“Road to the PhD” is a new short blog series comprised of reflections of my woes, accomplishments, up and downs, as I try to ascertain the coveted PhD. I am PhD student in Informatics in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, Bloomington. This is a brief, but concrete reflection of my first year in this program. Hopefully, these reflections will benefit those who are interested in being a games researcher and want to know what that experience is like at the graduate level.
And with the submissions of my final papers and final grades for my students, I have successfully completed my first in my PhD program. Thank goodness! I am so relieved that finals (HELL) week is over! Of course, at the graduate level I feel it starts earlier because one must budget time and energy to drafting papers, starting or finishing projects, and meeting with students to discuss their grades, if you have students. Honestly, it lasted for a good month for me because of the amount of students I had to grade upon my own work that had to get done. However, I learned a lot within the past year about what kind of student I am and the direction I want to go? Also, the balance of becoming a games scholar and scholar who still plays games during free time? A very interesting position that I have yet again place myself in.
When I first arrived at Indiana University I had very little knowledge of the other graduate students who worked on and/or with videogames. I just knew that I needed to meet them and learn about their particular interest in gaming culture. After a week or so, I met one of them in the shared PhD area where most of the PhD students have their desks. During my second week I met Alex who is interested in gaming distribution platforms such as Steam, Blizzard App, and Origin. Alex and I were also taking the same social media course as well, so we developed a nice rapport with each other fairly quickly.
Later on that month, I met Iris who is also fascinated about the culture of gaming and very much into building connections on and off campus with other game enthusiasts. Iris, Alex, and I have since played Overwatch with each other several times and currently creating a games research group and another project that I hope pans out well.
Why did I mentioned these people? Well, it’s not the people that I wanted to highlight, though they both are awesome people. I wanted to highlight this amazing collaborative journey that I have embarked on. Studying videogames as an academic interest and hopefully career, so far is proving to be intriguing, fascinating, and lots of work. Intriguing because I have involved myself from simply reading books on games to utilizing them for academic papers. Fascinating because I get to discuss at any moment between buffs and nerfs in Overwatch to the representation of marginalized identities in some videogames with others in my PhD cohort. Lastly, this is a lot of work to do because the field is still growing, and their are so many directions yet unexplored, and so many questions yet to be asked.
This first year has challenged me as a gamer as well. I now cherish games like Overwatch because I can play a few rounds and feel as though I am accomplishing something fairly quickly, as well as, being actively engaged in combat without a long wait time to find and fight my foes. Do not get me wrong, I love my Skyrim and Mafia 3, but those games require a lot more of my time. I feel sad at times because I know I need to spend at least 3 to 4 hours in the realm of Dragon Age: Inquisition to get that same sense of accomplishment like in Overwatch. However, school makes that very challenging for me. Yes, two very different genres that appeal to different kind of gamers. However, one cannot deny the fact both require different amounts of time to accomplish certain tasks in these games. I am still working on finding that balance between work and play.
During year one, I was yet again confronted with the reality of what it means to be one of few in a particular space. I am a Black male going to a PWI (predominantly white institution) which does not bother me because my alma mater, University of Maryland, College Park, is one as well. Within in the Informatics side of the School of Informatics and Computing I have yet to see a black faculty member. This is may or may not be true, but after being their for 10 months I am pretty sure I would have seen someone. However, the lack of representation within my department does not faze as much because I expected this because of where the school is located, and seeing various ethnic groups in the space does not make me feel alone. Race has and will forever play a role in how I see, interact, and interpret things, but I refuse to let it stand in my way to what I want to accomplish. That lesson has become a abundantly clear with me graduating from UMD last year and currently attending IU.
Year one is finally completed and I could not be happier. I am excited to see what year two has in store because gaming is taking me to new places and meeting new people. I am attending EVO 2017 in Las Vegas to conduct some research, so stay tuned for that. It is an immense privilege to be in school and be able to invest my time and energy into research I want to do. Let’s just hope I can accomplish even more since during my 2nd year.