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The Academics Are Here

This is the final article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

In the 1970s, the term “Cycle of Deprivation” entered British political nomenclature.

It was a hypothesis asserting that disadvantage was cyclical and persistent across generations. The children of “troubled families", it suggested, would be condemned to repeat their parent's mistakes and inflict the same disastrous upbringing on their own children.

The important thing to note about this hypothesis is its focus on problem families rather than poverty. This is a crucial point as researchers have shown that poverty does beget poverty but the “cycle of deprivation” hypothesis has been rejected - disadvantaged children can rise above their “troubled” origins without external support.

Yet this hypothesis is continuously regurgitated, framed to fit the political narrative of the moment. From “The Cycle of Deprivation: Myths and Misconceptions”:

This means that alongside the focus on social exclusion, child poverty, and inter-generational continuities in economic status, there is a parallel and increasing emphasis on anti-social behaviour, parenting, and problem families. Arguably what comes over most strongly from a review of the past 30 years is the persistence of dichotomies – between continuity and discontinuity; between intra-familial and extra familial factors; between social scientists and psychologists; between research and policy; and between individuals and institutions. Overall, the result of the neglect of this important part of recent intellectual history is that several wheels are being regularly reinvented.

Recently, the UK government launched an initiative to tackle “troubled families” using a report by Louise Casey as a touchstone. This report makes no reference to thirty years of research, relying instead on a series of interviews and admits “that this is not formal research… these interviews [are] not representative of the 120,000 families that are deemed as ‘troubled’”.

Being ignored and, occasionally, belittled is part of academic culture; it is not unique to game studies.

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A Fantastic Angle: Pippin Barr

Pippin Barr

Pippin Barr

This is the twelfth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Last week I discussed the games of Dr. Pippin Barr, a lecturer at the Centre for Computer Games Research, IT University of Copenhagen (ITU). His games are often designed to irritate the player, edge cases in game design that would otherwise not be made. He achieved mainstream media attention last year with the release of The Artist Is Present, a game based on Marina Abramović’s performance art of the same name.

Does Barr's experience tell us something about the role of academic games?

(Note: This interview was conducted in February before the video interview which I posted last month. Although there is a little overlap between the two interviews, if you've watched the video you'll find there are plenty of different questions addressed here.)

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Raising the Barr

This is the eleventh article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

I've been wanting to write about the games of Pippin Barr for some time especially as his games are an acquired taste. If you play one, you might raise your eyebrows and think "so what?" That's a valid response. I'm not going to chastise you for having such unclean thoughts. But it helps to play more than one and get a sense of what Pippin is doing with these masochistic toys.

Unfortunately every time I have got myself ready to write the definitive piece on the works of Barr, he pumped out a new game. Not wanting to be yesterday's fashion before hitting the catwalk, I would always postpone the article until I found some time to fiddle with and digest his latest creation. Pippin has been making games for over a year now. I think it's about time I wrote something about his games.

So today I'm just going to spit out some random thoughts about some random games from his portfolio. I'm not going to dwell on minor details like his game blurbs using too many exclamation marks! But there are spoilers ahead! Although I've marked out Spoilersville for each if you want to give them a go first! And they don't take long! Sometimes no longer than a few seconds before you close your browser in disgust!

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A Need to Create: Mitu Khandaker

This is the tenth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Mitu Khandaker

Mitu Khandaker is a PhD student conducting research into novel game controllers at the University of Portsmouth. She wrote an article in the second issue of Kill Screen (previously discussed on Electron Dance) which captured a moment of personal "career crisis", questioning the relevancy of game studies. In conclusion, Mitu suggested research-led development - games developed by academics - could address this.

Khandaker is now developing a sim game called Redshirt, under her own indie label The Tiniest Shark, which will be published through Cliff Harris' Positech Games.

How did she end up writing that article on the relevancy of game studies? And how does Redshirt connect with her research?

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A Complicated Relationship: Doug Wilson

Douglas Wilson

This is the ninth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Dr. Douglas Wilson is the man behind Johann Sebastian Joust, prototyped while Wilson toiled away on a PhD at the IT University of Copenhagen. Prior to Joust, he worked on the titles B.U.T.T.O.N. and Dark Room Sex Game with the Copenhagen Game Collective. Collectively, they are best described as party games that encourage players to look foolish in pursuit of the win.

