I don’t write much reflective personal stuff on here, and I haven’t blogged much about my Ph.D. itself. That 80,000 word monstrosity has been so dependent upon analysing the lives of a small pool of interviewees and even though there’s nothing particularly sensitive in there, there are still issues around sticking that up on a blog. So this has mainly just been a place to dump the odd game-related thing I write or, more recently, progress on things I’ve been designing or making. In other words, it’s a home for all the things I’ve been doing to avoid what I should be doing.

It’s coming up to the time when I submit the final draft of my Ph.D. and naturally I’ve been thinking about where to go from here. Until recently I had felt 50/50 about staying in academia, a career that demands I uproot my two kids and my already-employed wife to chase sessional teaching jobs around the country. My wife is off for the next 10 months or so on maternity leave, and I feel like this is a crucial time for me to be starting a career, rather than faffing about doing dribs-and-drabs of teaching for an institution that has just forked out tens of thousands of pounds on my scholarly training. I really enjoyed the teaching I’ve undertaken during my scholarship; it felt like the best parts of me were getting a workout and being of use to someone else – a rare feeling for me if I’m honest. I didn’t enjoy the cover teaching and supervising I did when I was working at a secondary school in my early twenties, mainly because of the constant need to enforce rules I hadn’t personally committed to. But teaching adults is great, and I look forward to the sessional classes I’ve got lined up this year, even if they aren’t really enough to build a career on. I feel a little less certain about research itself though.

Tarot-Card-Meaning-The-TowerThree years of writing a Massive Document No-one Else Will Read has really made me realize that I’m not a writer. Not in the sense that I enjoy writing and want it to be the main thing I do. It’s a necessary evil for communication, and I envy those who are a little bit braver at putting their thoughts and feelings ‘on paper’. Yes, I’m fully aware that writing a thesis isn’t about writing a book for someone else to read. It’s a process of transformation; the evidence that you’ve done the work and thought about not only the topic you’re studying but also the changes that you’ve gone through as a researcher. But the main thing it’s taught me about myself is that “this isn’t for me”. Research? Sure. I especially love going to conferences, meeting a bunch of cool diverse thinkers and sharing ideas. But researching the same thing, on my lonesome, for long periods of time? Nah.

Also, being in the sociological side of games and technology can get a little… heavy. I feel weighed down by a million journal articles on socio-cultural problems that are seemingly there only to be analysed and never actually resolved. I had hoped to bag a teaching position and then do some action research – something like making games with disadvantaged young people in youth clubs. But I don’t think that sort of secure post is going to materialise anytime soon – not geographically near enough to where my family has put down its roots. I can commute from Kent to London but no further than that for the time being.

People talk about the ‘writerly craft’, and I know what it feels like to be deeply engaged with a craft. I just don’t feel that same engagement when I’m writing as I do when I make games or music. It was different when I was an undergrad, working 3 days a week in a secondary school while doing my BA. Then, writing was something I felt I excelled at. Undergrad university was a mixed bag. I didn’t really make any lasting relationships during that period; being a slightly older student and a bit of a weirdo. But the essays came in short manageable bursts on a variety of topics. They were an escape from everyday life into theory – especially in the third year when my son was born – and a way to get intellectual pats-on-the-back that I hadn’t really had before.

I feel like that thirst for knowledge dried up a little when it was disconnected from the everyday (I had to quit my job as a teaching assistant to take on my scholarship). Since I started my Ph.D. in 2012, I confess I haven’t read an academic book from cover to cover. It all became a bit of a grind. So, feeling slightly disheartened after losing a recent interview for the only local job going for what I can teach, I had a little moan on Twitter and an acquaintance on there came to my aid. They pointed out that people from games studies – especially those with design and/or education experience like myself – can do well in Instructional Design (ID). So today I’m heading home from the library with a heap of books on ID, UX and other acronyms, ready to start learning about something I can actually apply outside the confines of the university. Something that will use my skills, satisfy my need for project-based work and won’t require me to do the ridiculous trial-by-fire that is the academic tenure-track.

I’ve got a sack of books and I haven’t felt this stoked about reading/learning something in over three years. Thank you, random Twitter buddy.

theme tune from “The Great Escape” intensifies