I've been sitting in on a game studies graduate course this term, and one of the questions we keep coming back to is how we do game studies to begin with. I'm not talking about adopting a methodology, or what it means to do university scholarship--I'm talking the basic, meat and potatoes, question of how you do research on a game, and how that differs from a book. I've got the similar parts down pat, I think; I know where to look for game-related secondary sources, I know how to construct an argument, and I know how to write (I'm even actively writing every day, which is an oddly productive experience). But my method for playing the game to get to the scholarly stuff has definite room for improvement.
The two major game-related research projects I've gone on were the Mass Effect stuff and the Lost Odyssey stuff, both of which I discussed on the blog in great detail. And in both cases, I played through the game once to experience it, then played through it again taking lots and lots of notes. And they're very good notes; they are extensive and detailed, and cover basically every approach I can think of, even months and years later. But that kind of playthrough is just too time-consuming. I need something better. I don't know what other game scholars do (note: any game scholars reading this, comments on what you do would be welcome), but I figured there had to be a way to develop ideas without spending an eternity transcribing everything that comes out of Shepherd's poorly formed mouth (character creation is hard.). So when I started playing Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete, a classic PS1 adaptation of a classic Sega CD game, I thought I'd take a running collection of notes for my first playthrough. And that worked great. My little notebook filled up with comments on plot points, game mechanics, and RPG conventions, all of which I could pursue later at my leisure. And because I'm looking at the game from an academic standpoint the first time through, I know where I want to make strategic savepoints so I can come back and flesh out points later. It takes less time, it encourages me to condense my thoughts, and it encourages stream of consciousness developing. There's only one problem.
Has anyone seen my game notebook? It's small, ringed, and has a lot of pen marks on it....