Monday, 22 February 2016

The Computer Games Journal ~ CALL FOR PAPERS ~ Spring 2016

The Computer Games Journal
Call for Papers for 2016 publication

The Computer Games Journal (tCGJ) welcomes a wide range of submissions of research papers, case studies, development analyses, book reviews, reflections and conference reviews from those active in Computer Games research and development.

We aim to publish “GIN" pieces : work that is Good, Interesting and Novel. 

If you are writing-up a project, case study, reflection or review, we would be glad to consider it for publication in tCGJ. You can contact us directly at or via the tCGJ home page at

Papers are welcome in any subfield related directly to Computer Games development: coding, design, business, socialisation, psychology, historicity, sound, technologies, etc.  Submissions are rigorously checked and detailed positive feedback given within one month for publication of your work in 2016.

The Computer Games Journal was founded in 2012 and joined the aPress/Springer Science+Business Media group in 2015. The editorial team is based world-wide and covers a spectrum of interests from research to development, design to coding, and from professors to graduate students. We welcome approaches from those active in games research or development who wish to join the Editorial Board.

We look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Dr John N Sutherland BSc (Glasgow) MSc (St Andrews) EdD (Edinburgh) CTh (Tilsley) CEng MBCS
Principal Editor-in-Chief, The Computer Games Journal
Springer Science+Business Media, New York, NY, USA. (for older editions under previous ownership)

Monday, 1 February 2016

Take-your-time Research Studies in Computer Gaming

The Computer Games Journal
Editor's Blog
February 2016.
Game of the King playing board
~ Antonia Fortress, Jerusalem, Israel ~

In today's hectic publish-or-die academic world we have little time to let our work lie for a time to see how things work out.  Everyone, it seems, ends every submitted paper by starting work on the next one with a breathless gasp of, "I must get my four papers published this year!"  And yet there are few fields as embedded in the millennia of human life more than gaming.  It is easy to blinker ourselves and see Computer Games as a field dating only from the late 20th century.  But it would also be incorrect.

Human beings play games.  It is inherent, by simply observation, in being a person.  Games are played at many levels and with several intentions.  Games are played to win, conquer, ridicule and even to rape and to kill.  Something way deep inside the human psyche says: interact with others and yourself by setting challenges with outcomes that thrill, frustrate and create joy and despair.

We even watch others play their games.  Is watching a movie or reading a book any more than playing a game of expectation in your head with the lives of fictional others.  We even talk of creating narratives of real life.  So we build up a stock of baddies and goodies that create thrills and fears, supported by viewing, reading and web engagement to reinforce our personal games board of The World.

Just consider how you react to each of the following:

Manchester United

Vladimir Putin

New York



I could go on with a hundred more labels, which are all engaged and in-play in your head.  None of these are the stark reality of the object or person behind the label.  For no-one could ever engage with these realities. So we engage in mind games with them.  We laugh at Putin's pants.  We execrate terrorists.  We fear migrants.  Its all a game in the head.

But games can be cruel.  We are used to attacks on video gaming for its violence.  There is nothing new in this.  The opening picture is from a game popular with the Roman imperial armies:

"[The Game of the King] was played with sheep’s knuckles as dice and they [the Roman Soldiers] would roll those dice on a playing board.  The soldiers would pick one of their own and make him the “king”.  They would give him robe, a crown, a scepter, and they would pay homage to him.  During the course of the day the soldiers would gamble for all of his possessions – clothes, wife, home back in Rome, etc, culminating in gambling for who got to kill him.   These Roman soldiers would pick some poor hapless new recruit and they’d make a game out of killing him. A terrible initiation ritual, but it shows you the brutality of the Roman legions.   Most of them weren’t nice people."[1]

Cruel games go back way before Wolfenstein.

As things begin to settle down in the retail world of video gaming, there are new opportunities opening up to see computer games as part of the continuum of human gaming from the beginning of time through to today and beyond.  Is this pointless academic posturing?  I think not.  The true reason for academic research is to uncover something hidden or forgotten that is potentially of relevance to people today.

If FIFA 2020 is to say anything more than its recent iterations, then something of the meaning of what is more generally called 'sport' should be captured, beyond being a higher-graphics Daley Thomson retro-game.  I doubt this can be done by programmers adept in the mysteries of C++.  It would take a team of academics as cross-cultural and inter-field as a games studio: coders, designers, journalists, sportsmen, sports geeks, club owners, etc.

