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Playing on the Edge of Chaos

20 April 2015

Karl with Mrs Jane Stewart 

Karl Inglott recently started a newly created PhD studentship, fulfilling a lifelong ambition born of a very challenging childhood. Here Karl tells us more about how Abertay has helped him realise this dream.

His thesis is titled ‘Playing on the Edge of Chaos: Meaning and Emergence from Game Designs, Informed by Complex Adaptive Systems’ and Karl’s study has been made possible by the generous support of Mrs Jane Stewart, a good friend and supporter of Abertay.

The IW Stewart PhD Studentship is providing funding, including fees, and is given in memory of Mrs Stewart’s late husband Mr I W Stewart, a former governor and Honorary Fellow of Abertay University.

Tell us a bit more about your journey to get to this point

My journey could possibly fill a thesis on its own, but I’ll try to break it down. I grew up with an alcoholic stepdad, who left my mum and siblings destitute on many occasions. Him being a traveller meant we moved lots; roughly 30 different houses in total – mostly council estates, and sometimes squats. We were extremely poor due to the circumstances.

A young Karl 

One of the ways my siblings and I escaped from the realities was through games. In the beginning, we played games at friends’ places, but also at game stores that let you try them for a small fee. We gradually took games beyond just playing, and began discussing them critically; pointing out where we felt they fumbled, and suggesting how some could be improved. We also even formed our own ideas for games, and their underlying systems of play.

At 13, I knew I wanted to break away from poverty, and told myself that if I ever had children, that I didn’t want them to experience life as I did. I set myself some goals: go to university studying computer science; find likeminded cohorts and start a game studio; eventually get a PhD.

At the age of 16 I started at the City of Bath College in ICT after having taught myself some game development tools. I met many fantastic lecturers, notably June Barnes and Laurence Canning, who pushed for me to progress to university. I started university later than most – applying at 22, and getting an unconditional offer at Abertay.

During my time at Abertay, I applied to almost every industry opportunity that came up, and ended up as a tester on the Crackdown 2 DLC in my first summer. This led to other jobs, testing with YoYo Games, and designing with Triple B studios.

Afterwards, I took part in many student competitions with friends from Abertay, getting invited to the Samsung Student Developer Challenge Finals, and Dare to be Digital 2012. By the time I’d graduated, I’d been nominated for two TIGA industry awards, a Creative Scotland Award, and three university awards.

Tsunami project - 1

My final year at Abertay had me working alone, designing and developing a project entitled 9.03m. I took the project with me for completion to Space Budgie, a company I formed with some likeminded cohorts (Mustafa Cetiner, Robin Griffiths, Albert Elwin, Phil Cooper-King and Ronan Quigley). 9.03m was released on Steam, and was nominated for two TIGA awards, and raised over £10,000 for charity.

After nearly two years at Space Budgie, I decided to move on. Not long after making the decision, an opportunity came up for a PhD scholarship at Abertay, for which I applied.

What inspired you to propose this area of study?

My initial proposition was inspired by a talk from the Uncharted game designer, and now USC Associate Professor, Richard Lemarchand. In his talk, he talks about complex systems and their emergent properties. I realised the potential for complex system data creating emergence in games. This evolved more after discussing it with my now supervisors.

What will your PhD research involve?

I have already been exploring literature, but this will continue intensely for a while. Once I am quite grounded on what others have attempted, achieved, and written, I am looking to develop a framework that will help with designing and developing a game project.

This game project is not known right now, but once completed the project should test various datasets, on various game aspects, at varying levels of complexity and on different groups of people. This will help in understanding how this data could be used within games.

This is all of course subject to change as I progress! I’m also looking at models used in complex adaptive systems, and this could be the major factor that influences how I get my answer.

How fulfilling is it to receive a fully funded PhD scholarship?

My cynical side told me that to fulfil my goal of a PhD, I would need to work for 20 years, saving up enough money to eventually apply. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I could be successful in applying for a fully funded scholarship.

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