capstoneblog1It has been quite an honor to participate in the BLI’s inaugural Senior Capstone Project. Suffice to say, the Capstone has been equal parts more than we could imagine and also what you would expect. It’s been a long and at times arduous process, but also the most meaningful thing either of us has done. Throughout the project, our inspiration has remained consistent: we wanted to create something about video games, a longtime passion of ours, and the people who play them. Yet there is indeed a duality of our inspiration: while we wanted to make a game about video game communities, we were more so motivated to critique this culture in terms of its social issues, particularly gender. The project, which would eventually take the name JUXT, has been a highly creative endeavor, and it forced both of us to evaluate our skills and also our limitations.

The initial phase of our project was research. We studied online video gaming communities to better understand how gamers talk about gender. This was a step out of our comfort zone; we had no previous experience with analyzing raw data. Fortunately, we built a sustainable research plan and recruited a research partner to help along the way. After research, we began the game development phase. We started by building a team, as we alone did not possess the expertise needed to make a fully functioning game – even a small one. After a lengthy hiring process, we found a programmer and an audio producer to help realize our vision. We divided the roles of writer and artist between ourselves and designed the game together. Throughout the fall and winter semesters we worked to complete the game, and as of the end of this winter semester, we have a finished game.

The best advice we can give to our peers in the BLI and future members is to expect challenges. Any creative project has ups and downs: writer’s block, miscommunication, and juggling the Capstone with other priorities are a sample of pitfalls we had to maneuver. However, as in all projects, it is valuable to be wary of challenges rather than to fear them, and always be ready to find a solution. Working as creators rather than consumers was a difficult adjustment, for example. We were often tasked with re-evaluating our project’s scope, timeline, and organization.

We also found it crucial that projects like these understand that starting small does not capstoneblog2inhibit creative growth. Even for a confident team, starting small almost always yields positive results. In hindsight, we may have looked too much at the big picture while ignoring our considerable “small wins.” At each meeting, we would address many facets that need to be completed, while ignoring the value of what we had already accomplished. This could be due to our inexperience in game design, always wanting to improve upon what was laid out. We now have an appreciation for every step, no matter how minute, in any project setting.

Finally, we think our project has shown the value of working to learn, as our team was able to craft an experience, unlike anything we had ever done before. Much of the creative process was spent on first tries, and while that may be another kind of challenge, it offered a freedom from “absolute” statements (i.e., “This should be this way,” “Our game needs to have this,” etc.) In the conceptual stage, such statements heavily informed our thinking. It wasn’t until we got into our specialized zones that we could actually see how the pieces would come together. It forced us to communicate clearly, revisit our work, and critically examine each part to make sure we were reaching our goals. While our work may have changed a lot from initial concept to final product, our vision was never compromised by lack of experience. Not only are we proud to have worked on the BLI Senior Capstone, but it has invigorated our passion for meaningful creative projects and imparted invaluable perspective on what it takes to complete long-term projects.

Zachary and Jonah Beck

Anna – Chiapas, Mexico

Being a leader in research can look different in a lot of ways. For me, being a leader means taking responsibility for my work while also helping others to reach their full ability. While in Mexico this past summer, I was able to put that idea to the test when I began conducting interviews with Central American migrants for my honors thesis in anthropology. I was there with a group of other students in the Undocumented Migration Project field school trying to understand the complexities of migration through an ethnographic lens. It was the first time any of us had conducted semi-formal interviews before so the prospect seemed daunting. I was scared at first because even though I am a good conversationalist in English, improvising questions or probing an interviewee in Spanish was a challenge. My first interview was a little rocky but after a few stumbles and flubs, I was soon conducting lengthy interviews regularly. I am proud of the connections I made with people and the data I was able to collect in those meaningful interviews.

For all of these interviews though, I still saw other students struggling to break over the hurdle of interviewing another person. I spent a lot of time with others informally debriefing about the difficulties of working in the fields. Through discussion, we unpacked a lot of the invisible power dynamics pertaining to race and nationality that prevented them from feeling comfortable asking for interviews. Many people, including myself, felt guilty or exploitive by asking people to share intimate stories about their lives in interviews. I shared tips and my experience approaching migrants about interviews with other students who felt this way. Quickly I be came a proponent of the idea that sharing and recording stories in themselves was a valuable aid for migrants because it provides them a platform to be heard and listened to, which rarely happens while migrating. This idea kept me going and centered my work. By sharing it with others, the idea was solidified and many others took comfort in it as well. Leading these discussions helped me and others formulate our research in a more productive way.

I also plan to make my research relevant in the current discussion on migration policy. This project has the potential to shape our understanding of migration on a large scale and I hope to be a leader in that as well. What became clear to me from studying in Mexico was that there are multiple levels of structural violence acting on migrants to prevent them from crossing safely, seeking justice should crimes occur, and keeping them in a liminal space without state protection. It is this transient space that poses the biggest threat to migrants because it means they cannot access typical safely measures, such as a police force, which a citizen would have. Understanding their position is key to creating policy reform to help them and I plan on this research being used to enhance our collective understanding of migration.