The problem with this kind of research is that it takes time.  And, who has the time in the breakneck world of modern universities?  Let us leave that question to later and ask instead: what would such a longitudinal research project look like?  Here are two suggestions which capture two of the meanings of long-term research.

A Game in History - a single game could be taken and investigated as it has appeared at various points and in places during human history.  The aim is to capture, from a large and rich dataset, the detail of the features of the game as it has been played.  If a game such as Ludo was taken, then it will be seen that it has been played in different ways, with different names, in different circumstances.  It was once known as Uckers and played as such in the British Royal Navy[2].  This remains a valid research project for a video gaming academic perspective as there are e-versions of Ludo available today.  Also from a retail viewpoint as different hidden aspects of the game will appear through the research project, potentially creating new value.

A Game Genre's Historic Development - a single video game, whether still used or not, could be investigated to see how it worked, developed and was marketed as a game in its contexts.  Of course, as with the Ludo example, there would need to be a reason for choosing the game.  Background research would be required to support the game selection, and a clear set of probably open-ended research questions set.

Good research is worthwhile, systematic and careful.  From this comes papers which make for good reading and regular citation that stand the test of time.  To return to answering the above question which was set-aside - how do I find time to do this? - this involves a return to some basic old-fashioned academic practice: you fit this in as a long-term project.  The publish-four-papers-this-year-or-die practice is a game, isn't it?  Most academics can, by careful practice, squeeze good papers out of students work, whether at PhD, MSc or BSc level.  The longitudinal research project involves that far more enjoyable game of setting aside time to do the personal fun project which will take you five years or more to do.  From this kind of research comes the published work that stands the test of time and is more likely to be cited.

Its all a matter of playing the academic game in a way that is right for you.  Don't you agree?

Dr John N Sutherland
Editor-in-Chief, The Computer Games Journal
Springer Science+Business Media, New York, NY, USA.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Making a New Start for a New Year

Dr Indiana Henry Jones

The aim of The Computer Games Journal has always to be a GIN publication:

G - Good work worthy of being read widely
I  - Interesting papers and pieces that stimulate thought
N - Novel research that breaks new ground

It might have been Rev W L Watkinson who first said, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."  To be deeply philosophical in the context of a research journal, it could be said that the very purpose of research and publication is, by investigation, to cast a better light upon a curious problem, and by so doing increase the general illumination of the issue with respect to the wider fields of related knowledge.

Many would agree that current research funding, policies and strategies continue to work against the intrepid researcher.  The furrows to be harrowed are generally those most likely to have been previously funded and already well-worked.  The aim can easily become quantity over quality, and quickly an academic career can be consumed by decades of me-too or its-me-again output.

Academics have to live in the real world.  And, having been an academic in the UK and Japan I am no naïve unrealist such as are those who would regularly post simplistic and inactionable memes on the Internet.  We must publish or die.  Bills must be paid.  Our rest has to be earned.

How do we find Good, Interesting and Novel fields of potential research and publication which can be realistically examined and inspected, whilst still doing the all-consuming day-job?  I would suggest that there is a straightforward and practical way, one that is rarely exploited by academics, particularly those who are serving vigorously in the lower tiers of acadæmia.

The source is in excellent undergraduate and masters level dissertations.  Many academics supervise 10-20 of these student projects each year.  And in the case of the more recently-established universities at least, I have seen in my career some truly interesting and worthwhile investigative work produced.  Dissertations that are assessed as being 'excellent' usually show the following features: well written, well researched, well presented with significant conclusions.  In addition, many are investigations into novel areas which the student would hope to see as being a potentially strong curriculum vitæ entry when seeking a graduate job.

You may think that this is theory.  But it is not.  The Computer Games Journal, under its previous ownership, regularly accepted and published excellent GIN papers which were based on bachelor's or master's dissertation project work.  In every case the papers which were chosen for publication successfully went through the editorial checking process of peer review.

There is an additional bonus for the hard-pressed academic.  The work is done and the dissertation is written by the student, under academic supervision.  What remains for the academic is to reformat (students rarely do this successfully) and publish the work under the joint names of the student and the academic.  Perhaps one week's focussed work can be set aside to create a research publication in a rated journal.  Of course, we at The Computer Games Journal hope that you will choose to submit to tCGJ with its track record of publications of this kind.

