“Why do you have a research blog?” is a question that I have been asked on numerous occasions during my master’s degree. A lot people’s eyes glaze over when I tell them completing more writing than what is required for my thesis — “Isn’t 25,000 words enough for you?” — and I’ve often been encouraged to dump my blog in favour of Twitter or Instagram for maximum social media saturation. At first glance, a research blog can seem like an unwieldy artifact from an earlier age of the Internet (as well as an extra bit of work layered atop an already hectic thesis writing schedule). Why would I write more than you have to, especially when it is not destined for an official publication?
Despite facing these common apprehensions, I consider blog-writing to be central to my research. Before I get into exact reasons why this is so, perhaps it would be worthwhile to summarize my research with a quick elevator pitch: I am investigating the projects, tools, and communities that emerge from the practice of videogame hacking. By combining interviews, qualitative game analysis, and iterative writing, my goal is to purposefully and productively generate knowledge about videogame hacking subcultures — communities of creative labour that exist in the margins of mediamaking and the fringes of the law.
Basically, I’m talking to people who hack videogames, playing their hacks, and then writing about it!
How does this writing help me reach my research goals? The impetus behind my blog (www.sub-versions.com) is to gradually formulate tentative propositions from my research, while presenting them in an accessible manner and inviting feedback from academics and hobbyists from across the web. My approach is inspired by Laurel Richardson’s Writing: A Method of Inquiry and Writing Strategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences, in which she poses a pair ideas that she believes are vital to qualitative writers. She encourages researchers to “understand ourselves reflexively as persons writing from particular positions at specific times” and to free ourselves from “trying to write a single text in which everything is said to everyone.” Working with the understanding that research data is somewhat malleable, Richardson encourages researchers to create diverse interpretations and presentations of their knowledge. I found a blog to be the ideal medium for this type of iterative writing as it is an accessible, no-strings-attached publication platform. If at any point during my research I feel inspired to write (or perhaps even rant) on a topic, I can just go ahead and do it without worrying about the usual academic publication formalities. This doesn’t strictly mean text either! Blogs are versatile media platforms, and I’ve tried to include images, videos, links, and other related media throughout my posts. Through continuous updates and additions, I’ve been able to create a sort of makeshift research repository — one that I can revisit to consolidate ideas and follow-up on research leads that may have fallen by the wayside.
Generally speaking, I update my blog once or twice a month as I complete other aspects of my research. My blog posts include documentation of videogame hacks and their related tools, typologies designed to interrogate my literature review, complications that had arisen during research, and scraps of information that simply did not seem to fit anywhere else. Writing these posts has allowed me to rethink my research as it it unfolds, providing rough ideas that I can rework and eventually integrate back into my interviews, analysis, and more formalized writing. It also provides an important space in which I can acknowledge and explore my own subjectivity as a researcher. This was especially vital for my work, as I have a long history with videogame hacking that affects how I access participants and think about their practice.
As an academic, it is tempting to envision writing as a solitary activity that takes place at the culmination of a project. After completing months (if not years) of research, we retreat to our offices to construct an immense tome of knowledge. A research blog feels incredibly freeing in comparison — allowing me to organize my thoughts and tentatively inscribe ideas before they are submitted for formal academic review. I’ve found my blog to be a valuable tool to develop and share my own research, and I encourage researchers at TAG to experiment with similar approaches to their own work!