Terra Nova Discussion on Game Academia

I have so much to say about this it’s not even funny or fair, but first I’ll point to it and then I’ll share my thoughts:

Yes, it’s true that there are more and more places to do games research in the academy. Does it make sense to encourage folks to do a major in game studies? Nope, and here’s why.

Games research is so cutting-edge that in order to do it, we need to keep it in the realm of “R1” institutions. What I mean by that is that if you’re going to to do research on videogames and write about videogames in hopes of contributing to an emerging field of study, you need to do it through an R1 institution. What that means is that you have to focus that work within an already-established field or discipline, because “Game Studies” is just not there yet.

Of course the irony is that it’s the smaller, more teaching-focused institutions where the real innovation is happening. It’s not the MITs and Harvards that can afford to pave the road for videogames research, as junior faculty at those institutions are working to get tenure in their own, already-established fields and disciplines. Instead, it’s the Worcester Polytechnic Institutes of the world that can offer terrific courses not just on game design and development but also the *study of videogames* from a wide variety of perspectives.

And with all due respect to my colleagues working to build programs at Carnegie Mellon, USC, Northeastern, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, etc., I wonder whether anything substantial will begin to take shape before the current crop of videogame academics begins to tenure. There are many of us out there who are in the first couple of post-PhD years who are working hard to establish an ivory-tower-sanctioned videogame studies but I think it won’t necessarily have much of an impact until we get tenure, establish more peer-reviewed academic journals, and take on more students who are willing to push the boundaries of the institution.

For me, it was a struggle. I am trained in a field of English called Composition and Rhetoric. From that field, I specialized in literacy and learning with a focus on videogames, which required me to spend several years in the School of Education (and thus get embedded in learning sciences discourses) so that I could study with Jim Gee and Kurt Squire. I left Wisconsin with a PhD in English but with a more empirical base than was suitable for English departments with cultural studies programs. Likewise, I wasn’t empirical and experienced enough for a job in a School of Education. It’s only because of Henry Jenkins’ vision that I’m able to be situated in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT, where I’m extremely happy to combine my humanities and social science interests through my work with the New Media Literacies Project. But I am one of the lucky ones, and I know how unusual my situation is.

So my advice to my students who ask me about academic careers in games is that they ought to think carefully about anchoring that work in an already-established field. Game studies will always be interdisciplinary, which is a great, great thing. But institutions are not. So that’s a paradox, obviously, and a real, practical concern for all of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s