Helping to reform my PhD Question – How the ‘Eye of Sauron’ is helping to rebuild the ‘smashed house’…

So I’m currently writing this Blog post as I’m sat in a Writing Retreat, organised as part of the PGCert Research Practice, run by Dr Helen Kara. I now have a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon events which have taken place since my last Blog post, and hopefully I can use this time to write about them.

My last Blog post ended upon my focus upon these considerations:

  1. The ‘Eye of Sauron’ – mind-shattering, ground-breaking deep analytical/questioning gaze
  2. The ‘smashed house’ – what needs to be rebuilt and by when?
  3. ‘What’s the gap?’ – Are the ‘people’ inside the house going to help me to articulate my argument?

Since then a number of occurrences and discussions have provoked the ‘Eye of Sauron’, causing it to focus its gaze on a number of different things.

Firstly the Eye casted its gaze upon my own personal definition/identification of ‘Fun’ within the context of videogames. I began asking a great deal of reflexive questions which were considered towards what I intrinsically enjoy within the framework of my perceived objects of study, which currently I believe are:

  • People
  • Process(es)
  • Product

These questions included these to name but a few:

  • “What elements do I find fun in Videogames and why?”
  • “Who are the people I like to interact with when I play a Videogame and why?”
  • “How can I understand different people’s perceptions of what they find ‘fun’ within the context of ‘play’ in Videogames?”
  • “Do I like developing videogames, if so why and with whom do I enjoy developing videogames with?
  • “Is it possible to have fun making a videogame? If so how and can this ‘fun’ help the team and the videogame?”

NOW, it was this last questions which then stuck in the back of my mind, and it’s this last question I will come back to later…

It’s worth at this time mentioning that serendipitously a number of things have facilitated my reflexive analysis of fun over the last week or so:

  • A number of my favourite videogames being released; these include Super Mario Odyssey, Assassins Creed Origins and also Metroid – Samus Returns. I’m playing all of these videogames (at different times of course) to help me to define what I think and believe is ‘fun’ and then help me to identify how these products can be analysed within the context of the people who made them, the processes they used and also the audiences they were made for
  • An interesting and exciting time within the Masters programme I direct. Currently students are developing tablet games at BCU’s postgraduate facility Gamer Camp. The students are working cross-discipline as Artists and Coders as part of the MA/MSc Video Game Development programme and also as Game Designers and Producers as part of the specific Programme I direct, which is MSc Video Game Enterprise, Production and Design (which by the way recently got externally examined and these very flattering comments from our external Dr Nigel Newbutt were delivered; “This programme, and the work being produced therein, is one the best in the country” and “This MSc provides many distinct features and represents, in my view, one of the best examples of a games production MSc in the UK.”). There are around 30 students in total, split up into 3 groups and each group has just finished their concept and pre-production phase for their tablet game. They must now complete making the games in the next 6 weeks, just in time for Christmas. It’s going to be an interesting journey; keeping moral and motivation up is going to be a challenge, and as part of my research I’ll definitely be interested in analysing the students’ working processes to help me to identify ways in which the students themselves encourage methods of incorporating fun into the developmental processes, which ultimately and hopefully will facilitate a fun product to be created (well that’s my hypothesis anyway)
  • An interesting time with the Undergraduate Game Design & Production 2-year fast-track programme I launched in September, where the level 4 students who started in September 17 are about to embark upon a journey of making their own individual Board or Card Games. It’s interesting that over the course of the last module I have been gearing up the students’ engagement with the curricula with a Gamification System I have developed and used before, here at BCU and also at other HE Institutes I have taught at, focused upon Reward Ratios & Achievements. Over the last 5 weeks I have been developing their affinity to colours associated to the class register; by using 2 simple colours which normally correspond to positive and negative, red and green, the students can see which colours they attain for dates on the module based on their attendance. By making this data transparent, it develops peer-to-peer competition and ultimately facilitates and encourages engagement with the module. This micro element is a fun factor associated with engagement
  • The reflection of development which is on-going within my own game studio, SmashMouth Games Ltd; how I’m considering re-releasing a back-catalogue of videogames within a compendium for Apple and Android, which is forcing me to consider the development processes involved and how can I keep everyone motivated and engaged to deliver. I need to be able to know I have methods of incorporating ‘fun’ into the development process (based on the development team and stakeholders involved), so I can rely upon implementing these if needed.
  • The development of the enterprise opportunity I am looking to launch at STEAMHouse in 2018; how I want to ensure that in some way the clients involved can develop their businesses and enterprise opportunities in new and exciting ways, using processes they may have not used or even considered before, ultimately driven by a number of motivational factors. This includes identifying and gamifying ‘fun’ elements within their daily practice
  • The development of my own reflexive practice within my PhD and how I’m learning how to tame the ‘Eye of Sauron’, to ensure that its gaze is appropriately focused on what it needs to focus upon. I’ve learnt in a very short space of time that this gaze can be very powerful and could potentially unravel fundamental beliefs and practices; yesterday I had a deep and meaning conversation with a work collage over dinner about religion and the ‘Eye of Sauron’’s’ gaze of reflexive methodologies came out to play within the conversations; the discussion which then ensued lasted nearly 3 hours! I have therefore taken on board that if I can tame this very powerful tool of reflexive practice, then ambitiously I want to try and identify how I can have fun starting to do this, and also have fun maintaining a degree of control over the ‘gaze’; I know I sound ambitious but right now it’s a motivational factor to proceeding within the context of the work ahead of me.