Finally, a close to home example and aphorism.  In 1995 I was supervising a group of MSc Software Engineering students in a novel project to recreate an ancient building in virtual reality (VR) using a low-spec PC running Microsoft Windows 3.  The work they created, and the background research also performed, produced a joint report which broke new ground in VR.  I had recently picked up my first teaching job on completion of a research masters degree.  I spent some time re-bundling the report and submitted it to a conference; the paper was accepted; it was deemed a highlight of the conference; I was invited to the post of Professor of Virtual Reality on the back of this paper.

Now, I cannot guarantee that you will find a piece of student work which will be of this calibre (however, do check out who actually did Watson and Crick's work, or that of Sir James Young Simpson).  But, with some easy vigilance I can guarantee that, if your project supervision is sufficiently good, and a few of your students are too, you will find more than one suitable project every year.  Which will do no harm to your research standing also.

So, with the new season of undergraduate and postgraduate dissertation writing about to get seriously underway, now may be the time to seek out student work which, with careful direction, could be brought to such a standard of presentation that through a particularly directed effort from you, or colleagues, will turn the student's report into a suitable research paper.

For us at The Computer Games Journal, we will always welcome such good, interesting and novel research reports.  Do be in touch!

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Computer Games Journal - Editorial November 2015 - Are we boring our Audience?

I think I first played a video games around 1979.  It was Space Invaders on a table-top in a pub, with big red buttons, beer stains, and watched by my felow-drinkers.  Up until then my electronic buzz was via an obsession with pinball tables in the students' union building.  Suddenly, nobody played pinball, even though it was once so in vogue that we queued up the hear The Who sing about it in the rock musical movie, Tommy.

The past, as Hartley so aptly put it, is a foreign country.  The moving pen, as Daniel of Babylon said, writes and, having writ, moves on.  Change can be sudden.  And change can be catastrophic for those who decide to wait for the next bus, when there isn't necessarily going to be a next bus.

Much of what we do in life fits known biological models.  One of these is the concept of the thermoclyne.  In northern lands the lakes have a warm surface layer of around 50cm.  Step in at the shore and the water is nicely comforting, then step beyond 50cm and it is freezing.  This warm layer, the thermoclyne, gradually shrinks as the year draws to a close.  Then - suddenly! - the layers become unstable, the warm layer flips to the bottom, and the bottom with its silt flips to the top.

In a day the lake has totally changed affecting everything in its ecosystem.  The ecosystem continues, renewed, but anything living in that now-gone warm water layer dies.

Another biological model is that of the rise and fall of populations.  The generic models looks like this:

Put simply, every organic community is subject to a variation of this model.  Judging by the figures quoted by Fortune Magazine in the lead image above, video games looks to be beyond the tipping point of stasis and entering the line of decline.  This may or may not be true, but it is our job as academics, scholars and researchers to be at the cutting edge of discussion on the reasons why the Video Games industry is apparently stalling.

Allow me to share one other graphic, its from page 1 of a Google search on the terms video+games+market+boring:

The curse of tedium comes to every medium and, unless informed action is taken, it is the external forces which will continue to be the primary actors and drivers on our industry.  I wrote previously in this blog of the lazy tendency to recycle old stuff, the big two being educational games and virtual reality.  As Hamm the pig in Toy Story sez, "Nothing to see here, citizens.  Back to your lives."

Although History is stacked with the wrecks of failed once-greats, it also contains examples of Houdini-esque escapes by what were once deemed doomed media.  Perhaps the most noticeable example is television.  Up until very recently it was a creativity-free zone, recycling old ideas like our huge video games companies.  Television can get away with this as it is free to watch (OK, I know that in the UK the government will knee-cap you if you don't pay the TV Tax, but put that to one side), runs universally on all devices, and has viewer choice.

But, it was dying, until someone, HBO, decided to bring in the highest quality of plots, actors and settings, and put them together primarily as box-sets.  This was viewing for the television, but not primarily for broadcast.  HBO brought us the idea of quality viewing at a time that suits the viewer, and the idea that you could watch episodes back-to-back.

This is so normal now it is easy to forget that there was a time before this when we used to tape shows or divide our lives into time slots to suit the television broadcast companies.  New thinking brought life back to an old medium and spawned new technologies and marketplaces.  The decline stopped and television was reborn.

