“Public or perish” is a commonly wielded phrase in academia, one that highlights the perceived importance of publication in peer-reviewed journals. However, despite the pressure to publish articles at a feverish pace, the actual publication process is not always as straight-forward as “think of an idea,” “write an article,” then “submit said article.” Like so many types of research, the road from start-to-finish can be a winding one.
As an early academic, my wisdom on the topic of publication is certainly limited. However, I thought I would take some time to recap one of my recent projects — GameSound: A Prototype Ludomusicological Database — to discuss how it progressed from class assignment, to poster presentation, to (soon-to-be) published article in Digital Studies / Le champ numérique. GameSound is an example of how a small project can persist and change, gradually making its way to publication through conference presentations and iteration.
Phase 1: Class Project(s)
GameSound began as a small class project for The Digital Humanities, a graduate course I took at McGill University in the fall of 2017. Tasked with developing a prototype digital humanities project and an accompanying abstract, I collaborated with musicology scholar Melissa Mony to create a simple videogame music and sound effects database. The project was very rough around the edges in its early days— we were both only a few months into our graduate careers and did not have the strongest grasp of the theories we were employing — but the seed of the idea was there. Our early abstract is reflective of our tentative engagement on the topic at hand, relying on broad claims and focusing a bit too heavily on popular context and methodology.
Phase 2: Poster Presentations
Following the completion of the course, we decided to take GameSound “on tour” in early 2018, by creating a poster and presenting it at two conferences: the CSDH/SCHN Conference in Regina and the McGill Musicology Symposium here in Montreal. Although we had quickly mocked-up a poster during our coursework, we decided to completely overhaul it for the upcoming events. Our focus was to make it readable and concise – designed to explain project fully without additional context (necessary, as posters are often left unsupervised during conferences). In essence, the poster became a better fleshed-out version of our original abstract — one that we tweaked between conferences based on input from our fellow academics.
Concurrent with the poster redesigns, we also added more content to the GameSound database in order to better demonstrate its capabilities. Originally containing only a handful of entries, we expanded the dataset to include every single sound featured in a single videogame, Civilization IV, encompassing thousands of sound effects and music tracks. Realizing that the database needed a home online, we also created a website that scholars could use to interact with and learn more about the project. The poster presentations, database, and online resources provided us with diverse opportunities to workshop GameSound while allowing academics to evaluate it and give us feedback.
Phase 3: Journal Draft
After several months of updating and presenting GameSound, in the spring of 2018 we were invited to submit to a special issue of Digital Studies / Le champ numérique – one that would feature a refereed selection of papers from its 2018 CSDH/SCHN Conference. Although this was an exciting prospect, I found it quite intimidating for a couple of reasons. First, the journal required a paper length of 3000-6000 words and GameSound had never existed as anything more than an expanded abstract or few paragraphs of poster copy. Second, my research partner Melissa had recently decided to exit academia, leaving me to write the journal article mostly on my own. Despite these hurdles, I decided to accept the invitation. PhD applications were on my radar, and I wanted to get a taste of academic publishing before continuing my graduate studies.
Over the summer months of 2018, I cobbled together an article draft that drew upon my previous abstracts, other presentations at the 2018 CSDH/SCHN Conference, and existing ludomusicology research. In retrospect, this draft was a bit scattered: I relied heavily on summarizing other projects, evaded a lot of theory, and stretched some topics a bit thin to reach the word count. However, I still felt that it was good enough to submit, and sent it off for review in September 2018.
Phase 4: Revisions
The slow pace of academic publishing can be a bit disorienting, especially when you are forced to revisit a paper that you submitted a year earlier and had all but forgotten about. It was not until June 2019 that I received an acceptance notice for the article — a welcome email, but one that came with an intimidating number of suggested revisions. Both of my reviewers gave expansive and useful feedback and made me realize that my article was badly in need of an overhaul. So, in the short period of time between my thesis defence and my trip to DiGRA, I heavily edited the article based on reviewer feedback and insights I had gleaned as a (slightly) more seasoned academic. The result was a longer, better referenced article that I was significantly happier with than my first draft.
The revisions were fully accepted in September of 2019, leaving only the smallest of copy-edits to complete through October and November. With the review phase complete, all that was left to do was to wait for publication. I’m currently looking forward to seeing the journal issue released sometime in 2020!
When I first started on GameSound, I never imagined it would be a project that I would revisit throughout my master’s degree and the first year of my PhD. I’m not sure how common it is to have an academic project steadily grow in this fashion, but it has lead to some interesting research insights and opportunities. More than anything else, it has shown me how publication ideas often emerge organically from ongoing research, and has provided me some insights into the academic peer-review process.