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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Accepting the Ring

The day before yesterday we had the Gotland Game Awards 2010 Awards Ceremony here at Gotland University. The main point of the ceremony is to give prices to the students who have produced amazing games during the year, but I also got five minutes in the spot-light.

Richard Bartle, who was one of the examiners when I defended my dissertation in February at Teesside congratulated me to the award of the degree of doctor of philosophy, and presented me the Ring with the words "accipe annulum". This means "accept the ring". In Sweden it is customary that one receives a doctorate ring. It is a symbol of the union with science, and is worn on the same finger as the wedding ring (but the wedding ring is kept closest to the hand). Gotland University can't give the award of PhD, and at Teesside University, in the UK, there are no rings. There are hats with tassels, but hey, I can't go around being just the mistress of science! So instead my parents (it is customary that the family pays for the ring) got the Gotlandic Hövdingaringen (The ring of the Chief), and by doing the ritual, I now consider myself an honourable scientist.

What we didn't realise was just how BIG the ring was. This is what my finger looked like just after the ceremony, Richard took a picture:

Quite an excessive burden of gold... So yesterday I trotted off to the smith.
I left both the big ring and my wedding- and engagement ring, and also wrestled off Rauno his ring: There was a mistake when the wedding ring was done, it has not the same shape as the engagement ring. We were short of time before the wedding so my engagement ring was melted down and shaped into the wrong shape.
Now all will be corrected - my wedding- and engagement rings will be made thinner and in the right shape, and the doctoral ring will be made smaller too. The rings will be ready in a month or so.

I had prepared a short speech, but standing in the spotlight in front of a thousand people (yes, the congress hall in Visby was full!) I forgot what I had prepared, and now afterwards I have no idea what I said. This what I had planned to say:

Thank you Richard, it was truly an honour to have you as one of the examiners at the Viva Voce. My research has concerned Virtual Game Worlds (VGWs), or massively multi player games. In these worlds the avatar, the player's representation, is one of the most interesting parts. Formally though, my degree is in computing science. I have built an AI module, the Mind Module, for semi-autonomous avatars which have been used in five prototypes. The Mind Module gives avatars personalities and emotions. Its purpose is to enable support for characterisation and story construction in VGWs. Most of my work has been done as experimental prototyping for AI driven game design. It is my firm belief that in order to truly understand game mechanics and its resulting dynamics it is necessary to prototype, build and test ideas. By doing this we can go beyond studying what already exists, and break new ground in game research. This type of work is not done in isolation. In the prototypes a too many people has been involved to mention here, but I would like to extend my thanks to all and mention those who are present in this room; Peter Kullgard, Musse Dolk, Ola Persson, Johan Sköld and Jasmin and Carsten Orthbandt. Again, this work is not done in isolation. During the years I have recieved support and advice from experienced mmo designers in the industry. They have helped me to avoid pitfalls in game design, and supported at times when I have doubted the very relevance of my work. The research has taken me around the world. I have been visiting scholar at Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology and University of California Santa Cruz. I am grateful to all of you who made me feel so welcome. But it is here on Gotland that my heart is. I do not have words for how grateful I am for all the support of encouragement I have been given from all of you at the game department and at Gotland University, especially Steven Bachelder and Don Geyer. Again, this work is not done in isolation. Even during the last months when I was writing up the dissertation I had all the support that I could ask for from my supervisors Michael Mateas, Paul Van Schaik and Clive Fencott. I also had the moral support from my good friends Lena Wikström and Jenny Brusk, and from my family and my husband Rauno. I have the result here, and I would like to present it to the head of the Gotland University Library, Almedalsbiblioteket, Kerstin Simberg.

What happened was that when Richard gave me the ring I started to think about the hero's journey, something that Richard wrote a lot about in Designing Virtual Worlds (2003), and I wrote some about in the thesis. And there I was, receiving this token, at the end of my journey... so I got distracted. To me it was important that Richard was one of examiners. Those of you who were at the Digra conference last summer know that he can be quite critical. I knew that if the thesis was approved by him and Alan Hind I would find it difficult to, in retrospect, try to diminish it, to talk myself into that I didn't deserve the award after all...

It was quite gratifying to hand over the thesis, it weighs 5.4 kilos! This is what it looks like: