And thus ends 2017: all things considered, a rather disappointing year.
Looking back, it was probably the third worst year of my life (the worst being 2013 when I developed my chronic illness, the second worst being 2014 when I was coming to terms with it). I spent half of 2017 in a deeply toxic working environment which had a significant effect on my mental and physical health. I managed to get out, but became completely burned out from writing my book, and after that a complication from the life-threatening illness/injury/trauma of 2013 developed, and triggered a profound change in my emotional and mental well-being, which – six months on, and a very tough six months it has been – I’m finally now starting to get something of a handle on. As long as nothing else happens (I’m too young for this shit, frankly), I think I’m on the road to recovery now. I’m now settled in Canada, working in a great environment and enjoying being in a great new relationship, and these are damned good foundations for getting everything else back on track.
So, what did get done in 2017, and what will get done in 2018? Well:
Finished My First Book. Much of the first half of this year was spent finishing my upcoming first book, The Unpredictability of Gameplay, which is now officially “in press”. Situated somewhere between game studies, game design, and a number of wider engagements with the history of play, various kinds of gambling, and a range of other elements, the volume seeks to develop a framework for thinking through the different “kinds” of unpredictability that exist in games, and in turn to explore a number of interesting cultures or implementations of unpredictability (procedural content generation being one of the case studies!). It was a challenging task this year to write it, which definitely contributed significantly to my burnout, but I’m very happy with the final product. More will appear here about the book once we have a fixed publication date, but with my first ever monograph completed, it’s definitely one of my big successes of 2017.
Almost Finished 0.8. So it didn’t get finished, but a lot of extra work did get done, and it is closer to release than it was a year ago. The NPCs are basically finished, the conversation system is basically finished; this release has been a huge task, and far bigger than I ever imagined, but I’m pleased with what I got done in 2017, even if it wasn’t as much as I hoped. In the extremely difficult circumstances throughout the year, I’m happy with the coding I managed.
Moved To Canada. In 2017 I finally moved out of my home country of the UK and have now settled in Edmonton up in northern Canada, where I now work at the University of Alberta. Moving oneself 4,200 miles away is not just a major practical effort in terms of the transporting of objects, booking of flights, and all that, but also a tremendous administrative one – whereas administrative things build up piecemeal when living in one’s native country, moving to a new country means that one has to do everything, from health to housing from insurance to payment from bank accounts to mobile phones, all at the same time. This is then further complicated by the fact that some of these are contingent on some of the others, making the entire task quite dreadfully confusing. Nevertheless, this is now all done, and I’m comfortably settled in here; this was a big task which was simultaneously exciting and daunting, and I’m glad it’s done.
Wrote Many Many Papers and Chapters. Ordinarily I wouldn’t class this as an “achievement”, being just the standard activity of a (young) academic, but in such a hard year I feel that it is actually worth mentioning. I got out around four journal papers and at least that many book chapters – here’s a quick list of them, and some links for where you can read them if you’re interested.
“It’s like the gold rush”: the lives and careers of professional video game streamers on Twitch.tv. This paper is the first paper to emerge from my ongoing research project into Twitch, and focuses on the experiences of professionals at becoming professionals, being professionals, and how this status changes and reshapes their lives.
Gamification: What it is, and how to fight it. This paper was co-authored with my colleague Jamie Woodcock, who I will also be co-authoring my second book with, and in it we explored two different kinds of gamification, how to fight against the mainstream of gamification, and what a “true” gamification really looks like.
Gaming-value and culture-value: understanding how players account for video game purchases. This paper was co-authored with Yinyi Luo, a late-stage doctoral student and good friend, in which we examined why people pay for pre-order and why people buy games on Steam sales (and the like) with no intention of ever actually playing them.
Making science fiction real: neoliberalism, real-life and esports in Eve Online. This paper was published just a day or two before the end of the year, and examines some of the ideological content of Eve Online, how playing Eve affects the “real-world” lives of its players, and Eve’s esports competitions!
If you don’t have University access, some of them are already available on my academia.edu page, and the others will be in the next few days. Finally, alongside these papers, I also worked on a lot of book chapters; here are some of the books I either wrote something for in 2017 (to be published in 2018), or had published in 2017:
As above; although it’s standard practice for my job, in such a hard year, I’m glad I still managed to get out such a large volume of work. Quite a few papers I wanted to write didn’t get finished, but more than enough were.
