Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Scholars Have Joined Your Party!: Why Academics Should Join Project Play

Last Monday, I wrote about my personal experience of London, Ontario's Project Play with the promise of writing a critical consideration of the event as a follow-up. My key point is this: events like Project Play are a great opportunity for games studies scholars to connect with the playing community. Exhibitors at Project Play included vendors, local game creators, community organizations and representatives from Fanshawe. Notably and lamentably absent were representatives from local Western University, game studies associations like DiGRA and CGSA, and middle-state publishers in the field like First-Person Scholar. I'll address each in turn.

Because Project Play brings together disparate elements of the playing community, the absence of representation from the local university was disappointing. PP is a great opportunity for gaming-minded departments like Computer Science and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies as well as organizations like the Digital Recreation, Entertainment, Art and Media (DREAM) Group operating out of the university to make community connections. It's important for any university to make local connections, but given that gaming scholars are so often also players and creators, gaming studies needs to be particularly welcoming to the community members who also often play multiple roles in the production, release, use and critique of games. Finally, showing an openness to gaming as a field of interest highlights Western University as potentially welcoming to PP attendees - it's just good marketing. I hope that next year representatives from Western and particularly its game studies-friendly departments and research groups, like those from Fanshawe, step up to support and attend PP in an official capacity.

Independent games studies organizations like DiGRA and CGSA should also consider getting a table at PP and events like it. While these organizations continue to grow, they still need grassroots connections in order to thrive. As said previously, it's often the case that gaming enthusiasts don't just play - they often create and critique as well. Game studies organizations should actively make connections with community events like PP in order to not only raise their own profile among attendees, but also to scout for potential presenters at our own events, particularly for academic attendees not yet applying their professional talents to their personal interest in gaming. The presence of game studies organizations at events like these (particularly in a university town like London) would show that game studies is increasingly a viable research area that can intersect with a wide range of fields.Making connections at events like PP increases the pool of DiGRa's and CGSA's potential attendees and contributors.

Finally, another category of game studies group that should attend events like PP is that of game studies publishers like First Person Scholar (Note: I should dislose that I'm a member of the editing team of FPS and that I'm emailing them about this forthwith). Websites, particularly those that occupy a place between academic blogging and academic journals shoulod use events like PP to court both readers and contributors. While sites like FPS publish the work of game studies scholars specifically, our readership can and should extend beyond the ranks of graduate students and faculty. Connecting with play enthusiasts would raise the profile of middle-state publishers in game studies as well as make connections with academics in other fields not currently connecting their professional work to the games they love.

If I had my way, this year, PP and other events like it would hear requests for tables from university departments and research groups, national and international game studies associations and publishers in the field. The presence of enthusiastic scholars at PP would forge key connections between the academy and the play communiy as part of an event raising funds to help children access play - that's a lot of awesome in one place. As PP demonstrates, everyone deserves a chance to play and academics should be getting in on the fun - for their own good as well as others'.

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