Games are captivating, facinating and thrilling - both to play and study. I should know, it's what I do. However, I also know that it can be confusing to study something that engages on so many levels. There is a million things I wish to look into, and another million or two that I have already seen and want to write about.
In the last week I have been speaking to two students who are both in the process of formulating a topic for their master thesis, and both of them got directed to me cause they have an interest for games. When talking to them and desperately trying to part with some wisdom, I got confronted with many of the choices I made and the things I wish I knew when I started out.
For what they are worth, here it is some of the things I wish someone told me when I started out:
1) If you think something is cool and interesting as a gamer, it will be interesting for an academic audience. All you need to do is make that idea/concept/thing into a research project. That's what your counselor is there for, so bring it to him/her and see what you can make out of it. The Game Studies field is populated with people with a passion for games, so don't be afraid to draw on your gamer experiences.
2) Think about what you would like to write about the most, not what you think makes a "good" master thesis. When writing you will find that your theme will end up relating to the current body of academic work in some way or another, so go for a story you want to tell rather then the one you think the audience (aka your sensor) want to hear. Lots of people, inside and outside academia, want to know more about computer games. Your thesis will have an audience regardless, so focus on having a story you wish to tell them.
3) Write lots of notes. If you want to study a game you are playing, write down things happening in game that you find fascinating. Its not about generating empirical data, but giving yourself a chance to get some distance and have a look at what actually grabs you when you play. Regardless of what data you choose, such notes will help you understand the game better - and can be useful in supporting other data.
4) When you find clippings, newpaper articles, blogs etc. that tells stories about games that you think are bad, that tells a story about games you don't think is write, that is ignorant etc etc, but is not related to your topic - don't use your thesis to prove them wrong. If you write about gender in games, and you find an article about kids beeing addicted - don't try to argue against it in your paper. Its off topic, and even though it would be nice to prove such false claims wrong, the thesis is not the place. It cant be about everything related to games, or correct every wrongful myth. Just get a blog and QQ like the rest of us.
5) Dont be afraid to be an expert. Your topic will interest many people, and you will often find yourself discussing your thesis at parties, family gatherings, lunchbreaks etc. You WILL have unique knowledge about games, even though someone else have played more/longer/at a higher level - and your knowledge is academic even though lots of people can talk about it.
6) Whatever game(s) you choose - play lots. Get involved with the community, try things that you normally wouldn't. Never tried strategygames? Give it a go! Never contacted support? Call them! Never made machinima? Try it! Remember that studying games isnt just about telling your story. Finding out what other gamers experience isnt just useful for your work, its also fun.