GameStudies: Research Overview

October 3, 2020 garrison ims211, game studies 15 minutes, 59 seconds

From our conversation on Thursday, 2 October


Overview

Why a Collaborative Research Project on the State of Game Studies?

Today, we want to begin mapping the approach we'll take during the second half of the semester as we work on the final research project: A collaborative, collective effort to assess the state of game studies at major universities in the United States. Based on my work, this is a question that hasn't been asked -- at least, not publicly, and not on this scale, in at least 10 years. Game Studies and its attendent scholarship are all dynamic enough that it is important to pose the question again and again every couple of years: What is Game Studies?

Several of you in this course are IMS or Emerging Technologies of Business and Design majors, others are Games and Simulation majors; still others come to the class from across campus. Some of you may plan on leaving college with a job lined up somewhere in the games industry proper, but it is more likely most of you will be looking elsewhere, in related fields. In any case, it is highly likely that your perspective employer will look at your major -- no matter what it was -- and ask what it was about, and how and why it makes you different from everyone else in line. This is a good place to think about your major: Maybe from the perspective of its relation to developments in tech fields; to new research formulations; to popular entertainment.

Where to begin?

There is a lot of data in the world, it turns out. Lots more, in fact, since I wrote that last sentence. This is a large-scale research project -- the kind that is often part of the classwork of graduate students. But game studies is especially interesting (at this point, at least) as an undergraduate major and area of study. That's why you're part of the project: Because "game studies" chiefly involves undergraduate programs, undergraduate education, and undergraduate populations, you are uniquely qualified to help me make sense of what is happening in the field.

In effect, we want to ask the question: "What are the best, or most interesting, or most successful Games programs in the country? Internationally?"

Those are good, basic questions to start asking: We're going to need to be about the business of collecting hard data, though: The work that comes out of our effort here will rely primarily on not only your first-person experience tracking down information and looking for interesting questions to ask, but also the hard numbers and documents you bring back from your research sessions.

How will this work change?

"Doing research" on the level of a major research institution like Miami means working collaboratively, imaginatively, and with a sense of engagement. Every Tuesday, when we come together, we'll sift through the research we've got "live" and talk about the things we're seeing, the things we're missing, and where we need to go next. There is no pre-defined path (otherwise, no one would need to do the research in the first place).

At some point, it is likely that we'll have to address or think about issues like these:

  1. What kinds of students attend the best games programs? Are they among the best students at that school? Somewhere in the middle? Do students attend those programs hoping to get a job in that field in particular? How many actually get jobs in the Games industry?

  2. What do the curricula at games programs look like? Here, there's a very loose 3-part foundation, and then the program splits into 3 parts: Game Art, Coding for Games, and Game Studies. Then programming is taken care of by Computer Science, and the other two tracks split there time in a couple different departments. That's not uncommon elsewhere, and tends to make things really flexible. But how are other universities doing things?

  3. Other kinds of engagement: Do games departments do work with other departments on campus, e.g., other majors (Games and Journalism; or games and psychology for example). How does eSports factor into games programs' role on campus?

  4. Research and more: What does the research output of these programs look like? How much grant money does the department pull in annually? Is the program associated with a cutting edge design lab, a major games publisher, or important civic organizations?

The Objective Fallacy

Research is typically best when it is conducted not objectively, and dispassionately, but when you care about it. It is true: Some people love doing research no matter what the topic. But for the most part, the more we identify with the questions that we're asking, or the institutions we're studying, the more engaged we'll be with our work, and the better the quality of our findings. That's because research demands that we understand our subject matter and that we pay attention to subtlety, nuance. Your presence in a Game Studies course suggests that -- at the very least -- you've spent some time reflecting on games you like and you don't; how those mesh with other parts of your life; how they are meaningful to your life, and the lives of your friends. You've thought about the relationship between games and work (which is always fraught) and the difference between textbook-learning and game-mastery. And that's important: While scholars have learned to think about those things, you already have an intuitive sense that they are interesting and worth pursuing.

