My UEA Story: Dean Bowman
Name: Dean Bowman
School: Arts Media and American Studies (Film Television and Media Studies)
Research Area: Game studies
Bio: Dean Bowman is studying a PhD on the role of narrative in videogames at UEA. He also teaches Games Studies at Norwich University of the Arts, and edits for Intensities: Journal of Cult Media. He is an avid board game player and has a forthcoming essay in the edited collection Rerolling Board Games by McFarland Press.
So I'm Dean Bowman and I am studying how video game designers tell stories in their games and specifically how they go about kind of reconciling storytelling with gameplay.
What is your research important?
Video games have become the way an entire generation chooses to express itself, they've become incredibly important in the last 20 years or so, the latest estimate is that the global games industry is worth over $90 billion.
What could it mean in the real world?
But my approach to this topic is to interview game designers which has traditionally been an approach that's been ignored by academic game studies who tend to focus on the product or the player, so for me this is a way to kind of create bridges between academia and the industry.
What has been your favourite moment so far?
So I've had the opportunity to speak to some incredibly creative, interesting designers including Steve Gaynor who worked on the BioShock series and Gone Home, Rhianna Pratchett who broke the latest Tomb Raider reboot and Lucas Pope who created the wonderful Papers Please and all of these people are incredibly intelligent and think very deeply about their craft, so their approach to thinking about games is highly relevant to academia and they're just really interesting people as well.
A Day in the Life of Dean
Since UEA is an hour journey from where I live, in a lovely Victorian terrace north of the city that I share with two other friends, I tend to study at home most days, only going in for seminars and meetings. Recently, however, I’ve started to travel in on Mondays where I have a study session with a couple of fellow PhD students. We sit together in Vista, the post grad coffee shop, and work together. It's nice motivation and good to see your peers every once in a while. Being a part time student and studying off campus can be a bit isolating and there are quite a few distractions at home (especially for someone who studies videogames); meeting up like this we can share goals for the coming week and hold one another accountable to them.
Monday is also the day the department’s seminar series happens – there’s usually a talk in the late afternoon from a student about the progress of their PhD, or an interesting external speaker. Sometime students and staff meet up under one of the three departmental research groups (in Film Television and Media these are: British Cinema, Feminist media studies, and media consumption) and exchange ideas for organising events or sharing and getting feedback on one another’s work. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to engage with academic staff and feel a real part of the research community.
It’s vital to integrate yourself into the research community – it’s what being at university is all about. And if you don’t have a research community, you need to make one. For example, in my first and second year, since there weren’t many others studying videogames in my department, I put together a Videogame Studies Reading Group, which was quite successful. About eight of us, postgrad students and staff with a tertiary interest in the study of games, met at the Sainsbury Centre café (a lovely quiet and well-lit space with views out onto the lush greenery of the campus – and, also, now the headquarters of the Avengers according to Hollywood) where we discussed a set reading. I highly recommend doing this to anyone struggling to find a support network, it’s also a good way to set little deadlines for pieces of reading and to find people to bounce ideas off.
I also teach at Norwich University of the Art’s Games Art and Design course two days a week, which takes a good deal of preparation. This has been incredibly rewarding and great work for my CV, but it’s been incredibly difficult to balance with my PhD, leading me to switch to part time. The PhD opens the doors for many exciting opportunities (teaching, conferencing, publication) but it’s important not to bite off so much that the PhD suffers (I’ve still not gotten the hang of this). For instance, projects I’ve currently got on the go include a chapter for a scholarly collection on board gaming, helping to organise a major conference on cult media (and co-authoring a paper on PlayStation 2’s infamous ‘third place’ advertising campaigns). I've also written a presentation on the exciting new genre of ‘walking simulators’ for the Norwich Gaming Festival.
I think it’s easy to tell from this breakdown that a typical day in the life of a PhD student tends to be anything but typical. Just as your conception of what your PhD is changes drastically year on year, how you spend your time also fluctuates wildly. One moment you’ll be focusing on conferencing and writing papers, another on knuckling down and concentrating on the PhD. Sometimes I like to go into town and spend the day reading at a café and sipping coffee. Your days become flexible and there’s never a dull moment. It’s exactly the reason I escaped the 9-5 grind of magazine publication to return to university.