Category Archives: School
A bit late, but I successfully defended my PhD dissertation on June 29th! Although it has only been two weeks, it seems like eons ago already. The defense went well, it was a great mix of rigorous exchanges and academic camaraderie. It lasted just over 3 hours and I passed with excellence. A few minor tweaks (the dreaded typo of course!) and it will be submitted to the archives to sit on the digital shelf among the work of my peers. Although many people had said that when I was done, I would not remember much and that I would just want to take a break for a bit, I found myself excitedly recounting every detail for those who could not attend. So many suggestions and directions came out of the defense that all I wanted to do when I got home (besides having celebratory drinks) was to etch out some notes and get to work on the next phase.
Of course, I am not even sure what that really is at the moment, but for now, I am happily working with/for Dr. Mia Consalvo on great research on Facebook games and families, I am reading some work written by a new colleague I am planning to collaborate with in the future, and I am hoping to push beyond my comfort zone and take my research into new directions as suggested during my defense as I work on a post-doc application for the fall (government sponsored post-docs are due in October so best I get started, and find an institution and/or supervisor!). I am also working on some entries for a Video Game Companion (edited by Mark Wolf), and have dreams of reshaping my dissertation into a proper book. It has only been two weeks since the defense, but I have already started on some significant edits thanks to a meeting of great minds in Switzerland last week. Overall, while I don’t have a tenure track job lined up, I have a pretty good to-do list to keep me working happily through the summer as I work on my c.v. and keep my eye on the job market this fall.
All in all, I cannot complain. After 10 years leveling up, I finally made it to the end game, and lucky for me, the expansions keep coming!
It has been just shy of 5 years since I began my PhD, and it’s been almost 8 years since I have been working on understanding that weird ‘something’ that I felt between myself as a player and Velixious, my avatar from way back when. Over the years, the research has shifted from a quest for personal understanding to exploring how others felt about their avatars, shifting notions of identity, and finding ways to deconstruct videogame play to understand if, when, and how what I have come to term as ‘hybrid-identity’ occurred.
And now the time has come to lay it all out on the line and defend my work:
Between Play and Design: The emergence of hybrid-identity in single-player videogames
June 29, 2012
9 :30 – 13 :30
This dissertation examines the complex nature of identity in single-player videogames. It introduces the concept of hybrid-identity and proposes an analytical framework to deconstruct gameplay across genres to distinguish moments of identity emergence. Hybrid-identity is a fluid, at times fleeting form of identity that exists between the player and the player-character which is developed during the networked process of videogame play. It necessarily includes the player (experience, play-context, etc.), the game environment (design, mechanics, etc.), and the mediating technology (computer, console, etc.) that facilitates gameplay.
In order to delineate the different aspects of gameplay that contribute to the potential emergence of different types of identity, a multifaceted framework was devised to isolate specific interactions between the player/player-character, player-character/non-playing character, player/game environment, player-character/game environment, and player/player. This framework was coupled with a secondary frame of analysis which included the examination of the specificities of the individual player and the mediating technologies that facilitated gameplay. A systematic analysis of gameplay and design elements of three different games; Mirror’s Edge (DICE, 2008), Alone in the Dark (Eden Games, 2008), and Fable 2 (Lionhead Studios, 2008) was performed to illustrate the varying degrees of identity emergence in different game structures.
For more details on location etc., please contact me via email.
A (very) brief update today, but I’ve (finally) come up with a title and wrote the formal abstract for my dissertation. After hundreds of pages of writing, one would think that the abstract would not be as challenging as it was. If interested, you can find it here.
I feel a very strange mix of pride and fear as I put this out there. For so many years, I have only talked about my work, while publicly presenting my secondary research interests. In some ways, keeping my primary research close to my chest has kept it safe in my head, but there comes a time when I have to just put it out there, hold my head up and be proud of what I have been working on over the last few years.
I cannot believe that the last time I posted was in July. It has been a busy summer filled with mostly personal challenges. My oldest daughter went away to university in Halifax, N.S. – a good 13 hour drive from home… We dropped her off last Saturday. As we helped her settle into her dorm room, met her roommate, and meandered around the quaint University of King’s College campus, I was reminded how much enthusiasm and energy can come from being on campus with a new group of eager undergraduates. Just being on campus reminded my how much I love what I do. It really reminded me that I am privileged to get to do what I love, no matter how much of a toil it may seem.
With that rejuvenated purpose, I am happy to be working again as a research assistant for the next few months, as I finish my dissertation (crossing fingers for a December deadline), and applying for post-doc funding, it looks like it is going to be a very busy semester. And quite honestly, there is no better way for me!
