Grad School Introductions

So I started graduate school this past week.  It’s been busy but not horribly so, and I know I’m going to enjoy this (my friends won’t let me not enjoy it, anyway).  I am taking three classes, and all three are promising for me.  But, one of the things I noticed is that the first thing that people want from you in a graduate-level class is your name, followed by your research interests.  I am a bit fortunate here, in that I have research interests.  I know pretty much what I want to study and write about.  Some people are not so lucky in that respect, but they are lucky in that they get this time to be inspired by something (like I was in 2008).

When I say that people want your research interests, I mean they want it distilled down to a maximum of two sentences.  That’s pretty small when you think about what people are asking about.  I’ve come up with my little introduction speech for these situations:

“My name is Michael Thomét. I am a masters student in the rhetoric and composition English program and I am interested in how narrative and play work together in games, various narratives of play, as well as authorship in games.”

I figure that, when I rattle this off, it may sound coherent and organized, but people probably don’t really know what I’m talking about.  I sound like a grad student, and that’s about as far as people can throw me.  Not that I’m saying people are stupid, it’s just that when I say these things, they only scratch the surface of what I am interested in.  They are categories and don’t tell you where my passion is.  So here I want to go into this and explain what my grad school introduction actually means.

1. How narrative and play work together in games:

I started my graduate foray by thinking that games could be literary.  I was a creative writing student at the time and I had creative writing ideals.  I now know that what I meant was could games ever be considered art and have similar aims as something that is literary does.  This is something of the aim of games like Façade, where the game is more presenting a story that the player is trying to control.  For this interest, I am mostly concerned with narrative and play working together rather than apart. I am of the camp that narrative is just as important to games as play is, that both are equal.  I believe that games are both a play and a narrative system.  I’m not interested in trying to read a game like a book, or in examining books as though they were wholly games (though, see my admissions essay – link when I post it on my portfolio site).  I am interested in how these two work together to create a game experience.

2. Various narratives of play:

This is a phrase I use to avoid the fact that I don’t altogether know what I mean totally by this.  It is inspired by how the player interacts with a game to create a narrative.  I am interested in how players build their own narrative in a game that is lacking in a cohesive one.  I am interested in how the player identity becomes projected onto the character’s identity (à la Jim Gee’s Good Video Games and Good Learning, and other texts).  I am also interested in the narrative of what motivates people to play the way they do while playing a game.  These are all a kind of narrative, or meta-narrative on the act of experiencing a game.

3. Authorship in games:

This is fairly specific.  I am interested in the creative aspect of games, or lack thereof.  I see the player as a kind of co-author for the game (and I am not alone in this respect).  But deeper, I have noticed that many people enjoy playing creatively, and that most games do not address this style or motivation to play.  This is probably my most current topic of research.


And that is my standard interest speech explained.  When you go around the room and talk about your interests for a minute or two in the first week of classes, I always get a bit glossy at the research interests.  I try to understand just what people mean by what they say.  You can peg the people who have these standard introductions and those people I know have more to say.  For the people who don’t have them, I hear the uncertainty in their voices.  This uncertainty is natural, I think.  It’s good to not know what you’re doing when you first start.  Listen to others’ standard introductions, and ask them what they mean (but prepare for them to be flustered when you do!).


One thought on “Grad School Introductions

  1. You *are* way further along than most incoming grad students. It’s an iterative process, though: we keep getting asked to state our research question – not more narrowly (my mistake) but more clearly, and with clear links to particular recognized problems in the field and particular bodies of literature.

    And the buzzwords change depending on your advisors 😛

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