Lessons on Data Management in Research from Video Game Let's Plays!

Readers of Tartan Datascapes know that I like to find data management lessons in popular culture to share with the CMU community and beyond. As CMU's Data, Gaming, and Popular Culture Librarian, I'm fascinated by all the lessons we can learn about data from video games and pop culture, and I'm thrilled to be focusing on something near-and-dear to my heart for this month's release of the blog: video game Let's Plays. Let's Play are videos showing one or more individuals playing a video game and usually narrating their experience while playing. I watch them for many reasons: sometimes I'm interested in playing a game and I want to learn more about it by watching other people play it. Many times, I also watch them for comfort as I enjoy playing video games and like seeing other people play them too! And, I often watch them because I enjoy seeing how people respond to the games and commentate on them. Today, I'm going to focus on the Let's Play videos produced by RKG, an independent production company in the UK led by Rory Powers, Daniel Krupa, and Gav Murphy. RKG produces, among many other things, some really awesome Let's Plays that I watch on a regular basis for all the reasons listed above. I love the commentary they add to the games that they play, and it's such a fun, comforting experience to watch their videos.

In true Tartan Datascapes form, I wanted to write a post that describes what the Let's Play videos from RKG have taught me about data management, and share those lessons with you all and describe how they can be useful in your own research! So, sit back, relax, and get ready to watch some fun clips of Let's Play videos and learn some useful data management tips!

Lesson 1: It's important to have a plan!

Clip of interest is from 27:27 to 28:24

In this video, Daniel and Gav play Untitled Goose Game, which may sound familiar for any reader who has watched Pixel Datascapes, the companion series to Tartan Datascapes, as I featured the game in Episode 2! Untitled Goose Game is a fantastic game where the player takes on the role of a goose terrorizing the residents of a quaint village, stealing their things and generally wreaking havoc on what was otherwise a normal day for the residents. It's truly a wonderful game! In the clip above, Daniel and Gav explore their list of tasks they need to accomplish as the goose in order to fulfill the level of the game, making sure they know what the plan is before they unleash goose-filled fury on the residents.

Data management is the same! It's incredibly helpful to have a plan for how you will keep your data managed and organized throughout a project before you embark on the project itself. In practice, this doesn't always happen though - we have so many things going on simultaneously when we're starting a research project, and data management doesn't always make it to the top of our list! We understand this completely. Start as early as you can when planning your data management process, and know that we're here at CMU Libraries to help you navigate this planning process. Have a plan for how you're going to manage your data in your research, such as a data management plan, just like Daniel and Gav have a plan for pure goose destruction in this peaceful little English village. 


Lesson 2: Work together as a team!

Clip of interest is from 7:31 to 16:35

Teamwork is important. In this clip, Daniel, Gav, and Rory play the game Heave Ho, which is a cooperative game where players have to navigate various maps with certain topographies and dangers and must get each player to the finish line. Teamwork and communication is essential in accomplishing this, and the clip shows these three talking through the process of getting each of their characters to the finish line as a team, with wonderful chaos ensuing. But, through the power of teamwork, perseverance, and a good sense of humor and flexibility, they navigate the map together.

Data management is a team process too as research often takes place among several people! It's up to each person in the team to adhere to any data management strategies the team is using, such as using a specific file naming scheme, versioning their data, and keeping backups of the data in certain storage locations. If one person doesn't stick to the data management strategy, it can hurt the overall success of the data management in the project! If you are conducting research by yourself and not within a research team, you still don't have to go it alone. We at CMU Libraries can be your teammate by helping support you as you navigate through data management strategies, offering advice and resources best suited to your needs. 


Lesson 3. Unexpected things may happen!

(content note for minor jump scares and language)

Clip of interest is from 11:21 to 15:08

In this clip, Daniel, Gav, and Rory play Maid of Sker, a survival horror game set in 1898 in Gav's homeland of Wales, where the player must explore the mysteries of a strange hotel and keep incredibly quiet whilst doing do (that was a very basic summary, but the official website offers a more detailed plot if you are interested). As Rory (who is controlling the player) navigates the hallways of the hotel, he soon learns he's being pursued by a particularly insidious character in the game and the three have to make some very rushed, snap decisions to survive the situation. Together, they outrun the threat but not without some very rattled nerves!

Even with a solid data management plan, and even if every member of the research team sticks to a data management strategy, challenges can still arise. Someone's computer might crash and compromise one of the data backups, a member of the research team might leave the project, or there might be a change in the project funding situation that means the overall data management strategy also needs to change. When embarking on your research, keep in mind that unexpected things can happen, and you may need to make some tough decisions in those moments on how to best proceed! We at CMU Libraries can help offer advice on what to do if you and/or your research team encounter unexpected challenges in your data management process. Just like Daniel, Gav, and Rory navigate the creepy hallways in Maid of Sker and outrun the various threats that come their way so they can progress in the game, we can help you navigate tough situations in your data management so you can spend more time progressing in your awesome research!

I hope you enjoyed this month's installment of Tartan Datascapes, and remember that CMU Libraries is always here to help you in your data journey, whether it's getting help choosing a data analysis technique, debugging some code, writing a data management plan, or just learning more about a data topic in general. Email us or fill out our webform to start the conversation!