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Sunday, 15 March 2009

Theses of Cool

A few days ago, whilst casually researching potential postgrad study options for the not-so-immediate future, I came upon what might well be some of the coolest thesis research topics in existence!

The active host of these theses is the Comparative Media Studies (CMS) Program at MIT.

In answer to the website's self-addressed question, "What is comparative about CMS?", it answers: it conducts and studies comparisons across media, across national borders, across historical periods, across disciplines, across making and thinking and across perspectives.

One of the first theses to catch my eye, due to its proximity to the top of the Graduate Student Theses page, was the delightfully titled The "New" Sounds of the Slap-of-the-Stick: Termite Terrace (1937-1943) and the Slapstick Tradition, by Andres Lombana. Next, my attention was drawn to Stephen Schultze's The Business of Broadband and the Public Interest: Media Policy for the Network Society and Evan Wendel's New Potentials for "Independent" Music: Social Networks, Old and New, and the Ongoing Struggles to Reshape the Music Industry, due to their each being, respectively, a distant and a not so distant relative of my own masters paper, which I completed last year: Hybridisation Feasibility Model – a Tool for Identifying the Level of Centralisation and Decentralisation within Enterprises. I feel I have yet a lot to flesh out on this topic, so related topics still interest me.

My attention by now fully captured, I continued scrolling down and scanning the different topics. This is when I began finding the really cool ones!

Kristina Drzaic's Oh No I'm Toast! Mastering Videogame Secrets in Theory and Practice is at once original, yet obvious, and inspiring of an "is that really an academic topic?/why didn't I think of that?" moment. Most importantly: a quick skim of it indicates that the author evidently had lots of fun researching and writing it.

Normally dismissed as extras, the author researches the nature of game secrets, arguing that they are in fact an intrinsic factor in the gaming experience, both from the point of view of design and play. Throughout the course of the thesis, the author touches upon many videogames, old and new, including Galaga, the Super Mario Bros. series, the Legend of Zelda series and Animal Crossing.

Another thesis addressing the medium of videogames is Peter Rauch's Playing with Good and Evil: Videogames and Moral Philosophy, in which he argues that videogames are unique as a medium in their capacity to model and critique elements of moral philosophy.

The thesis conducts case studies on Fable, Command & Conquer: Generals, and The Punisher, citing their implicit tackling of Kantianism, utilitarianism, and the moral quagmires presented by the West's so-called "War on Terror", and then suggesting how the games might be modified to tackle these issues more explicitly and objectively.

Brett Camper's Homebrew and the Social Construction of Gaming: Community, Creativity and Legal Context of Amateur Game Boy Advance Development is self-explanatory, and another example of the 21st century flattening and decentralisation I researched in my own paper, while Understanding Meaningfulness in Videogames, by Matthew Weise, defends videogames against those who would have us believe they are impotent as a medium in their ability to convey meaningful narrative capable of inspiring emotion.

Finally, what may arguably be the coolest concept for a masters thesis ever is that presented in Cynthia Conti's "Stepping Up to the Mic": Le Tigre Strategizes Third Wave Feminist Activism through Music and Perfomance.

Few things are quite as cool as being able to dissect the multiple layers of lyrical messages, performance politics, and touring ethics of a specific band one loves, then following it up with a discussion with fellow fans about what the band means to them. And all this under the blanket of academic advancement and for the end of completing a masters degree at one of the world's leading higher education institutions!

CMS at MIT: you have found yourself a place among my dreams!


Gigi said...

When I wrote my thesis I aimed to make it as entertaining and readable as possible in the hole that someone like you find it supremely fun. Yay! I take great pride in having a masters in "secrets."

I should tell you CMS as a grad program is soon to be disbanded. Our fearless leader Henry Jenkins is in the process of moving to USC.

Our CMS is no more but it was really and truly a dreamworld for a few short years.

the_interjectionist said...

Sad times!

That's a real shame. It's evidently a brilliant programme.

Considering it will be a few years from now by the time I might get the chance to formally pursue further studies in media, I'll most certainly have missed out.

Are there any good possible alternatives you know of that you would recommend? Initially, I was recommended the MA Media Studies programme at the New School in NY, and also came upon the Communication, Culture & Technology programme at Georgetown before coming upon CMS.