Get To Know James Robb
James is an associate teaching professor in Ontario Tech’s Game Development and Entrepreneurship program. He is a self-described researcher by accident. He’s spent his life loving games and ended up taking an unconventional path into the world of academics and research. Now, in addition to teaching, he is focused on the design of spectator based interactions in livestreamed game content.
Today, we’re talking to James about his career so far, teaching and some of the possibilities that gaming holds for the future.
What first got you interested in game development?
As a kid I think I wanted to do something in games because of the aspect of play, but things really clicked for me in high school. A combination of computer programming classes and hobby tabletop games (D&D 3.5 mostly) solidified game development as this crafting of an experience for others. Programming seemed like an easy route since I thought I was good at it, though many years later in grad school I moved into the design space and I like it much better here.
It sounds like teaching is a big focus for you now. How did you end up here?
I finished my undergrad right around the time that gamer-gate was happening. And as a person who loves games, I was disappointed with the player community. It led to a crisis of identity, and at the time I was working on a research project that kept getting extended, so through that I started my masters. I figured I would take this time while I was going through grad school to figure out what my place in the industry was.
A month before I defended my thesis, it was announced the professor I was working under was leaving the university. This was in August, and all of his classes starting in September didn’t have an instructor. So I ended up naturally transitioning into teaching those, which eventually led to a more full-time position. And I found that I really enjoyed being in the classroom and helping people learn. It was that experience that put me down this path.
What do you enjoy about working with UXR Lab?
The lab is more than a research facility. Even during covid, when we haven’t been as connected–we have weekly meetings, which is the only time I’m seeing most of my UXR colleagues — I feel like we’re all very supportive of one another. I really do think that there’s a certain something about the people and our interpersonal interactions.
Where do you see your career going from here?
Academia is where I’m putting my roots down. I think that this is, in a roundabout way, helps answer the question I’d been trying to answer about where in the world of game development I fit. Sure I can’t broadly change the world and say that all of a sudden the gaming community doesn’t have any toxicity. But now I have this small, microcosm of people that I can help develop.
What areas do you see yourself focusing on in the future?
I think it’s going to be really cool to explore ways for spectators to affect game play. Giving them ways to have a tangible affect on the game world rather than just voting or participating in a limited audience scope. I’d love to look into and develop guidelines for more meaningful ways to create these kinds of interactions. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but piecing that together is absolutely something that interests me.