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May 06, 2004

Comments

1.

Thanks for posting this, Greg. What a bittersweet story. I am struck by the recurring theme across the blog network this week of the difficulties faced by those in the ivory tower. It seems that Dr. Buckles' experience and subsequent decision to leave academia has touched a chord.

The joyous celebration of Ted's new tenured position at IU is simultaneously counterbalanced by a cautionary warning to grad students about the perils of the path from grad school to tenure Brad DeLong's blog."

Meanwhile, Torill Mortenson posts an incredibly poignant reaction to the Buckles story: "That dissertation was the first work I read on text-based games, and I sat down and plunged into the MUDs myself afterwards. I was sure she had to be a highly paid tenured professor at some fancy, progressive University by now. Why does it make me feel better that she isn't? Because it legitimises my own occasional academic overload. The only role models visible to me from this vantage point are the ones who finished their PhDs and went on to become powerwielding professors way above me in the hierarchy. Mary Ann Buckles shows me that it is possible to turn the back on all of it and do something else. Perhaps my secret shameful dream of being a nail designer isn't a sign of failure after all, just a sign that this is a rough field and if you feel battered it is because you ARE battered, not a trick of your (failing) mind."

I also remember Richard mentioning something at State of Play about the difficulties of being taken seriously when wanting to do game studies and thinking there must be many interesting stories and anecdotes behind that comment (not fishing for you to tell them here, Richard, just saying that for me it was one of many vivid memories I took away from that conference.)

I left a Ph.D. program 7 years ago out of sheer frustration that the current environment could not engage my growing interests in internet technology and culture. I experienced less actual malice than rampant cluelessness. When I wrote a paper about the reinscription of the body on the internet for a women's studies class I received the supportive but telling comment, "This seems fascinating but I have no idea what you're talking about." When I received a separate paper back from a professor who had placed big red marks through all the URLs cited in the bibliography because he thought they were typos (he'd never seen a URL before!) I knew it was time to go.

While I didn't have the patience to stick around, I'm glad folks like Ted, T.L., Richard, and Torrill did, perhaps paving the way for more grad students to remain in academia.

2.

Betsy Book>not fishing for you to tell them here, Richard, just saying that for me it was one of many vivid memories I took away from that conference

I just spent 25 minutes writing a reply to this, but I'd barely scratched the surface in what was turning into a major rant. I think maybe I'll have to write it up as an article sometime.

Here instead are some brief highlights of my experience:

- Being told that all games were not academically respectable except Chess and perhaps Go, and maybe Reversi/Othello, too.

- Being told by one of the Computing Department's three professors that I should change my research direction because games were of no more academic interest than word processors.

- When turning MUD1 commercial, having the university sign over all rights to it rather than take a share of our company because they didn't want their reputation damaged by association with a game.

- Giving a seminar about a multiple hierarchy object-oriented programming system and being asked in the Q&A at the end whether it had any practical applications or whether it was just for games.

- Being offered a teaching-only post in the Electronics Department because to get a research post I'd need to publish 4 journal papers a year to meet the minimum research criteria (and those 4 journals would be..?).

Games (and Virtual World) research is regarded as trying to be paid for your hobby. It's regarded as not serious. It's regarded in the same way that you might regard someone who told you they had an opera glove fetish - OK, well each to their own, it's a harmless pastime, but, er, can we change the subject?

Games research will always be treated in at best a patronising fashion. The one bright light that gives hope is the fact that computer games are big business. If computer games companies were to give bona fide academic researchers in the area research grants in order to pursue pure research on games (not on the take some established research discipline has on games) then there's a chance we could break the mould. A half million pound grant from SOE would get me a research post, "4 journal papers a year" or not.

Unfortunately, computer games companies have been dimissed by universities in the past and are highly skeptical about requests for funding. Why are computer games worthy of research now when they never were before? It wouldn't be that they make more money than the film industry, would it? "We were wrong, you are academically respectable, you have money" is not a convincing argument.

Will things improve? Yes, but I don't expect I'll be around to see the day when a major grant to a university for studying anything positive about computer games would be greeted in national newspapers as anything other than a waste of money.

Richard

3.

It really sucks to hear about the kinds of lousy experiences folks have had when it comes to trying to do net & game studies. I count my blessings that the soc dept at Brandeis, while being pretty clueless about it all at the time, was nonetheless filled with a group of interesting and encouraging scholars who let me find my way through it all. As I think a lot of net researchers found, at times it was tough no having many roadmaps etc but I wouldn't have traded it for anything (and being in Boston in the 90s definitely helped). Sort of like Betsy said though, I definitely hope those of us who made it through do everything we can to encourage and support innovative work. I just got done teaching a course on game culture and I have to say, why anyone would deny students the opportunity to research such fascinating stuff is beyond me. I think I've enjoyed hearing all the analysis and reflection that came out of that class as much as the students!

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