Two weeks ago, Dan Pinchbeck said that academics are able to make games that define the bleeding edge as, in the academic world, failure is just as valuable a teacher as success. Yet Wilson made the decision to leave that world to join indie studio Die Gute Fabrik, where he continues to work on Joust and other titles such as Beacons of Hope and Mutazione (with Gute Fabrik partner Nils Deneken). In this week's interview, Wilson explains why.

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Taking A Breather: Chaim Gingold

This is the eighth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Chaim Gingold

Die Gute Fabrik's Doug Wilson tipped me off that Chaim Gingold might be a suitable interview subject for the series. But who is Chaim Gingold?

Well, he completed an MS in Digital Media at Georgia Tech then went into the games industry. To a job at Maxis, to be precise: Gingold was the design lead for all of Spore's Creators. He went independent in 2008, doing freelance work and creating two iPhone games - MinMe and Earth Dragon. He's now working on a personal project called Geology: An Interactive Primer, one of last year's IndieCade finalists, a geological toybox that teaches through experimentation.

But that's not the important bit: Gingold is currently engaged in a PhD at UC Santa Cruz's Expressive Intelligence Studio.

Why has a successful mainstream games developer gone back to school? In the following interview, Gingold exposes a larger question about what it means to be "games studies academic".

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A Very New Thing: Dan Pinchbeck

This is the seventh article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Dan Pinchbeck

Dr. Dan Pinchbeck is a senior lecturer for the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth. His PhD thesis, completed in 2009, was titled “Story as a function of gameplay in First Person Shooters: an analysis of FPS diegetic content 1998-2007.”

As discussed two weeks ago on Electron Dance, Pinchbeck is a champion of development-led research. He is known principally for Dear Esther, originally a Half-Life 2 mod from 2009 which was released commercially this year. He runs a studio called thechineseroom which is working on two new projects: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs with Frictional Games.

Dan has a lot to say about the relevancy of academic research and the strengths and difficulties of academic game development.

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Dear Korsakovia

This is the sixth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

So this game. It had a dreadful. Slow. Pace. And it wouldn't let me participate or edit its story in any way. Yet, the confident, rambling narrative and superb voice acting worked some sort of mad magic.

I wasn't exactly onside with Lewis Denby when he suffered a life-threatening attack of hyperbole and said Dear Esther changed his outlook on games forever but, yeah, it was definitely interesting.

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Bit of a Rebel: Clara Fernández-Vara

This is the fifth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Clara Fernández-Vara

Clara Fernández-Vara

Dr. Clara Fernández-Vara is a researcher for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab and much of her research is focused on the integration of story and gameplay. She has been involved in the development of several games through her studies.

She's written an interactive fiction, Ariel, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, but the bulk of her work concerns point-and-click adventuring. Rosemary (2009) adopted the "remembered past" as a mechanic (previously featured on Rock Paper Shotgun). Symon (2010) explored procedural generation in the adventure space using dream logic to sweep any narrative problems under the carpet (flagged on RPS just yesterday). The follow-up to Symon was Stranded in Singapore (2011) which aimed to standardize the procedurally-generated approach.

Fernández-Vara talked to Electron Dance about her work, what she loves about developing academic games and how research should not be constrained by the concerns of industry.

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The Company of Troublemakers: Ian Bogost

This is the fourth article in the series The Academics Are Coming.

Ian Bogost

Dr. Ian Bogost is one of the more well-known figures of games studies. He is the father of proceduralism, which is a way of reading and designing games with the "mechanics as the message".

He's written books, such as Racing the Beam, the definitive tome on the Atari 2600, with Nick Montfort. He's grown a studio called Persuasive Games which makes games from a proceduralist perspective and recently unveiled the Game-O-Matic for the rapid generation of journalistic games. He also developed the Facebook games critique Cow Clicker and a couple of titles on the Atari 2600 platform: A Slow Year which he calls a set of "game poems" (see the recent Kill Screen review by Tommy Rousse) and Guru Meditation.

I wanted to find out what Bogost had to say about being both an academic and a games developer.

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