The use of novelty to recreate media and entertainment is all around us.  When I was a child I used to tuck my trousers into my socks, get on my rusty-chain bike and cycle to a friend's house.  Now I need to look like a neon dork, with a bowling ball stuck on my head, flashing lights everywhere, plastic shoes, water bottles, 48 gears, 20 mile trips to nowhere in particular, etc.  Cycling has been reborn as an expensive my-bike-is-costlier-than-yours personalised sport.

We can only look on in envy as cyclists spend thousands of dollars/pounds/euros on each bike in their personal stable, ever searching for the lightest frame imaginable.  These are the same people who twenty years ago spent that same money on consoles, games and peripherals.  I know; I was one.

Where do academics fit in?  Well, we are either the thinkers, reflectors and proposers of newness, or we are irrelevant.  Games developers frankly don't have the time to stand back, peruse and ponder.  But, even if we teach 15 hours a week for 26 weeks a year, that leaves a lot of free time which can be put to use on behalf of the Video Games industry.

But - where is this going on?  It is always difficult for one person on a globe of billions of people to see trends and activities.  Its a long way from California to Tokyo to Beijing to London, and back.  Nobody has the time to see and know about everything.  As I have said before, I see much research focussed on Educational Games and on Games Are Bad For You.  The first field produces no profits for our industry, the second is often libellous lies.  Both can so easily consume us.

Ask yourself a question:

If I had all the time, energy, resources and capability, 
what and where is the next breakthrough going to come 
in Video Gaming?  

This is the question which faces us as Video Games thinkers.  We'd better get thinking ...

Monday, 5 October 2015

Yes, you did it, I read it, but does it *mean* anything?

©Slow Life Games -

Yes, you did it, I read it, but does it mean anything?

~ the Computer Games Journal editorial blog for October 2015 ~

A young friend of mine, let's call him Phil (since that is his name), told me of his short interface with academia.  He had joined a Management School as an entrant undergraduate and had began, quickly, to get itchy feet.  Although he was still very young, Phil was - is - a businessman.  He had thought that entering a Management School would teach him useful practical skills he could use on the way to, who knows, his first million.

Early on he asked a Lecturer,

"Tell us about your experience of working in business."

And sat back to hear of tales of small and large businesses, start-up companies, failed companies, and such like.  The reply astounded him,

"I have never worked in business.  I am an academic.  I have spent my entire life in education."

Shortly afterwards he button-holed another academic,

"If you were going to teach your children to swim, would you buy them a book to read and talk about swimming, or would you go to a swimming pool?"

The reply was quick,

"I'd go to a swimming pool, of course."

Phil pushed the knife home,

"Then why do you expect us to learn about the business world when all you do is read book stuff at us?"

He left shortly after, and his small business is prospering.

What has this to do with Video Games research?  Everything.  I am, frankly, fed up reading reports of what some academic did with his students in his labs, and being asked to believe that the results reached have any meaning in and of themselves, despite being stretched further to believe that the results have any wider application in practice.

Research is a well-defined structured profession with well-understood boundaries of meaning and purpose.  At the lowest level research tells you about the researcher, the researched and the research environment.  In short the project report tells you what the research means and why this meaning has any relevance to the reader.

If I get a PhD student to write a game, then use it with my students, then ask my students questions about it, then write it up, how do I know it has any wider meaning?  Frankly, this is unlikely due to issues of researcher bias, sampling strategies, power relationships, non-independent data analysis, forces of publish-or-die acting upon the researcher, and forces of publish-and-profit being applied to the journal editors by the title's owners.

Scale this across to the Video Games industry and we see a situation where very little academic published research has any relevance to the workings, staffing and market-orientation of this mega-bucks world-wide industry.

It all starts with the research question.  Just what are the researchers investigating, and why?  Since almost no Video Games academics have ever and even fewer do work in the ultra-secretive and rabidly capitalist Video Games industry, how do these researchers know what the issues that face the industry actually are?

As in Management Science, taught by professors who work in a totally different workplace environment, so Video Games professors cannot understand the inner workings of an industry they do not work in.  Even at the very start of the research process, few Video Games researchers can make a valid start to their studies.  Yes, they might get their work published, but it is frankly irrelevant to the real world of excitement and fear that is Video Games development and creation.

