Carly A. Kocurek, PhD - Games, Scholarship, Media

Casual Thinking. Serious Gaming.

Why I Recommend the SW/TX PCA/ACA for Game Studies Scholars

Category : Miscellaneous Feb 17th, 2013

I frequently see pieces outlining the benefits of attending academic conferences. Such pieces promise opportunities for networking and publishing, the aid conference attendance can provide in staying abreast of the field and cultivating an academic reputation. These things are, of course, true to some extent, although many seem to arrive through the potent alchemy of hard work and luck. Many of the articles also stress the importance of attending national conferences. This, too, is true to some extent, since national conferences often carry more weight as CV lines and also often have more robust book exhibits which yield more opportunities to pitch books or other publishing projects. I don’t exactly want to counter these oft-made suggestions. I do, however, want to offer a bit of explanation about why, the conference I most regularly attended is the regional SW/TX PCA/ACA, and also to again suggest this conference for those interested in game studies.

The SW/TX PCA/ACA (aside from being a mouthful of an acronym) is the Southwest Texas Popular Culture Association American Cultural Association. The SW/TX PCA/ACA is a conference organized by and largely experienced through various areas. For game studies, that area is the Game Studies, Culture, Play, and Practice Area, which is chaired by Judd Ruggill. The Game Studies area is populated by a collegial group of scholars, and, increasingly, game designers whose work touches on many aspects of contemporary and historical game culture. The group of people who attend the conference year to year is by and large what has made the conference so important to me. In my case, the Game Studies area has offered a host of benefits:

  • An outlet for my work that manages to be simultaneously encouraging and rigorous. The SW/TX PCA/ACA was the first place I presented any of my gaming research. While the other attendees pushed me to expand my knowledge and consider overlooked points, they also recognized the value in my work and encouraged me to keep going.
  • A collegial and supportive professional network of scholars and game designers. I see many of the same faces at the conference each year, and as a result, many of the people I see have become regular professional contacts. While the conference is a great opportunity to see everyone’s work and pick each other’s brains, many of us stay in touch in the interim, and when I have tricky research questions, or I’m trying to figure out which books to assign for this or that class, I have a pool of knowledgeable peers to call on.
  • Opportunities for collaboration and publication. Many of the irons I have in the proverbial fire have the SW/TX PCA/ACA as the point of origin. My friend and colleague Jennifer deWinter and I are currently co-authoring a series of columns for Flow. She and I first met at the SW/TX PCA/ACA. The last panel in the Game Studies area this year included a robust list of opportunities for publication with an encouragement to submit work from the conference. I overheard at least two direct solicitations of manuscripts for inclusion in publications. Publication opportunities are a carrot dangled at many conferences, and the Game Studies area of the SW/TX PCA/ACA produces these at an impressive clip.

While the benefits outlined here certainly apply to scholars at any level, I wanted to detail a few aspects of the conference I think make it an especially great place for scholars new to the field of game studies or for games industry professionals looking to dip their toes into the academic pool.

  • People are nice. While the area generally includes an increasing number of experienced scholars, the general atmosphere is one of encouragement, not competition. Comments at panels veer towards constructive feedback. This spirit of generosity leads me to my next point:
  • There is room to grow. I’ve definitely become more knowledgeable and articulate over the years attending the conference, and I’ve watched other scholars develop, too. Even if your first presentation is rocky, the community is still rooting for you, and if you come back the next year, they’ll root for you again. The Game Studies area at the SW/TX PCA/ACA provides a great first conference experience.
  • There are opportunities for recognition. The Game Studies area offers a graduate student paper prize, which makes for a very nice CV line. The SW/TX PCA/ACA as a whole also offers a number of paper prizes for graduate student work. If you come, definitely go to the effort of throwing your ring in the hat for one of these.

Basically, I could write a love letter to the regional SW/TX PCA/ACA. It isn’t the most prestigious conference I go to, but in many ways, in terms of what it yields for me professionally, it is the best. I always feel I can judge a conference experience by the length of my post-conference to-do list. Given that I’ve got a to-do list two dozen items long, I’d say this year’s conference was pretty great; given that I’m staring down this list with some genuine excitement about getting started, I’d say this year’s conference was just about perfect.

Also, I got to play Spaceteam, which I 100% recommend everyone with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch check out.