A Professor of… Video games?
It's true. I study computer games for a living. At least, that's how I introduce myself to strangers who don't look threatening. The reality is a little more mundane: I do media studies, and my doctorate is in Communication Studies. But talking about the digital game part gets more attention (sidenote: digital games = computers and/or video games of all sorts).
I get a few different reactions. If I'm talking to people who don't play games much, they either laugh at me or stare at me rather incredulously and say something like "you can do that?" Gamers, on the other hand, look jealous or go "Cool!" My wife tells me that I have opened some of her eighth-grade students' minds to new career possibilities.
Truth be told, I'm partly doing what I do because I am, at heart, a gamer geek. In one of my first grad-school classroom sessions, one the greatest professors I've ever had told us to study something we love. It didn't take me long to figure out what I wanted to do.
But that's hardly the only reason it's worthwhile to study and talk about computer and video games as a scholar. The fact is, digital games are big business. The industry exaggerates a little about its size--you may have heard that gaming is bigger than movies, which is really not true (maybe a little more about that another time)--but there's no question that gamers spend billions of dollars worldwide on consoles, discs, downloads and fake plastic guitars. Size alone is a good reason to study digital games-a lot of people care about them, and often care passionately.
I find that reason a bit cliché now, though--I've been repeating it rather defensively for seven or eight years now, and it is, in the end a kind of bigger-is-better idea which I find a little irritating. There are two other reasons that I think it's worth looking at games closely: they are a big part of the new digital landscape, and they are a significantly different kind of communication. What I mean is that as our society gets made over by Facebook, Skype, eBay, Amazon, Wikipedia, Google, iPhones, EepyBird, Leroy Jenkins, Rick-rolling and a million other networked items, computer and video games are becoming one of the giant mainstays of this constantly shifting world. Put it another way: communication is going heavily digital, and one of the biggest kinds of digital communication is the video game. If you want to understand today's communication, you at least need to take games into account.
But digital games don't communicate like other forms of communication. A video is not a video game. And that is what my scholarship is all about: looking how the digital game shifts the way we talk and interact. That, and I have a good excuse... er, reason to play the Wii tonight.