Looking at the list about, one of the first in-class tasks within the context of this writing retreat is to do a short-burst 5 minute active writing prompt. The task specified that I could pick any prompt I like, but I must use the word ‘I’ within the prompt; the prompt I picked is related to the first of the points I raised above; “A number of my favourite games being released” – easy talking point for me as it’s currently fresh in my head. This is my prompt:

 “I want to reflect upon the Fun elements in Products I have played”:

This is then what I wrote over 5 minutes:

“So, over the last few days I have been playing a number of different games and whilst playing them my PhD and the focus of main question and also the sub questions have been in the back of my mind. The latest game which stands out for me which is so much fun on so many levels is Super Mario Odyssey. I recent recanted my own mini verdict to a work colleague and I said this about the game:

“Apart from a few minute auto-camera issues, this Mario is by far the much anticipated spiritual successor to Mario 64. Time elegantly flies by when you’re playing the game; it sublimely mashes up Mario’s best gameplay moments from his last 10 years of outings. This is a delicious cookin- pot of fun, one which you’re going to want to savour, because meals like this don’t come along very often! Overall a MUST BUY; to not want to party with the best you’re probably a Big-Rigs, ET and Superman 64 gamer, fuelled by Cogs of Crap shotgun-hell addiction…Forget the rest, now play the best!”

So what I identified from playing this is that the fun has manifested itself historically over the last 30 years since Mario’s conception and this product is the culmination and combination of identifying all of the ‘fun’ elements within his previous outings. I do think that from my PhD perspective it is interesting to identify how and why the developers identified these ‘fun’ elements and focused upon them within the context of this game; I mean the game has been scoring mega-high meta-critical scores!”

Interesting huh? The content I wrote auto/instinctively aligned to ‘fun’ and the body of text I wrote was focused upon my own perception of identifying ‘what exactly is ‘fun’’ within the context of videogames. So straight away, I believe I may be starting to ‘tame the gaze’, I may be starting to be more strategically reflexive within the context of The ‘Eye of Sauron; my start at trying to govern the aforementioned mind-shattering, ground-breaking deep analytical/questioning gaze is to focus it on ‘fun’!

By starting to focus on something I enjoy is my first attempt at establishing some forms/methods or even modes of analysis for which I can then apply to the ‘Eye of Sauron’ to moving forwards, so its ‘gaze’ can be governed and controlled more effectively (it’s worth mentioning though that I’ve been advised/cautioned about applying this to my own enjoyment of games, as it could potentially be fatal to the ‘thing’ I enjoy – in that it derail my own personal enjoyment of videogames so they may not be enjoyable as a pastime to me anymore. I do consider though my resilience strategies; I would respond that I have been working in Videogames as a Designer for over 20 years, so my work is my hobby, is my life, and I’ve the coping strategies I’ve developed over this time have helped me maintain my passion and enthusiasm from an personal intrinsic motivational level).

