Meghan Blythe Adams is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario. Her main areas of interest in game studies are player death, difficulty settings, and the submissive elements of play.
Previous editorials at First Person Scholar have correctly discussed the important position held by middle-state publishing. I’m inclined, however, to talk a bit more personally about my relationship with FPS. The benefits I’ve had from my involvement are likely also felt by some other scholars involved in similar (and awesomely dissimilar) projects, but at heart this writing is in no way aimed at objective claims that can be assigned to every middle-state-publisher – this is just about the one I think of as partially mine.
In the summer of 2013, I was contacted by Steve Wilcox, our chief editor. Neither one of us had actually seen the other’s presentation at that year’s Canadian Game Studies Association conference in Victoria, B.C., but he had contacted me based on my paper’s title. Steve asked if I would be interested in contributing to FPS or becoming involved at an editorial level. At the time, I tentatively took on the position of Special Issues Editor.
If it comes as news to you that FPS had a Special Issues Editor, you are not alone. The Special Issues portfolio was stuck between attempting to broaden FPS’ diversity and cover topics the board felt were missing from FPS proper and putting together collections of interviews and essays on a particular topic (among other potential roles). It never really materialized, I have to admit. The well-intentioned effort of the board to diversify topics and perspectives couldn’t necessarily be realized by its sole female member at the time (me) and the most my time in the position produced was about half of a collection on the curation of video games in Canadian university libraries that never saw publication. I stayed on the board as the portfolio limped along and I eventually I admitted defeat and signed on as an Essays co-editor, alongside Dr. Jason Hawreliak.
I could certainly summarize my year with FPS that way – we tried something in good faith, it didn’t quite work out, but I stayed on in another capacity. But that would fail to include the parts of the experience that really defined it, namely the connections FPS allowed me to make with game scholars, designers and players.
Being a graduate student in any discipline can be a lonely business. Being a graduate student in an English department while researching game studies can particularly early on in the process feel very isolated. In “Year One”, the introduction to the first issue of Game Studies, Espen J. Aarseth writes of the discipline that “We all enter this field from somewhere else, from anthropology, sociology, narratology, semiotics, film studies, etc, and the political and ideological baggage we bring from our old field inevitably determines and motivates our approaches” (“Computer Game Studies: Year One”).
Though the methodological and theoretical implications of our diverse disciplinary heritages get discussed at length (sometimes over conference tables, often over beer), I think we tend to forget the literal spatial element behind the metaphor: even with the increased number of programs and spaces dedicated to game studies that have developed since the publication of Aarseth’s welcome to prospective scholars in 2001, we still generally start somewhere else. We start somewhere game studies is not the name of the field the we’re technically studying, somewhere our passion for game studies may be a quirk at best or a liability at worst, somewhere we may feel entirely alone amidst scholars working on topics that much more logically fit the name of the department. It’s enough to make you a little self-conscious.
Aarseth describes a dynamic, challenging field that we come to from that somewhere else, but the spatial metaphor does not reflect that while our heads may be in game studies, our funding or teaching duties, and feet are often pretty firmly planted in that somewhere else at the same time. In my experience, this leads to two key problems, namely a kind of academic lone-wolf syndrome (and frequent explanations that no, you’re not actually studying what your degree is in) and a tendency for scholars, especially nascent ones, to reinvent the Wii wheel, so to speak. (I am incredibly guilty of this, as I will shortly explain.)
My involvement in FPS has helped in both areas. Making connections with contributors and liberal use of Twitter has enlarged my sense of the game studies community in which I work. I’ve spoken to writers for Medium Difficulty, I’ve interviewed some of my favourite game designers, and I’ve gotten to hear about the research, the massive amounts of research on a medium that I love. It took me to The Feminist Porn Conference. It made approaching academics, designers and critics I admired part of my job. (I’m looking at you next, writers from The Border House!) It helped me go from talking to one person at the 2013 CGSA conference to interacting with dozens of my colleagues the next year. My world is so much bigger than it would have been without First Person Scholar.
And games studies scholars need big worlds, well outside our offices and labs. I used up a great deal of my time during my Master’s and the first years of my PhD struggling to find materials on my areas of interest in game studies. I was told more than once that none of it was any good, if it was out there at all. Like a lot of game studies scholars just starting on their work, I thought I’d have to start from scratch. It pains me today how little I knew about my field, not just for lack of research skills, but for a lack of connection with the other scholars at various stages of the realization that the work – the field – is out there beyond the boundaries of our home disciplines. And a great deal of it isn’t necessarily in traditional scholarly journals or books, leading to my early academic forays into game studies that I thought were dashingly original when they were years behind.
Publications like FPS can be one of the ways scholars can avoid fears of being academically isolated and re-writing games studies only to find the topic and stance covered in an issue of Eludamos from 2008. It did that for me and I hope it can do that for its contributors, readers, and commenters. It should hold itself up to the standard of doing that.
First Person Scholar remains, for me, part of the engine of my work. The pace at which we need to solicit, edit and publish content amid a community of websites doing their own spin on middle-state publishing sometimes puts me in mind of a quick-time event that never quite ends – madly mashing buttons and hoping for the best. (Incidentally this also describes my dissertation-writing process.) But we are playing among friends and the longer I volunteer with FPS the longer the list gets and the better I am for the contact and context.
Aarseth, Espen J. “Computer Game Studies: Year One.” Game Studies 1.1 (July 2001): n.pag.