Games and grinding, research and RPGs

As a literature specialist who spent her teenage years negotiating the 1990s, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’m a fan of computer consoles and that I particularly love role-playing games (RPGs). I’ve spent countless hours immersed in a narrative, guiding my character through missions and tasks. My absolute favourite still has to be Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) – playing as Cloud, leading his band of rebels against the might of the Shinra Corporation and the ultimate power of Sephiroth. The narrative running through this massive 4-disc epic (hey, in 1997, that was huge!) was utterly compelling, with characters provoking genuine emotional responses as you played, hooking you for the full 100+ hours required to complete the game (I wish I still had that kind of time!) This was the first time the storyline in a computer game made me cry. (I won’t spoil it for you, especially if you’re waiting on the re-vamped update due in 2017.)

But RPGs are also about putting the hours in. You start off with a fairly steep curve of learning new skills, meeting new characters and completing straightforward tasks to introduce you to the controls and functions of the game. Afterwards though, comes the hard work. They don’t call it grinding for nothing! Hours spent completing a long thread of minimal tasks or trading with in-game characters or collecting a list of items, usually involving a LOT of wandering around the massive game map and all working towards a single, bigger achievement which is essential to continue your progress through the story line. It feels like everything slows down and it takes real commitment to stick with it. But once you finish that, what a rush! And you keep going.

And that, I have learned, is what research is like.

You’ve read the first few posts, where I’m pretty busy and everything is all new and shiny – meeting new people, attending workshops and seminars, discovering lots of new reading – but lately I’ve been very quiet.

I’m sorry for that but, quite simply, I’ve been grinding.

The first phase of the project has been to create a methodology for charting the signs and symptoms of abnormal mood in Robert Burns’s letters, to test it, tweak it and then apply it across the body of correspondence. At over 740 letters, this has been no mean feat!

It has taken a fair amount of time but, I’m delighted to say, it’s done now. It definitely feels like the first really big milestone of the project. A bit like when you have the first battle with a big boss, knowing that it’s going to unlock the next chapter of the story.

And what is the next chapter? Now I start analysing the results of the charting to look for any patterns that have emerged, as well as thinking about how I start incorporating the evidence from Burns’s friends and family into the analysis. And, of course, sharing the findings.

So onwards. As with FFVII, there’s plenty more grinding to come, but I also know there’s plenty more compelling moments in the storyline. There’s plenty more hours and probably plenty more tears.

Something tells me ‘Academia: A Researcher’s Tale’ wouldn’t sell as well as FFVII…