instead, or even use roller coaster track to get your point across. That is what I'm trying to show, that I have this ability to make the most of what is given and apply what's at hand in unique and creative ways.

@on the fence I don't think you know what 'good RCT' is. A 9 year old isn't capable of creating the same amount of detail/complexity in RCT as you would like to believe, but I don't blame you for being ignorant, since RCT is such a niche game nowadays. I also do not have my RCT work on my resumé, nice try at being clever.

@curtkram So the problem here could be that RCT takes too long to explain in a 500 word essay, and I don't want half of my word count spent trying to explain how the game's mechanisms work. You can build the taj mahal in RCT as well, and probably a BETTER version than you'll ever be able to make in minecraft. It's obvious that many people are not familiar with RCT and that's why it's seen as 'ridiculous', because everyone sees it as a game reserved for 12 year olds with nothing better to do, when in fact it's just as creatively challenging as minecraft, which apparently a lot of people consider "more advanced" and "serious" (not in my opinion, obviously).

Just for your browsing pleasure, if you are interested; this is my project that I described in the SOI:

Dec 20, 12 9:05 pm

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