I played my first video game at the age of five. I wrote my first book at the age of twelve. I taught my first class at the age of thirteen. If my future plays out well, I’ll be doing all three for the rest of my life. And my next step towards that future? The Ph.D. program in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, where I’ll be as of August.
I’ll be honest. When I began undergraduate studies at Grove City College in 2007, I never intended to pursue an academic career in gaming. Like many of the peers and professors I would interview for my senior independent study, I’d accepted the assumption that “serious” academia and interactive entertainment were antithetical. And so I attempted to find myself at home in another, more accepted medium. I studied drama, acting, directing, film history & theory, even dabbled in screenwriting, as well as exploring a tremendous span (temporal and geographic) of literature. But each course I took enhanced rather than usurped my appreciation for the gaming form: it had the drama of an interactive play, the visual power of cinema, the scripted capacity of prose, and the symphonic accompaniment of music. The best writers, actors, musicians, and artists could synthesize their work in a single collaborative medium: the game.
Above all else, my interdisciplinary undergraduate romp taught me that McLuhan was right about the relationship between medium and message: video games, a new medium, are the conduit not merely for new messages but new types of messages, and they require new research paradigms to complement that singularity. I want to be on the cutting edge of the development of those paradigms: learning what makes games tick louder or quieter than other media, and how games affect the people who make and play them. In particular, I’d seek to uncover and expound upon the benefits of games for both the individual and society, and look for ways to maximize the good that is already being generated by this unique and powerful medium.
I believe OSU’s School of Communication will foster an ideal environment for such study. Researchers like Dr. Brad Bushman are already turning media assumptions on their heads; he could help me debunk the fabled frivolity of gaming and find ways to channel the prosocial effects of violent games. Dr. Dan McDonald’s exploration of the interplay between self and media mirror my own interest in identify formation, and together we might better understand the intricate us/them dichotomies that gamers fashion and fortify. And Dr. Jesse Fox’s courses (like “Video Games & the Individual”) and research on virtual worlds and online selves may be the key to understanding and overturning the infamous Penny Arcade G.I.F. Theory of online anonymity.
I look forward to learning the nuances of quantitative research from some of the leading names in the nation even as I partner with them in work that challenges popular opinions about the medium we cherish. The prospect of working alongside such an impressive faculty (and in a Gaming Research Lab, no less) is made irresistible by the size and reputation of OSU, which makes possible the high level of financial assistance necessary for rendering my dream of graduate study, and thereby lifelong professional scholarship, a reality. I’m committed to holding a Ph.D. in Communication, and I am elated to have the chance to earn it at The Ohio State University, as I strive to achieve that most elusive of career goals: tenure at an institution that permits me to teach, to write, and yes, to play video games.
The above is a slightly modified version of the official statement submitted to the Program last fall; tone and content have shifted to reflect the public nature of the document and the change in status of my application (prospective -> accepted).