I should talk a bit about my experiences with the academic group that made up Joystick101 and the local groups around it. As I reached 2004 and was just finishing up X-Men Legends, I was getting pretty burned out on the industry… 11 years of making varieties of shooters at Raven was entertaining, but was growing into a somewhat single-note affair. Around then, Nathan McKenzie, an incredible gameplay programmer I had been fortunate to poach from a college back in (I think) 1996 was acquainted with a lot of the game academics around the University of Wisconsin. After an awesome run completing Soldier of Fortune in 2000, Nathan had taken a couple of years off and did something of a journey of self-discovery… He came back to work on Quake 4 in (I think) 2003 with a lot of academic knowledge and a pretty unique view on games.
Anyway, Nathan introduced me to the UW academics that had been studying games… something I had no idea existed. They were an incredibly interesting group, including Kurt Squire, Constance Steinkeuhler, Alice Robison and notably Professor Jim Gee. Every week a group of them, including a number of other graduate students in departments such as Education, Linguistics and English, would gather in a game wonderland known as Room 130. Every week these folks would gather and play a new game, observe and talk about them. These were not the hardcore gamers that I had grown accustomed to interacting with, although they loved games with an equal fervor.
Coming from a fairly practical point of view on games and development over the previous 11 years, I felt refreshed. I didn’t ultimately “switch” to an academic perspective as much as Nathan did (he’s doing awesome, more power to him!), but my eyes opened a bit, knowing that there were more angles to look at games than I had realized… Not everyone was searching for that 20-levels-8-weapons-12-enemies magic formula that seemed so common out there. It was just what I needed to help me explore other genres and places.
So, to the Room 130 folk, my thanks.