Photocopying, Optical Characterization, World of Warcraft…
I often wonder why it’s such a faux pas to mention video games on a CV. Not only, in my opinion, are they a highly advanced form of art, but playing games well shows a very well developed set of skills; teamwork, planning and execution, thinking on your feet, and others.
On top of that, there’s the gaming sub-discipline known colloquially as “theroycraft”. Originally, theorycraft was a way for StarCraft players to develop more competitive strategies. It more-or-less involved calculating the income and expenditure rates of various starting gambits and calculating their efficiency, and so on. More recently, theorycraft has become a catch-all word for thinking scientifically about videogames.
I shall explain.
Modern theorycraft has many commonalities with real world science, to the point where I firmly believe that it is a field in its own right. The most important commonality, of course, is that of the scientific method; theorycraft involves producing hypotheses about the behaviour of game mechanics and their uses, and then testing them to understand whether the hypotheses are supported by evidence.
In this aspect, theorycraft and science are essentially one and the same. So the real cores of each subject here are the same and to many scientists that suffices, but I want to show off so here are a few more important properties of theorycraft.
Division of procedures
To anyone experienced in theorycraft, there are three distinct ways of approaching the science. The first is, well, theory-craft – producing a theoretical framework for understanding a mechanic. This is, typically, common but difficult, and is known as “formulation”. Secondly, there is experimental-craft; making repeatable tests in-game on mechanics in order to produce data which can be tested against predicted data from some kind of model. Finally, there is simulation-craft; producing a procedural simulation of the game system, which mimics the real game as closely as possible while being entirely controlled and tunable. These three different approaches are well known in other fields, too – experimentalists and theorists both sneer at each other and gang up on us computational scientists. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Publication and revision of results
Theorycraft is made public, usually in blog form, by its practitioners. Mostly, the results are well thought through enough to be accurate first time, but there have been instances of argument or unexpected discovery. The publication of the results and methods are truly key to the whole endeavour.
In real science, the “truth” is always in a state of flux. Mostly because we don’t have an answer sheet telling us what is correct (so we must always doubt what we know) but also because we argue a lot about new science. In theorycraft, technically someone has the answer-sheet, but in practice the game developers are unwilling to share the nitty gritty of their mechanics. In both cases, the “truth” might not even be close to what we think, although there is no way of knowing without further work.
When I started reading theorycraft, I always assumed that the work was done by gifted individuals acting alone. As I’ve worked towards being a theorycrafter myself, I’ve discovered more and more how collaborative it really is, and I was surprised. Most posts are written by an individual, but few ideas are truly down to a single person. It’s not uncommon to see where the author’s inspiration came from, provided you know the right people. Science is similarly complex, where the absence of names on papers can speak as many volumes as their presence. Just in case you’re not convinced about the collaboration aspect of theorycraft, I’d like to direct your atttention to the huge open-source project known as Simulationcraft.
Considering all this, and that I am at heart just a nerd that loves science, why shouldn’t I be able to put World of Warcraft on my CV? It matches perfectly with the (general) transferable skills which make a researcher successful, and shows enthusiasm for the general thrust of research. I’m a theorycrafter, and in my opinion all theorycrafters are scientists, regardless of their day job.
And after all that, I wonder whether my PhD supervisors will stumble across this; or what they’d say if they did…