Dr Kenny McAlpine

Video Game Studies Researcher

With First Careers you will meet lots of different people with lots of different jobs!

What I do

I’m a senior academic in video game studies at Abertay University in Dundee.  My job is very varied, and I have to divide my time between teaching and supervising students; carrying out research and writing books and articles; working with external clients on projects; mentoring other academic staff , and managing all of our degree programmes and academic regulations.

How I got my job

I always had a notion that I’d like to be a teacher or an academic, but when I started my degree in maths back in the early 1990s, video game studies didn’t exist. After I finished my degree, I did a PhD – a research degree – in algorithmic music composition, essentially using maths to compose new music, intending to get a job developing music software or writing music for games. As I finished, I met the team at Abertay and they encouraged me to come and help set up the university’s computer games and computer arts programmes, and I’ve been there ever since.

What I love about my job

There are lots of good things, but most of all I love spending time with students. There is nothing more exhilarating than being in a class with a bunch of bright, enthusiastic people, working together on something that you all love. Often, they’re much more connected to exciting new things that are going on in video games than I am, and they help keep me up-to-date and help me to continually rediscover the joy of learning.

What’s difficult about my job

The hours can be quite punishing, particularly around marking ti me, or if I have a publishing deadline to meet. Universities, though, are big, complex organisations, and to operate effectively, they need to run to strict regulations, and these need to be applied fairly. Getting those regulations right can be quite gruelling sometimes, particularly if circumstances mean that some students – through no fault of their own – find themselves on the wrong side of them. Knowing that I’m always working in their best interests, though, helps when there are difficult or upsetting decisions to make.

What skills I need

This job is all about people and communication; sharing your passion for something you love and trying to package up complex ideas in a way that other people can relate to. I’m not naturally very outgoing, so I have to work hard at it, but this job has introduced me to so many interesting people that it feels like every day I have an opportunity to get better at it.

Where should young people start if they want to do the job, too?

Firstly, you should find something that you really, really love. To be a good academic you really have to become an expert in your field, and I think you can only really do that if you love what you do. At school or university, there will be teachers or lecturers who have an ability to bring their subject to life and to connect with students. Talk to them and learn from them. In my experience, they’ll be happy to share and to encourage you.