Computer Games and author lists

One of the more unusual titles on my list of publications, that doesnt seem to fit in with my previous trajectory, is

Gooding, P and Terras, M (2008) ‘Grand Theft Archive’: a quantitative analysis of the current state of computer game preservation. The International Journal of Digital Curation, 3 (2). PDF.

Its an interesting one, this: trying to articulate the extent of the large-scale loss of the early years of gaming history (particularly in the UK), highlighting games’ vulnerability. We did a quantitative case study – trying to get hold of copies of known games through every channel possible, highlighting the inadequacies of even available metadata. There is clearly a PhD study in this, should anyone want to take it forward. I also think its important work, that needs doing sooner rather than later. (For those interested in this area, do also see the Preserving Virtual Worlds project, although they didnt cite our previous work. grump).

So that’s the topic, but there’s an even more interesting point to be made about this paper. I’m second author, because it was the work of one of my Master’s students at the time, Paul Gooding. Paul was on the MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL. I usually supervise around 10 student dissertations a year, previously from Electronic Communication and Publishing, and this year I’ll mostly be supervising the cohort from the MA/MSc in Digital Humanities, which is running for the first time this session. I really enjoy supervising our master’s students – most are really very bright, driven, and dedicated. I dont have to supervise any librarians or archivists: but occasionally I choose to take on a few extra students from these programmes for their dissertation, both to help my colleagues in LIS, and to work on interesting digital topics in those areas. Paul approached me with this topic, we worked up a methodology, and he did the leg work and the write up. I then encouraged him to submit this to a journal, and I spent a few days turning his masters dissertation into the published paper you see here.

The question is, then: when is it ok to be named as author on work which emanates from a student dissertation? When should you leave it, and say, “this is the students work”? This is a huge issue in graduate studies, and one I tread very carefully in. I hear tale, and have had colleagues, who insist on having their name as first author in anything their research groups publish, even when they havent had anything to do with the research in question. (I called him out on it for being morally wrong: he didnt answer any email from me for a year, which was slightly problematic, given he was superior to me and had to sign off on various things). What makes me want to put my name as co-author in this paper? Why havent I published more with students? Why are the guidelines on this all so woolly? Why do some colleagues insist on having their names on papers when they havent been involved in them? Why do some students feel so maligned by their supervisors when they ask to be included on an author list, even when the supervisor has done huge amounts of work on their project? Its such a touchy subject. And actually – this touchiness carries on throughout interdsciplinary projects: publications and named authors are often the sticking point. (I’d advise anyone to look up Ruecker and Radzikowska’s work on project charters: they say, decide all this at the start of a project, not at the end).

With this paper, I could say, hand on heart, that it would not exist without my continued work and input. The dissertation itself was based on a methodology I devised, and I worked very closely with Paul to undertake the study. The paper itself, whilst based on Paul’s dissertation, required rewriting: it would not have got to this stage without my time and effort, and prior knowledge regarding what journals expect and want. I have no qualms, therefore, in having my name as second author on this piece: I did the work. As far as I know, Paul is delighted that this paper got published. But I’ve supervised a whole lot of stuff – some of which was of publishable quality, some not, some that made it to publication, some not – that I would never, ever, ask to be second author on. I have witnessed at first hand colleagues who do not have my scruples.

After a few years out in the real world, Paul is back with us! He is heading into his second year of PhD study, supervised by Claire Warwick (first supervisor) and myself (as secondary supervisor), looking into large scale digitisation initiatives, particularly doing some user studies on the British Library’s digital collections. It’s a great project, and I’m glad he’s come back to do some further study with us.

I’ll continue to tread careful about author names, and publication, though, particularly when graduate student work is involved.

Incidentally, the journal that this is published in, The International Journal of Digital Curation, is open access – all articles are available for free. Its a good read.

3 thoughts on “Computer Games and author lists

  1. Hi Mel,

    The sequence of authors should be based on a mutual agreement, and it is hardly a secret that often enough this agreement is not mutual at all. Based on what you wrote it seems entirely acceptable to me that in this particular case the supervisor appears as joint author in second place.
    However, this is for reasons best known to the joint authors themselves, and blaring them out in public is pointless unless one is unhappy with the order of names.
    A senior joint author publicly announcing that the piece she published with a recent graduate would never exist without her involvement sheds bad light on the junior contributor (even more so if he appears as first author). It all comes across like an act of self-aggrandizement on your part. Ironically you seemingly wanted to demonstrate just the opposite with your post. But in my view you missed the point. Besides, academic teachers re-writing/re-structuring their students very first academic publication without claiming joint authorship are not that uncommon, I'd say it happens quite regularly without anyone making too much fuss about it.




  2. Thanks Wally. I didnt mean to self- aggrandize… I mean, if I hadnt pushed it on through, it wouldnt have existed as a publication. This is the truth. It would have been an MA dissertation that no-one could find, read or cite (at least, without requesting it physically from our departmental storage facility!).

    I think more fuss should be made about it. There are too many people who claim authorship who didnt do anything. There are a lot of disgruntled people out there.

    Mutual agreement is hard when you are a grad student (I remember, I was one too, once).

    But thanks for your comment – I will watch my tone.


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