Thinking: The Hidden Work

As I sit here, trying to work through yet another draft of my PhD Proposal, I have been struck with a sense of guilt that I hadn’t “done” anything all day. But when I stop and take a minute to think about what I have been doing, I realize that I haven’t done “nothing”, but that I have spent most of my day “thinking”. There is just very little outward signs to show that this is what I have been doing. Nothing scribbled down, nothing to “show” for the last 4 hours of sitting here with my cup of coffee – looking out the window at the dreary gray damp sky. No “product”. But somehow, after spending the last 4 hours doing seemingly nothing, I come out refreshed, and ready to work. Addition by subtraction is the motto today – I just deleted a portion of my proposal that has been bugging me (it felt forced and out of place). After cutting and pasting, renaming and filing in a separate “bits & pieces” folder for safe keeping, I feel that I have accomplished something big. But to the outside world … not so much. From this little choice, I am opened up again, to another blank slate of possibilities. It feels better – even if there is nothing actually on that page at the moment.

My partner is not in academia. He works long hours working on airplanes. His work is very manual intensive – with an end product in mind, and progress is visible every step of the way. We have had long talks (and even arguments) about the ‘work’ that I do. While he does not wish to ever trade places with me, as he knows that what I do is challenging in its own right, he has a hard time grasping the fact that by the time I am writing – actively producing a written product – most of my “work” has been done. He has a hard time understanding that sometimes, when I am sitting on the balcony with coffee/wine/beer in hand (depending on the weather and time of day) and seemingly staring into nothingness (which is hard to do when you live in a lego kinda world,  surrounded by apartment buildings and 50 other balconies overlooking the same alleyway), I am actually doing the hardest part of my work – the thinking part. The part where you talk to yourself in your head, contemplating paths of inquiry, potential literature to support or tear down your ideas, possible methods and case studies…this is the part – for me – where it all comes together. By the time I am at my desk, I am ‘ready’ to write. Not as much “thinking” as going through the process at this point. Admittedly, this thinking process doesn’t always pan out – especially when I am working with an imposed framework and timeline (comprehensive exams, funding reports, conference deadlines, etc.). You can’t rush the thinking – it is just something you have to work through (at least for me).

That being said – I guess it’s time to put some of those thoughts on paper – to materialize some of these ideas, and to validate the hours of ‘thinking’.

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The Path

I have never been much of a player of horror video games, but thanks to a good friend of mine, I have found one that I absolutely adore, and can’t quite seem to get enough of. The Path is

… a short horror game inspired by older versions of Little Red Ridinghood, set in modern day. The Path offers an atmospheric experience of exploration, discovery and introspection through a unique form of gameplay, designed to immerse you deeply into its dark themes. Every interaction in the game expresses an aspect of the narrative. The six protagonists each have their own age and personality and allow the player to live through the tale in different ways. Most of the story, however, relies on your active imagination.

The Path is designed with accessibility in mind. There are no ticking clocks or monsters to defeat. No hard puzzles will ever halt your progress. Most activities in the game are entirely optional and voluntary. The player has all the freedom in the world to explore and experience. The Path is a Slow Game

Six sisters live in an apartment in the city. One by one their mother sends them on an errand to their grandmother, who is sick and bedridden. The teenagers are instructed to go to grandmother’s house deep in the forest and, by all means, to stay on the path! Wolves are hiding in the woods, just waiting for little girls to stray.

But young women are not exactly known for their obedience, are they? Will they be able to resist the tempations of the forest? Will they stay clear of danger? Can they prevent the ancient tale from being retold?

Developed by TALE OF TALES
Designed and directed by Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn

Music by Jarboe

While the website touts a “little red ridinghood meets emily strange, I find it kind of has a Fatal Frame feel to it. The graphics are rich and eerily inviting. Even though at the beginning, it says to go to grandma’s house and stay on the path, the forest looks so inviting, I have yet to actually walk the path the entire way! While the pace is slow – the run function alters your perspective to a point where you can no longer see where you are going … and eerily increases the pounding of your character’s heartbeat … the screen becomes darker and bloodspots appear… making walking the optimal choice, and really, why run when the game is so visually stunning, and there are many things to find hidden in the forest.

