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5:20pm on Thursday, 24th August, 2017:

Early Morning


I got up at 2:30am this morning, so as to take part over Skype in a 7pm lecture by Gordon Bellamy at the University of Southern California. It was on the topic of Player Types, and Gordon figured I'd be better at explaining it than he would so invited me to do so. I think it went OK, although there was a hitch with Skype's screen-share feature which, despite having worked just fine in a dry run, never opened the (single, static) screen I wanted to display when asked to do so before a live audience.

The opportunity to take part in the lecture reminded me yet again of how different UK and US universities do teaching. In the US, the lecturers have much more freedom — I couldn't schedule a lecture from 7pm to 10pm even if I wanted to do so. I couldn't have students from different years of study. I couldn't invite random speakers to participate, because I have to satisfy Quality Assurance criteria (basically telling students in advance what they will learn if they take a module) and I have to set examinations for my modules before I've even taught a single lecture in them. I therefore couldn't bribe or blackmail any of my games-teaching friends into presenting over Skype without knowing months in advance what they were going to say. Also, I can't say that I assume all my students have a mobile phone (even if they do all have a mobile phone).

The make-up of the students at Gordon's lecture was also different to mine. There were many more women than I get in my modules, for a start. Also, quite a few had backgrounds in games or related industries — more than do some of the games lecturers I know at some UK universities. They were from a mixture of academic years, not a single cohort. The (what we call in the UK) overseas students were present in about the same proportion as for my lectures at Essex University, perhaps a little less. Almost all of the overseas students were from China (I have a lot from there, but also from the Middle East) and all were very fluent in English (whereas a small minority of my overseas students use translation programs). The students as a whole participated much more in the lecture than my students do, making comments and asking questions unprompted (mine are extremely reluctant to ask questions even when directly asked if they have any and I know they do because I just said something weird to them).

There was one area where we have it easier in the UK, though. At the start (this was the first lecture of the semester), Gordon asked all the students to introduce themselves. What are they called? Where are they from? What year are they in? What game means the most to them? What interesting things did they do over the summer? So far, so good. One of the questions, though, was what pronouns the students prefer to be applied to them (most went with him/he, her/she or them/they). We haven't got to the stage yet where that's a thing in UK universities; there isn't some kind of attitude police making sure I hold to a particular line. I'm much more free to say what I want using whatever words I want and to make whatever ironic remarks I want, without the danger that what I say will be taken literally and out of context to cost me my job. So, we're more restricted in some ways, but less restricted in others.

At the end of the lecture, I was asked if I had anything I wanted to add. I used the opportunity to tell the students what they perhaps didn't know: Gordon is an absolutely amazing teacher and advocate for games, they're incredibly lucky to have him, he's not just some superficial shmuck teaching games for the sake of it, he knows the subject inside-out, and if any of his passion at all rubs off on his students, we're going to get better games as a result.

Well, he made me get up at 2:30am, so I had to exact revenge by embarrassing him.

Oh, if you're wondering, my own answer to the question of what pronouns I preferred was that gender is a social construct, so they can socially construct whatever they like for me.

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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).