Trying to get this dissertation all out of my head and onto paper. It is taking longer than I had anticipated – I guess you really don’t know what writing a dissertation means until you are … well … writing one. I thought the experience of writing an Honour’s and Master’s thesis would have somewhat prepared me for this process – I thought working on original research re: conference papers would have been a hint – but there really is nothing quite like creating original research on this magnitude (re: page length + cohesiveness + flow = really hard task!).
So with that said – as much as I hate neglecting this blog – and as much as I really wanted to share the writing experience, and flesh out what I was working on here – I realize that I have to save my brain power for the dissertation.
I remember when I first started university, most people did not have a personal computer, institutional emails were newly assigned in my second semester, but I rarely had the time to go to the computer lab on campus to use it (and realistically, I only knew a handful of other people who used email at that time). My assignments were allowed to be handwritten (as long as it was legible) and professors preferred that students invest in a typewriter to submit ‘clean’ copies. I remember when I could afford a typewriter with a small screen that allowed me to type up to a certain amount of characters before it ‘printed’ onto the paper, which saved me a bit of paper since I could delete as I wrote. It still wasn’t perfect. While I did have an erase function (basically, liquid paper reservoir of sorts that hid the impressed ink), I remember having to throw out entire pages due to some formatting or structural error. So much paper (and ink cartridges) wasted (even if I did have pages and pages of handwritten drafts!).
As I am sitting here today, 17 years later, I realize that I really miss my mounds of yellow legal pads that had paragraphs, notes, brilliant sentences (or so I thought at the time) all organized into manila folders for reference as I tried to piece together my assigned paper. While a lot ‘cleaner’, the folders that are obsessively organized on my laptop are hidden, out of view – and more often than not – out of mind. So many times I have written a paragraph, realized that only half of it fits, so I cut and paste the rest of the phrase onto a new word doc to be saved and filed for later. Trouble is, lately it seems, that I can never seem to find that document with the one phrase on it, or I deleted it thinking it wasn’t useful only to be saddened by the fact that it’s gone when, two weeks later, I find the perfect spot for it…
The idea of digital drafts is a great one – easily manipulatable, cut and paste has revolutionalized the way I write papers, but I find myself losing the bits and pieces and having to start fresh again (adding to the hidden mountain of work). When I really want to know if a chapter works, I still need to print it out, and read it semi-aloud in order to ‘hear’ the flaws in the flow, grammar or structure. I still need to print off umpteen amounts of pages to see if what I am working on “works” – which has got me thinking as to whether or not I should simply print each stray phrase and paragraph and file them in a physical folder on my desk – while I might not save time in having to retype the words, it would surely balance the time lost looking through all my files and folders on my computer.
I am full force into the writing stage of my PhD – I am aiming for a March deadline for a full draft. My first bit of feedback was not quite what I was expecting, but I must remember that this writing thing is a two way street. One’s expectations might not quite match to that of the institution’s (or those who represent the institution). But that is hardly the real problem in all of this solitary writing experience. The real problem – at least for me – is that the more time I sit alone with my research – my notes and outlines, drafts and screenshots – is that I sometimes lose my point or start to doubt my purpose.
I used to be so driven and excited - I was out to prove something – to express what was trapped inside my head. These days, I feel like the words that propelled my writing have all but escaped me. My passion to demonstrate – to prove my point – has escaped me as well. I am sure it is just a phase. Surely a phase that many people go through while writing such a large document… I just need to find my way back to that passion that leads to the words flowing out of my fingertips onto the page so that I can have something to edit – to polish and make pretty.
On that note – I will open my the chapter in progress that has been haunting me for the last month and hope the sun shining through my office window will help illuminate my mind and get this done so I can move on to the fun bits (game analysis!!)
As I am working through the writing part of my dissertation (as opposed to the reading, note taking and game playing), I am finding it hard to stay on task. I have always been a last minute drama-panic type of writer, and up until this point, it has always worked for me (managed to get my MA done that way…). As I have been gearing up for writing, I realize that the “last minute” style might not work on a document of this magnitude (in depth and length), and have been trying (that is the operative word in all of this) to get a little bit done every day. However, I find myself writing a lot less that I would normally, and seem to be spending an unbalanced amount of time editing and tweaking the little bits I have done instead of working on the bulk of the writing.
Every time I sit down to write, I find myself facing a wall of mental block. Not that I don’t know what I am supposed to be writing, what I have been planning on writing, but every sentence I type, I tend to cut and paste into a “save for later” document, which always ends up getting deleted within a few hours… I know that I have something to say – something worth saying… but when I have in-depth conversations with people about my work, and they start asking me questions that I cannot answer, instead of being inspired to break through, I get discouraged and stare at my document in-progress. I have been actively working on the same research question (in various degrees of depth and scope) since 2004 – I love my research and feel that if it comes together, can be a valuable contribution (something I’m told grad students tell themselves to get them through the painful writing process), but I am hitting a wall where I am afraid what I am writing is bad. That it’s all be said before, or worse, it hasn’t been said yet, but nobody cares. That I am using the wrong references, quoting the wrong people and getting the little things wrong. I know this is all part of the stress and anxiety of writing your dissertation, but I find it debilitating, and quite honestly, I have not left myself that much time to get lost in the mud.
