Thursday, November 12, 2015

In My Defense

My defense is next Friday. To say that I am anxious about it would be a severe understatement. I can hardly bear to spend more than an hour or so away from it. I am having an onslaught of dreams where I accidentally sleep through the whole thing (which takes a lot of sleeping, since it's an afternoon defense). The biggest sign of all is that the anxiety has even brought me back to my poor, neglected blog. So this post is going to be a stream of consciousness hodge-podge that will hopefully let me vent some steam.

The preparation itself is interesting. Up to this point, I managed to avoid most of my worry by focusing on smaller events that were happening between the time the date was set (back in late September) and now. First, I was giving a guest lecture on narrative and ludology for my supervisor's first year course. Then I had another guest lecture on masculinity and game culture for another professor's class (this is turning into a humble brag about my guest lectures, but I'm going somewhere here, honest). Most recently, there was going to Wordplay 2015, a one day event in Toronto showcasing games that feature words predominantly in one way or another--a must-go event for someone whose research area is videogames and text. (I met Emily Short! I made a no to slightly negative impression!) In each case, the dissertation defense was something I was working on in the background and preparing for, but it wasn't until it was the Next Thing Coming that it suddenly started to really affect me.

The prep is going... all right, I think. I've met with the tech people, so I'm nominally familiar with the equipment in my defense room. I've done enough presentations to know that being familiar doesn't stop things from going wrong, but at least I'll know what to troubleshoot when it does. I've read over and over the dissertation draft, finding all the terrible typos that somehow evaded me before the dissertation went out. 

Actually, I have some advice on that note. For financial and moral reasons, I use Open Office, an open-source word processing program, over Microsoft Office, but I really wish I had converted it into MO before sending it out. The big problem was formatting it properly with the table of contents and page numbering. To make a table of contents, you need to set up headings and subheadings, and there's a bug where OO automatically adds about half a dozen lines of blank space to the first footnote of every chapter, regardless of how many times I take it out. The other problem was the page numbering--university regulations say that everything that comes before the table of contents has to have roman numeral page numbers, and arabic numbering for the TOC and everything after. And again, that's a pain to do in OO. (Maybe a pain in MO too, but it's OO I'm working with) I finally wound up having to copy the whole document into a new sheet entirely so I could start from scratch. And THAT wound up, for some reason, erasing all the alignments I did for my long quotations. I had to go in and re-align them manually, and as a result, I missed about a quarter of them. Suffice to say, OO is not maximized for 300+ pages of formatting.

I've also met with two out of the three members of my internal committee, which has been a huge source of relief--I'd really recommend it to those prepping for their own defense. Even apart from the useful advice on how to handle the defense, talking with them has reminded me that, at this point, I am the expert; I'm not just the expert on the subject, but on the defense itself. I will certainly have read it through more than anyone else in the room, and it takes a priority for me more than anyone else in the room. That second part in particular is a useful reminder, in that for everyone else, this is a routine thing--while everyone's there for the dissertation, I'm the one with the greatest emotional investment. It's a big deal in my head, but less so for everyone else. I don't think I'm fully expressing what I'm trying to say here, but I find it comforting on some level to remember that the dissertation is less burdensome from other frames of mind.

It's still going to weigh pretty heavy on my frame, though. The major task left is to prepare the slideshow. That's easier said than done. All in all, I've got a minor or major focus on approximately forty different games throughout the course of the argument, and that means a lot of screenshots that I need to line up. That's a practical aspect of game studies that isn't discussed enough, I think--how presenting a lecture on a videogame differs from more traditional media. Luckily, I have a small bank of images ready to go from previous presentations--video game manuals, Doom, Myst, and Planescape: Torment are already covered. That still leaves, however, two dozen or so games from the second and fifth chapters that need more substantiation. I spent about four hours last night watching walkthroughs of Final Fantasy: Tactics, only to realize that was watching the remake, not the original, just to get a shot of a cutscene that occurred about 3/4 of the way through the game. Film studies doesn't have this problem! (It has its own, I imagine. But not this one, specific problem, in exactly the same way.)

Anyway, I'd better get back to the work. I have promises to keep, and hours of Ni No Kuni walkthroughs to go before I sleep.

Later Days.