The price is right ($9.99), payable through paypal (gotta like simplicity) and even though they call it a “short horror game” , with 6 different characters to select, and a vast forest to explore, the replayability of this game is undeniable.

Plagiarism and Patents

Throughout my academic career, the question of plagiarism has always been at the forefront of my mind. Many conversations have been had over the years about what constitutes an “original” idea, and what ideas are merely a result of some form of intellectual ‘mash-up’ of books read, stories heard and other intellectual conversations. It has been argued that there isn’t really any “new” ideas out there anymore, with the bombardment of media forms (etc) we are filled with external information from the get-go. When writing papers for my undergrad, a colleague and I used to discuss to what extent our paper was at all orignal (since the primary form of paper writing at that stage is synthesis writing …). Even now, my ideas are a combination of what I have read, what I have thought about and what I believe in (all influenced by some ‘external’ source or another at some point).

So, as an academic we learn the boundaries of (and ways to reference) original thought, quoted material, and speaking/writing generally about ideas that have been previously written about by multiple authors (even if their ideas are contradictory, as long as the ‘topic’ has been discussed).

All this to say – I don’t quite understand how patenting works. How can one person say they thought of something independently of everything else, and they, therefore, own it, and all of the profits that can possibly come from it? The general idea of a virtual world is of no exception. It is a vague concept – that can embody MANY types of online spaces – yet, after reading this article, I am amazed that this is even legal at all. I mean, I might have come to learn about identity through the works of many theorists, but I don’t think anyone can patent the general idea of “identity” and profit when anyone else uses the word…at least I hope not.

“Insert Catchy Title Here” or “What I have been up to lately”

I didn’t realize that I hadn’t posted anything in the last three weeks! I suppose it is a combination of not having much to say, and laziness (who doesn’t get stuck in the end of winter rut?). Things are starting to look up – with more sunny days and less looming snow days. I am still working on my proposal for my comprehensive exam. A bit off track, but, as I am told by some, a little to be expected. I have been so steadfast in my studies since 2002. Charging through my BA and MA, and my PhD coursework – I have been having some troubles retuning my mindset to focus solely on my work – a luxury I whined for for years, but alas, its the “be careful what you wish for” syndrom. I have always known that I needed a full plate to be productive, and I guess the last few months only proved my point.

I am working on a paper for the Canadian Game Studies Association’s annual conference (to be held May 23-24 in Ottawa, ON) with my colleague (and friend) Shanly Dixon. A look at performance, creativity, and social video game play. It is shaping up nicely. I am also working on my submission for DiGRA – trying to work on something that is directly in line with my ‘topic’. I have been struggling between submitting a full paper for presentation – or submitting to the graduate mentoring session. Either way, I know I want to stay within my realm of current research.

I just finished doing some editing work for an collection of essays (more details to come, as permitted). It was one of the most challenging experiences I have faced in a long time. Besides the time constraints that I worked within, finding the balance between hard and fast grammar rules and stylistic choices; proper sentence stuctures and author’s voice; what I (as an individual person – subjectively of course) finds to be a “good” paper while reading outside of my area of expertise. Flow and clarity; spelling and grammar… punctuation and style guides … OOUF! It was an experience indeed. But one that I think can only help me with my own writing.

Finally, I took on a small (temporary and very part time) job at Electronic Arts here in Montreal. I finally found a use for all my research methods training (outside of my own research). I am working as a play-test moderator. Since most of my academic work is done at home, I enjoy the chance to get out and meet new people every session, and the opportunity to hone my observation skills (something that is always key in ethnographic work). Not to mention the feeling of just being a part of a/the process. I have always enjoyed feeling like a cog in the overall machine. Even when I worked as a chamber maid at the Ritz Carlton so many years ago – I always thought that what I did was important to the guests’ overall experience.. that without my job, there would be a hole that needed filling. I liked that feeling. It is something I don’t often feel in academia.

The nice thing about the EA position, is that it is not overbearing on my time and energy, yet inspires me to get on with the work that I am doing. Another thing on my plate to keep me motivated =)