I have spent the last 2 weeks working on something that should have been done in one (based on my perception of my own abilities). Some days I think it’s fabulous and polished, other days I just want to hit delete on the whole thing. Why is knowing that this is ‘normal’ and ‘part of the process’ not helping me break through and just ‘get’er done’!?
On that note, I will alt-tab back to my open document that has been sitting there patiently, waiting for more pages to join them, and get back to writing either a masterpiece or an intellectual train wreck.
I am working on the ‘lit review’ (and definitions) section of my dissertation this week, and it has been an interesting challenge so far. I come from Sociology, where a proper literature review – reviewing what has been written on a particular topic – usually framing the field or the range of perspectives before adding your own – is a formal process with a relatively homogeneous structure across the field.
In this case, for my dissertation, it is a bit different. I am in a field that does not require a lit review (or methods section for that matter!), but I cannot justify writing on a topic that has such an extensive background. It is also important for my readers to know where I am coming from, what I know about what I am writing about, and acknowledging the history of a topic. As it stands, seeing as I am not ‘required’ to include a literature review as defined by a social science structure, I have made a few decisions about its purpose within the context of my dissertation in my department. To be fair, the inspiration came from this book on dissertation writing. While some may have accused me of procrastination while reading it, it has helped me see the structure of my dissertation – and I don’t just mean chapter breakdown or anything – it really busts out what each bit of your diss should be accomplishing. In talking about the literature review, Dunleavy talks about good and bad lit reviews – the cumbersome review that includes everything under the sun ever written, and the good (read: functional) review that develops the literature in a ‘need to know’ structure for the reader. Since I am using a lot of literature from outside Film Studies, it is important for my committee to understand the ideas that frame my work (so that I can prove that the work I am doing is innovative in respect to what has been done already).
So, I spent the last four days hammering out my lit review, more unconsciously than I realized. I decided to roll my “definitions” bit into the same chapter, so the reader will know within which context I am talking about certain terms. So, I categorized my literature by ‘term’ in order of relevance to the content of my work. Starting with Identity (obviously), I realized I wrote a pretty classic lit review almost by second nature (I have written a few on identity in my academic career….). When it was all done, I broke it up into sections of what it is I want the reader to know about identity and its construction process – within a historical context. Instead of writing a full overview of the lit and situating my work within it, I am using it more as a definitional construct. What is it about identity construction that my reader needs to know so that they understand what it is I am proposing when I am talking about ‘hybrid identity’ construction in video game play? What are the key pieces of work that will demonstrate how thinking about identity construction has changed over the decades (centuries). Once decided, I was able to re-edit the literature to act more as a demonstration than a framing…. make sense?
While it might sound the same, the process (and outcome) is a bit different than what I am used to. It is hard to go against my trained nature of what a research paper (diss) looks like, what parts are necessary, and what are complementary – it is nice to finally be at this stage of my writing – that’s for sure!
Picked up Borderlands last night. A little late to the party of course, but at least we showed up! So, we pop it in, waiting for the ‘intro’ .. waiting … waiting… and then I pipe up with a “are we going to hear the story?” – and no sooner than those words were out of my mouth, did the narrator kick in with “so, it’s a story you want eh?” (not sure about the eh, but I am Canadian, it’s how I remember things). The contextual intro was very brief, and in sketches. Different. One of the things that lured me to the game is the animation of it – I really enjoy games that go for something other than the “let’s look as real as possible” thing.
Anyways – after a very brief context setting, no rest for the wicked plays in the background (really like the song, so it was a nice bonus) – in comes the bus of reject warriors. I really like the way they introduce the characters – an animated select screen of sorts – again, different. I like it. When the gameplay gets going (and to be fair, I am talking about the first 30 minutes here) the one thing that I find really jarring – and really not liking – is the ‘guardian angel’ that guides you, much in the same way as Mercury’s radio voice in Mirror’s Edge.
The guardian angel is not animated in the same style. She looks like she was plucked out of another game. When I first saw her face, I thought of Fatal Frame for some reason (could be ‘static’ they have over her voice).
But I found it really jarring that the animation was different; like they were actually trying to connect with the player and not the character through the aesthetic. I don’t know – maybe there is a reason she looks different (made me think of an article I recently read for my CGSA presentation actually on different animation within the same piece to denote documentary ideas in a fictional context…. but I won’t get into that here).
Giving the work I am doing at the moment (as described plenty below), I think this might be a worthy example to draw on…