So moving forwards within the context of:

  • The ‘smashed house’ – what needs to be rebuilt and by when?
  • ‘What’s the gap?’ – Are the ‘people’ inside the house going to help me to articulate my argument?

I have also had to reconsider the eloquently phrased ‘puzzle’ which sits before me (eloquently phrased by my supervisor Nick as he knows I like game analogies) ‘to try and rebuild the house’ and also try and find out ‘who are the people inside the house’, in other words, ‘what’s the gap?’ To try and start to solve this puzzle I must now reconsider my original main question, as the house has currently been ‘smashed’; my previously main question/title was “Methods of making, playing and finding the fun’ – How can videogame design work?” Admittedly I do think there are areas of this title still present within the pieces of the puzzle before me; I must now try and figure out how I can use the ‘gaze’ to help me identify which areas I can progress with, therefore helping me to start to rebuild the house and figure out the people within. The pieces before me are:

  1. Focusing upon which question is more appropriate to my field of study and allows me manoeuvrability. After my last supervision it was highlighted that within the context of ‘FUN’, this is a form of ‘AFFECT’, and that I must consider the provocation of emotional responses, as ‘THE AFFECTIVE TURN’ corresponds to a number of pieces of research works, cross discipline in Arts and Humanities
  2. If I consider my 3 Objects of Study which are People, Process(es) and Product, I must consider a balance of traditional and practice elements applicable to the INTERSECTION OF FIELDS within the context of SURVEYING THE FIELD; understanding the topography of the research landscape
  3. The consideration between what is ‘Academically Phrased’ and what is ‘Publically Phrased’; as mentioned in my last Blog, the state of play with my question as it stood was:
    1. “Can there be an affective videogame design process to create an affective videogame? If so how?” – this is more academic
    2. “How can video game developers implement ‘the fun factor’ in videogames more effectively?” – this is more public centric – like a public report
  4. Finally I must consider all the reading resource which I must dive into, to help me further understand the lay of the land, within the context of my literature review. So far I have been visiting the Digra library (http://www.digra.org/digital-library/) to collect a vat of resource focused upon ‘AFFECT’ and ‘GAMES’. I have also collected a great deal of resource from colleagues; really applicable articles and interviews. Thank goodness my supervisor has stated that there will be upcoming discussions of reading strategies to help sift through all this knowledge, to help identify the pearls!

So, my first draft at attempting to rebuild the main question, especially after going through a period of reflexive analysis of my own perceived definition of ‘fun’ is:

“Can VIDEOGAME DEVELOPERS AND AUDIENCES use AFFECTIVE PROCESSES OF VIDEOGAME DESIGN to implement the fun factor, whilst creating AFFECTIVE VIDEOGAMES? If so how?”

This links back to the aforementioned question I asked which was: “Is it possible to have fun making a videogame? If so how and can this ‘fun’ help the team and the videogame?”

So, I believe I’ve covered and synthesised the Objects of my Study into this newly formed question. Breaking this down I can see that I’ve covered:

VIDEOGAME DEVELOPERS AND AUDIENCES: People

AFFECTIVE PROCESSES OF VIDEOGAME DESIGN: Process

AFFECTIVE VIDEOGAMES: Product

The next port of call regarding this is to speak to my supervisors and test the waters with my findings, whilst also discussing the myriad of literature articles I have to review to help me galvanise the ‘rebuilding of my house’ and also to then help me to ‘find the people’!

Once again, watch this space!

Oh and before I go, here’s my Thesis Haiku:

Enter deep inside my mind (7)

Enter see what you will find (7)

Reflexive and enticing (7)

My research is exciting! (7)

and here’s my Mash up poem, containing  words from 3 environments where I have written content:

File 01-11-2017, 15 48 42

 

Thanks to Dr Helen Kara, Dr Nick Webber, Dr Oli Carter and Dr Jacqueline Taylor Boote

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