The academic homestead of Annika Waern

The recent Ph.D. Montola


Markus after his defense, flanked by the primary supervisor Frans Mäyrä, and the thesis opponent Mary Flanagan.

My longtime friend and co-author Markus Montola defended his Ph.D. thesis on September 22nd. Since I was formally appointed his co-supervisor about two years ago, it also means that I got my fourth ph.d. student through the system. (Not that Markus really needed any supervision – he was way ahead of both me and Frans Mäyrä almost from start in selecting subject and approach. The only thing he’s needed has been resistance.)

Markus thesis is about role-playing games (with a strong focus on larp) and pervasive games (with a focus on pervasive role-playing games). Hence, his focus of interest is rather similar to mine. Markus’ frames his domain as that of ‘ephemeral games’ – games where every game session is so unique that it might not even make sense to talk about a ‘game’ that exists outside of the individual session.  Role-playing games fall into this category as they leave plenty of room for player improvisation, and pervasive games due to the infinite ways in which the real world can interact with the game. I am probably biased, but I think everyone who is interested in role-playing games or pervasive games should read this thesis.

Markus’ main strength is how he carefully frames every concept he’s working with. He was the person behind the definition of ‘pervasive games’ that framed our book on the subject, and in the thesis he does the same to concepts such as role-play, ephemeral games, and first-person audience. Markus is creating language for us all that are studying this class of games and play activities. His weakness may be method – the thesis lacks a thorough discussion of epistemology and the individual papers represent a mix of descriptive scoping of core concepts and qualitative empirics. The advantage is that the thesis becomes unusually readable – the introduction could be used as a textbook on ephemeral games and their significance in the field of game studies.

Markus is already a quite well-known scholar, in particular for his work on creating an academic discourse around Nordic live role-playing. Markus has already made a brilliant career as a games researcher – and I predict that it will continue, even though he’s currently working as a game designer.

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