On the Gaming-Academic Divide

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There are plenty of fields where the academic-'real world' divide is pretty sharp — and it's probably no surprise that game-related research falls into that category. Richard Bartle, MUD co-creator, criticizes universities who are resistant to change — while 'modern' universities (ones who developed from polytechnics or institutes, at least in the UK) are more willing to lead the way with creative courses, older institutions are less likely to follow suit:

But it is possible to shift the paradigm, so why don't older institutions follow suit? For one thing, they don't consider games "academically respectable," Bartle asserts. For another, computer games staff don't get included in research assessment submissions, because there are no first-class journals specific to the medium — and, of course, major universities just don't see any money in it, he says. Bartle, who is currently a Principal Fellow and Visiting Professor at the Department of Computing and Electronic Systems at Essex University, explained ruefully: "None of this would matter if it were without consequences. Unfortunately, there are consequences." Modern universities focus on training in the way that vocational schools do, says Bartle, while older ones have a tradition of education.


My first reaction is 'Well, duh.' Academia is built on tradition and regularity (there is a reason 'disciplines' have that name), so trailblazing a new path is not the easiest of tasks. Even a move to shift perceptions of 'standard' disciplines is likely to be met with suspicion and skepticism. On the other hand, many of those older or less progressive institutions are sloooowly coming around. But the process isn't going to happen overnight, and I wouldn't expect to see 'training in the way that vocational schools do' at an Ivy League institution near you any time soon. I'm also not convinced that's necessarily a bad thing - just as students flock to particular institutions to study under renowned experts in well-established fields, why wouldn't we expect the same out of people wishing to study gaming? MUD Co-Creator Bartle Criticizes Gaming And Academia Divide [GameSetWatch]



This is going to take time— a long, long time. For gaming to become a respectable field of academic study, it will require a generation of academics raised in a cultural setting in which gaming was acceptable. That is, the students just entering (or leaving) grad school now, who will be the tenured faculty dominating departments 20 years from now, will have lived with gaming all their lives, even if they weren't big gamers themselves. At that point, there won't even be a discussion of whether gaming is something worth studying.

It was only in the 1970s that television became a topic for which researchers could get significant support. That's because the people then chairing departments and funding committees had grown up on television in the 50s and 60s. It's just going to take time. If you're a 20-something interested in doing this stuff academically, go for it. You'll be a trailblazer in a field that will be an accepted "discipline" by the time you're a senior scholar.