We would not go to a doctor who has only ever worked on corpses and in lecture theatres.  We would not learn to drive in a simulator or via a book.  We could not learn to speak Spanish, Japanese and Russian unless we went to live in situ for many years.  This luxury is not available to Video Games graduates.  It is the in-house expertise of the academic staff that prepare the students; or doesn't.

Here we have the perfect intersection of learning and research.  When academics are acting in their living field, then students learn how to act.  No students is greater than their professor on graduation.

Will we ever see an end to pointless research publications of pointless, meaningless research papers?  Of course we won't.  Could we see more useful research coming out of academic ivory towers which is of direct use to the Video Games industry?  Of course we can.

The challenge is for Video Games academics to start their own games studios, create and write games for the real world, and so learn the meaning of failure, marketing, customer feedback handling, sector targeting, popular game development from tools, multi-skill practice, financial uncertainty, blood, sweat and tears.

This should produce more research papers that the Video games industry would subscribe to and learn from.

In case you think I am battering my nearest'n'dearest or colleagues, let us quickly return to Management Science.  Phil went to hear Sir Alex Ferguson give a talk on Being A Manager in Glasgow (Sir Alex's home city) last week.  Sir Alex is probably the most successful sports manager ever, having led Manchester United FC to huge success and following.

A university has picked him up as a visiting professor, having used his example of successful management as a case study for many years.  I thought this might be Loughborough or another one of the great sports research institutes of the United Kingdom.  No, the university is Harvard; the world's greatest university with the world's greatest Management School.

Why?  Because everything they do is related to the real world, but scrutinised, investigated and reported upon with the sharpest of academic minds.  Where was Cambridge, Oxford, London or Edinburgh when Sir Alex was working his magic in Manchester?

There is a huge gap in applied Video Games research.  Where are the young academics who will storm through and bring us real-world research writing that will then stand the test of time?  I believe - I strongly believe - you are there already, ready and able.  And, believe me, running a Video Games studio and working with your own in-house team of games developers over several years is far more exciting than reading, analysing and writing about yet another 23-34 student SurveyMonkey results.

Real research is exciting!

Dr John N Sutherland
Editor-in-Chief, The Computer Games Journal
Spring Science+Business Publishing, New York, NY, USA

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Computational Science, or, What It is Not


Much is said, repeated and believed about the true nature of Computing Science.  But none easily get to the core of our awesome subject which continues to extend, develop and engulf more of mankind and the ways of people worldwide.  As I originally entered university with the intention of studying Biological Sciences, until catching the Computing bug in my final year, allow me to consider some biological parallels.

On entering second year and beginning studies in Zoology the lecturer came in with two rats - one dead, one alive - and wrote one word on the blackboard:


He then turned to the class and said,

"You are here to study animal life.  But what is that life?  What is life?  I have here two rats, one dead, one alive.  The dead one was alive until a few minutes ago.  It continues to act in almost every way as the live rat.  Its biochemistry is the same, its eyes function, its touch sensors communicate with the brain.  To most purposes it is as a sleeping rat.  But, it is a dead rat.

"The difference is that one rat lives and one is dead.  What makes the living rat different is that it has life.  What is life?  We don't know, but it is what you are here to study."

Decades on the lesson remains with me.  It works and continues to resonate when I consider new-born babies, plants and cats, and also when I contemplate clouds, rocks and water. Biology is the study of LIFE or of living things.  So succint.  So clear.

Computing Science is still to us as the proverbial elephant is to the blind men groping at it.  We all know the story: one grasps the trunk and says, 'It is like a snake'; another handles the ear and says, 'It is like a giant leaf'; a third hugs the leg and says, 'It is like a tree.'  All are partially correct, but none, even all combined, are adequate.

Without a clear understanding we remain down in the dirt-level, seeing everything around us as in a simple eyes-front plain.  We need to find a place to stand above the raw data milling around us and see the structure and reason.  Interestingly, in many European countries, such as Poland, you cannot lecture in your subject without two PhD's.  The first in your subject area, and the second in your understanding of the general/philosophical nature of your subject area.

If we simply repeat, unthinkingly, accepted shibboleths, we are not much more than reposters of catchy but shallow memes.

Allow me to consider here a few typical "Computing Science is ..." aphorisms we regularly meet.  I am not implying these are comprehensive or even representative, just that they are illustrative in significant ways.

Computing Science is about Input, Process and Output

This is both inadequate in terms of scope and also as a specifically useful definition.

