It is 1982 and, fresh of the presses, your birthday present this year is a copy of the thrillingly titled Warlock of Firetop Mountain. You have already devoured shelves full of fiction, but this book is something different. You are going to decide how it ends. Which paths to take. Who to trust and who to fight – perhaps even who to kill. All you need is a pencil, some dice, and a sense of adventure.
It is 2018. You are putting the finishing touches to your thesis’ final draft. You’ve read countless academic journals, book sections, personal correspondences and rival theses. But this is something different. You got to decide how the argument plays out. Which methodology to undertake. Which academics to support, which to trust – perhaps even which to denounce. All you need is a red pen, some coffee, and a sense of self-doubt.
1982. You look over the list of of equipment that you’re allowed to choose a measly six items from. Would a grappling hook be more useful, or extra gold for bribes? What about a dagger for hand to hand combat, rather than that massive bow (arrows extra)? Is that spell tome useful, or can I just coerce a mage to do whatever needs doing for me? Do I cheat and choose more than six – will victory feel the same?
2018. You’re a good 15000 words over a reasonable word count and know it needs cutting, sharply. Ruthlessly. What needs to stay in? If you make very wordy diagrams, does that class as cheating? If you cut out something you know is weak and then hope it’s not brought up in the viva, will passing with minor corrections feel the same?
1982. Time to roll your attributes. How skillful? How much stamina? How lucky? Clearly the first rolls were just practice rolls and don’t count. Have a second go. Round it up. You don’t want to have a luck score so low that every Tom, Dick, and Goblin finished you off in the first brawl.
2018. Time to back up your arguments. How many peer-reviewed papers did you publish? How many conference papers? How many citations do you have? How many arguments at the bar at TAG? Sound confident in what you’ve already written and published, even if you don’t feel it. You don’t want the external examiner to rip you to shreds at the first question.
1982. You’re deep into the adventure and keep one thumb on the last page just in case an encounter goes badly and you need to rethink. Part of you wants to kick away that safety net and just play until your inevitable doom. The rest of you doesn’t want to spend another six hours getting to the position you’re in now.
2018. You’re well into the final draft and the ruthless red pen is doing its work. You keep a copy of all your previous drafts and look longingly at that 8000 word rant about the rejection of phenomenology and part of you wishes you could reinstate it, without some of the more inflammatory comments. The rest of you wants to sleep some time this month and wants to finish this draft before the coffee runs out.
1982. You’ve battled, found both keys, the treasure is yours. You wonder how many paths you could have taken, what different choices in equipment and different dice rolls would have lead you to. Who could you have met? Would it have been faster, easier, harder, slower? Time to play again. This time, no rounding up the dice rolls.
2018. You’ve sent the PDF to print. You wonder how many different universes worth of printing is being done, right now across the multiverse. How different choices would have resulted in different opinions, beliefs, viewpoints.
If the papers read during literature review were 10% different, how would that have effected my choice of methodology, my theoretical standpoint, my views on post-structuralism, object-orientated ontologies and the rejection of phenomenology? If I had grown up reading something other than Fighting Fantasy books and libraries worth of science fiction, would my path to this thesis be different? If I’d worked in different jobs or lived in different cities, who would I have met that would make this journey longer, shorter, harder, easier, or not happen at all? What baggage do I carry with me that has made my writing different to me in another universe with different baggage? How differently would me without children have done it? Or me that didn’t take a ten year break from archaeology? In the end this thesis is the ultimate choose your own adventure, and the treasure is graduation. Monsters along the way come in the form of deadlines, hostile conference receptions, self-doubt and impostor syndrome, data loss or poor data collection choices. Slay them, and the keys to the treasure – that’s thorough knowledge and rigour in your studies – are yours. I might not have been aware of what scores the dice rolls of my life gave me for my attributes, nor what my past experiences, choices, and lifestyle gave me in the way of baggage, but I can see where they have lead me. Where they are leading me.
It might not yet be 2018 and I’m not yet on even the first thesis draft, but I am writing. Time to write again – and this time, no slacking to write a strange blog posts.