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The Pangs of Game Studies

Being a games scholar is being a pioneer in undiscovered countries. It's exciting and adventurous, but it's also difficult and painful. Maybe it feels more of a pain because I'm in the middle of re-writing my dissertation, getting it ready for my committee to review before the defense.

At times, I miss Literature, I miss Film Studies, I miss my Shakespeare. They are established fields, and coming up with a significant contribution is really hard. But they have a set of established materials and tools. Research is like furnishing your house, and studying Literature is like going to IKEA--you go and select your pieces, and put them together following the instructions. In Game Studies, we have to come up with our own design, go to the forest, cut down our trees, make our boards, and assemble them. Thank goodness we can borrow the saws, hammers and nails of other academic fields, from Media Studies to Computer Science, although it is becoming evident that we need to make our own tools as well. We can also take some boards from IKEA and build something completely different. We shouldn't abuse it, however, or else we won't be using the materials that are inherent to our field. So far, the contributions of IKEA to game studies have been rather strange.

This metaphor is the result of having re-written my introduction and the methods section of my dissertation, and still not being happy with it. I find myself talking about foundational concepts that are still debated and in flux. How are games a type of performance? What do narratives have to do with games? What is a gameworld? What is a simulation? All I want to do is get around to talk about adventure games, which is the bloody topic of my thesis!

Don't get me wrong--it is because I like challenges that I'm in this field. The moment a theory or an idea clicks and makes sense is wonderful, precisely because one has to go through all these pangs. Perhaps I just want to figure too much out; I want the answer to life, the universe and everything, while I should just write "42" and talk about Monkey Island to get it over with. Or perhaps I'm just pissed off because I'm missing out on a gorgeous summer and working on my dissertation on a Saturday night.

Rant over. Back to dissertation toils.

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