Your Interests Can Drive Our Inquiry

With every passing week, you'll turn in some of your reseearch efforts. Sometimes in class I'll ask you to look into specific areas or schools. Sometimes I'll give you the opportunity to choose. I encourage you to make use of this class to pursue questions about other schools you may want to attend; to ask questions about how we could improve our programs here; and/or to prepare for work you'll be doing in other classes in the years to come. One of my mentors used to tell me that before I began work on any research project, I should ask myself: Can I stand working on this for 10 years? Because -- all things considered -- that is the total amount of time a scholar puts into a single topic. That's a lot of work (and represents a couple of published books, lots of articles and talks, etc.). But you should think about things in the same way: The first steps you take in this class, as you begin this research, may well reveal questions that you want to pursue in other classes -- and they may lead to a senior thesis or a capstone project. Imagine that you are surprised by how often you see that certain games show up in syllabi around the country -- or how games in languages other than English are ignored -- or that you notice how chemistry departments (say) are far more likely to use games in their curriculum than Schools of Architecture: Why is that? It is easy to imagine how you may expand on ideas like those throughout your tenure here, culminating in a senior project that reflects just how sophisticated your thinking about the topic has become over the years.

Process

On a weekly basis, from this point forward, our Tuesday meetings are organized around the research project, and our Thursday meetings will be organized around the readings and in-class discussion we'll work through.

Before class on Tuesday, you'll want to upload the material you've collected and uncovered. I'll share some videos with you to describe how best to make this happen.

In the first few weeks, the most important thing to do is contribute to the giant slush pile of data we're building. For two weeks, it will have almost no sensible shape, and will seem like nothing more than a digital mess. With time, it will come into sharp focus.

Goals

By the end of this semester, we want to have identified major themes in Game Studies as it stands now; have identified the most interesting or renowned institutions that are offering degrees and/or courses in Game Studies; and we want to have pointed to the major holes in the research we've collected so far.

This project is probably unlike most of the research projects you will have participated in until now: Because it involves a lot of work, we won't get to a point at the end of the semester where it is truly "finished." Instead, we'll come to a place where we can pause and reflect on what's been accomplished, and then go on our way. I'll continue to work on the project, and include future classes in the effort. My goal is to have finished the collecting phase by the end of summer 2021.

Assessment

As long as the quality of your contributions is reasonably strong, I'm not going to be grading you on the quality of every separate element of research that you uncover and return on a weekly basis. Instead, you have the chance to earn points every week for the work you're doing. I'll create a grading chart presently, but an A+ for this segment of the course will probably top out at around 150 points (see below). For the sake of transparency, I'll make a shared index of collected material (and points earned) available inside our research whiteboard. There, you should be able to see the points you've earned and compare them to the points others have earned, too, in order to ensure a fair outcome.

Sample Point Assignments

These may change over time, based on the work we do, but here's what those look like to start:

10 points. An important article from an academic publisher on game studies in an academic setting (published within the last 5 years). APA-style citation. Copy of the article shared to common drive. Once someone has delivered placed an article in our index, no one else may submit that article. I will have final say on whether an article counts as important or not.

10 points. Anotated bibliography entry (2 paragraphs) for article (above). You are welcome to read an article someone else delivers and create an annotated bibliography for it. An article can only have a single annotated bibliography entry associated with it.

2 points. A popular-press article from a national news organization that features some aspect of game studies in some fashion (published within the last year).

5 points. Weekly participation in conversation in class and through Miro. Five points awarded to students who are the most engaged in our conversation, or who raise interesting points or can otherwise help us identify how to proceed. Totally subjective, and ultimately my say-so. Up to five students per session may be awarded those points. There may be times where no students are awarded this prize.

This seems kinda game-like, doesn't it?

Good point. That's actually another angle to my own research: How effective are game-like structures at motivating fieldwork and research among undergraduates. Which means you are doing research at the same time that you are the research. But we'll talk about that presently. For now, here's what it means: We will spend a few minutes talking about how the work you do is being assessed, and ask if the points you score are fairly awarded. So the rules to the game may change a bit from time to time, but you'll always understand why, and you'll have had a voice in how we procede.