A memory stick, compact disc or printout are all part of the creative Computing process, and of the persistence of data beyond the active processor.  Yes, a memory stick exists to hold data that has been processed and may later be again processed; it is, essentially an Output-Process-Input device, semantically challenging the I-P-O model (this may flag a recognition for old IBM System 3/AS400 RPG programmers.)

Is a book a Computer device?  It has much the same characteristics as a memory stick: it is computer produced, can be scanned back in, reread and restored as a range of file-type formats.  However, this draws the net far too wide as it manages to capture a 2,000 year-old format and claim it for our lifetimes.  It even endangers us with having to then import into our field such as the ancient palimpsest (a book or manuscript page which has been cleaned and rewritten upon.)

There also remains the problem with the I-P-O model of Computing Science that data storage is not covered by it.  If a definition does not clearly encapsulate the field, then extensions must be defined.  Extensions imply exceptions, and core definition plus extensions minus exceptions make for a messy statement.

We are seeking a clear statement along the lines of, 

"We, the people of the United States ..."  

Instantly that sets the American constitution clearly against the the British constitution.  For example, despite linguistic attempts this side of the pond, it is America which has 'citizens' of a country whereas Britain has 'subjects' of a monarch.

Computing Is Programming

This is a definition which reduces the field almost ad absurdum.

Anyone, like me, with a background in Video Games or in Digital Media will know that this is not clearly so.  Yes, the programs (or apps) created for end-users are programmed code-objects, but is that all they are?  Clearly not so.

For the millions of video games players round the globe their object of obsession is a game played on a device.  It may be helpful to a field to have a definition which brings in thoughts from other fields, however.  So, chess is a programmed game, as is field hockey, as, come to that, is the youthful search of a boy for girl or vice versa.

Defining Computing Science as being exclusively about code - remember, we are seeking a universal definition - may be helpful in understanding an important part of the field, but it unnecessarily defines-out what is clearly ours to own also.  We need to be able to include such as HCI, large-scale software modelling and fields now near-defunct, yet possibly still ours, such as metrics and analog processing.

This is a particular bug-bear in traditional Computer Science departments where coding is the core activity.  Yes, it is very important, but a skewed understanding on any field will create unnecessary no-go areas and over-intensive research farming.  From my own viewpoint, this is a major effect of our hugely commercially-driven field where academics, researchers and scholars are of little significance to the external world.  It is far easier to study the still waters of the side-waters than to dive into the rapids and make progress.

Small definitions generally accepted make for inconsequential research communities.

Computing Science is not Information Technology

Lack of understanding is not an excuse for lack of scholarship.

When Computer Science enters the real world it becomes a different beast.  Many biological animals exist in two different forms: caterpillars and moths / butterflies / etc.  This being a Scottish summer of warmness and wetness, allow me to illustrate with the scourge of the midge:

Four different animal forms, but only one nasty wee biting beastie.  It took Biology quite some time, and careful study, to understand many different animals as being one and the same thing.  Unfortunately, Computing has allowed a division to emerge between CS and IT.  In universities it is common now to find Applied Computing as a BA award affiliated with the Business School and for Computing Science as a BSc/BEng award be located with Engineering.

Has this been done because Computer Scientists have decided the field is best understood by being separated into TheSuits and TheT's?  Not in my experience. Such division has been done, universally to my knowledge, by external forces - power-grabs and general structural reorganisations - acting upon Computing Science from outside.  The result is de facto true, but lacks any response to a reasonable enquiry to clearly define the division and separation.

The result has also produced an increasing number of universities with no clear Computing Science department for subject focus, teaching and scholarship.  These are huge forces acting upon our research community from within acadæmia which threaten to weaken our attempts to understand the what, why, who, when and where of Computing Science.

There are many other definitions which we all can come across in our scholarly lives.  I hope that the examples and the reasonings given above show the clear need for a simple definition that will adequately encapsulate all that is Computing Science, whilst also clearly defining boundaries, and allowing scholarly collaboration and debate across these boundaries, with the wider scope of academic research as it exists and will continue to develop, in the global academy of enquiry, research and teaching.

And, yes, I do think I have one.  Perhaps in the next blog entry I might attempt to say,

I think Computing Science is ...