In previous years I’ve almost always met the lofty goals I’ve set myself, but for 2018, I’m going to tone it down a little, and focus on a small number of essential things. There are only really a few core “output” goals I have (I’m not including goals here like spending time with my new partner, keeping fit and healthy, that kind of stuff, and nor am I including publishing papers, as that’s just a normal part of the academic life). But, nevertheless, I have four major objectives for 2018:
Release 0.8. This has to be done. It has been 90% finished for a year now, and it’s just getting ridiculous. My intention is to dedicate a significant block of March and April to getting 0.8 done, polished, bug-fixed, and finally released, and then I’ll be taking stock of my longer-term game design goals after that.
New Website. I think the time has come to move to a new website which more accurately reflects everything I do instead of just URR (especially as it is a smaller part of my time now than a year ago), and one with a new custom wordpress layout. I’m looking at a few possible domain names right now, but I’m pretty sure I know which one I’m going to settle on. This is an objective for some time around May or June or so this year, when I want to begin shifting everything over there. With URR becoming less of my focus, and my academic work becoming more of my focus, it seems strange to keep this as my domain name, honestly. Equally, it is a difficult one for people to read and make sense of, it’s difficult for people to say, and so forth, and I’ve run into this issue now more times than I can count. For the same reason, my Twitter account is now @mrj_games instead of my old account name, for this is both a more general handle, and a more easily-conveyed one as well. More on this in the next few months, but by the end of 2018 – hopefully more like the middle of 2018, but let’s see! – everything will be moved over there.
New Blog. Closely related to the above – as well as a new website that reflects more accurately my broader games interests, it is also time to reshape “the blog” in a similar way. There are two ways the blog will be reshaped, and two reasons for it. Firstly, the blog will continue to shift from a “dev blog” into a “dev and general games commentary blog”, and secondly, the blog will shift from a “weekly” blog into a “monthly” blog, and one without fixed monthly deadlines; a post will appear some time in each month, without precise timings enforced up-front.
The reasons for these changes are twofold. In the first case, although URR remains an active-project-on-hiatus and not an abandoned project, my academic games work is my central focus now, and will be indefinitely. This means my blog should reflect this, and should reflect what I’m spending most of my “games time” doing. In the second case, once the blog update schedule drifted away from weekly in 2017, I came to realise how much of a stressful pressure weekly updates had become. When I started the blog they were an exciting, enjoyable thing to look forward to every week, and something to help guide and centre my thoughts, but this is no longer the case. I’m not quite sure when this change took place – as with all gradual things, one only notices it when one is startled out of complacency and compares the present to the distant past – but it definitely did. This means I need a blog update schedule devoid of pressure, but one still with a degree of regularity, and monthly updates are definitely the way to go on that front.
So, as part of the transition to the new website, the shift to the new blog will take place in stages. Stage 1 will be continuing to post here as the new website is acquired and developed; Stage 2 will be co-posting everything on here and the new blog, but with a link over here that points to the new site; and then Stage 3 will be posting everything on the new blog, and putting up a front-page and top-of-blog notice on this site redirecting readers to the new site. From that point on my intention will be to retain this website indefinitely (at least for quite some time) in order to direct interested readers to the new one, but posts will no longer appear here.
So yes: the new blog will be on a new website, will have a monthly update schedule, will cover general games commentary as well as game development, and will hopefully end up looking rather nicer than the present site does right now (not that there’s anything wrong with the WordPress standard, but it’s time for something a little more personalised, don’t you think?). I’m really excited about this relaunch, and there will be more information on it in the coming months.
Finish Book #2. My second book is already well under-way, on a more relaxed schedule than my first, and using a lot of important new knowledge I learned from the first book to help me write the second in a healthier manner. A proper announcement will be coming at some point a little down the line, perhaps once we have a cover to show, but basically the book is about Twitch, live streaming, and the labour politics of the games industry more generally, including that surrounding sponsorship, promotion, games reviewing, and the like. We’re (my co-author and I) currently hoping to have it released some time around the middle of 2019, as there’s a particular deadline we want to meet. Again, more on this soon!
So there you go: 2017 wasn’t the best, 2018 will hopefully better, but I’m scaling back on my ambitions in order to build things back up in a more sustainable way for the future. I’m excited for the future after a terrible year, and I hope you all are too. More from me soon!