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Computer Games Journal Editorial Comment for August 2015 - Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks


The most important feature of a researcher is enthusiasm.  Where does this come from?  Only from an in-built love for and desire to be ever-in the subject.  I was thinking of this as I listened last week to a short (28 minutes) interview on BBC Radio 4 with the world's greatest living Biologist, E O Wilson[1].  In early childhood he began to catch insects and classify them: butterflies and moths mainly.  Over time he became obsessively fascinated with ants and their amazing colonies.  He didn't do very well at school, but entered his US state university, packed with enthusiasm, and made the field his own, becoming hugely published[2] including using thousands of his own illustrations.

One of my many reminiscences of working from 1988 to 2014 in academic Video Games schools across the UK and into Canada and Japan, is that the enthusiasm of the young students is astonishing.  These young dogs arrive at us aged just 18 but with 14+ years of video game playing behind them.  I say 'us' and 'them' because, although I played video games from aged 21 (from Space Invaders, Tank Attack, Breakout, etc.) it wasn't an academic field, so there was a thinking gap until the mid 1990's when the industry became so large that universities and colleges began to take Computer Games seriously.

Newbies today entering video games academies and schools have a huge advantage: the field now exists.  Ed Wilson was a very fortunate young man, and with masses of of chutzpah.  On arrival as a freshman undergraduate he went to the university principal's office and told him, "I'm here!"  Sounds like quite a few students I had the pleasure - and pain - to teach!  They knew what to do with him: gave him a desk, graduated him on to Harvard, who gave him a sum of money for 'anything he wanted to do', and young Ed dedicated his life to investigating Ants.

One of my disappointments - please don't feel that this blog is now going to go down a hole, there are *always* disappointments in life - is that so few of these young folk, who like Ed Wilson were from very ordinary non-Oxbridge-aspiring backgrounds, knew how to read their future opportunities.  Acadæmia is a mine-field for the unwary and unmapped.  Being a young researcher is like being a newbie or girl in a long-established MMORPG: its very easy to get shot, diverted from the task in hand, or not know where you are going.

Young Ed Wilson was fortunate in two ways: he had already built up a deeply-embedded love for his subject, and he found a place where he would prosper.  Without both you cannot become a successful and satisfied academic.  Games students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate have the first feature in spades!  I never met an undergraduate IT, Computing Science or Software Engineering student who so simply lived their subject all waking hours.  Indeed, the only time I came across this was during my BSc studies in Biology and personal life in Music.

Video Games is a totally absorbent field that repays the researcher's enthusiastic enquiries with a feast of subfields which can be turned into truly readable and long-lasting research publications, given the right circumstances.  It is a field which the newbie researcher can make their own, much as the young Ed Wilson did for the study of ants.

It can happen suddenly when you simply follow your enthusiasms.  In 1995 I was wandering around the ruins in my home town of the mediæval St Andrews Cathedral and wondering, "Could this be rebuilt in virtual reality?"  I went away, picked up a cheapo software package, talked to the Dr Keith Brown of the University of St Andrews' Scottish History department, went off and rebuilt it. I presented it at a VR conference in Japan.  The floodgates opened and I found myself, suddenly, the leading expert in massive VR reconstructions on the PC platform.

I have written often before about the lack of chutzpah in Video Games research.  Few are willing to take chances and make new parts of the field their own.  It is as if for them most of the gameplay level is obscurely fogged out and overlayed with 'there be dragons' texts - well, then this can so easily be for the newbie to Games acadæmia the opportunity of a lifetime! And lifetimes are few and far between in the real world.

A final quote to Ed Wilson.  He does not see himself as a brilliant man, more a focused, dedicated and determined researcher:

"a good scientist should be bright enough to see what can be done 
but not too bright as to become bored doing it"

Finally, finally, after you catch the interview online[1] you can sit back and read Ed Wilson encourage newbie researchers via a Kindle book[3]: Letters to a Young Scientist [4]

And when you want to publish your ground-breaking results and conclusions, do remember The Computer Games Journal! [5]

Dr John N Sutherland BSc(Glasgow) MSc(StAndrews) EdD(distinction,Edinburgh) CTh(Tilsley) CEng MBCS
The Computer Games Journal
New York, NY, USA.


[1] the live (as of writing) link to the BBC radio interview
[2] his books on amazon
[3] yes, you do have to read the book; no-one ever became a successful researcher who was not willing to read books - no-one!
[4] on amazon
[5] details online at