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  • Writer's pictureCogito

Why I Started this Blog and My Inspirations

The first inklings of my desire to dedicate to science engagement probably manifested from watching Extra Credits, a channel about game design. Their videos on educational games, gamification, and tangential learning still resonate to this day. At times when I feel like I am spending my time aimlessly, I would replay these videos to reignite my motivation in making games that can one day deliver the core experience of being a scientist. It doesn't have to be a game where the player puts on a lab coat (though I think would be interesting if done right), but rather a game where the player explores the world and its inner workings with the scientific method as a part of the core gameplay loop.


In one of the "Games you might not have tried" episodes, I was introduced to Arte Mecenas by Triseum, a game that aims to teach art history by immersing the player in the role of a member of the Medici family, one of the most powerful houses in Italy. One of the main ways the player can increase their finances or make connections is through the trade of art, through which the significance of art during the Renaissance becomes apparent without requiring a teacher or expert to explain. I find the premise ingenious and I still think of the game to this day as a great example of game-based learning.


I figured I would try to make a small game to get my feet wet. At the time I just finished Va11-Hall-a by Sukeban games, easily one of my favourite games to date. The diverse cast of characters was vibrant and the dialogue was witty, personal, and overall amazing. In terms of gameplay, Va11-Hall-a is, by and large, a visual novel with a drink-mixing mechanic. Since I imagined that would not take too much programming, I chose to emulate this gameplay.


Image source: Va11-Hall-A press kit.

Instead of making cocktails, I made a game about photography. Almost four years later, my friends and I still are still working on the game, which we titled "Through His Lens". The slow progress is largely due to my inexperience and having to balance development with a university workload, but thanks to that I have learned many lessons. I cannot be more grateful that most of them have stuck with me to this day.


Having a better understanding of the work that goes into making a game, I quickly realised I needed a more manageable approach in order to make consistent progress. At the end of my Honours, I learnt about virtual YouTubers (Vtubers), specifically Hololive, which inspired me to consider using a 3D model to make science videos. The approach alleviates the need for a nice set, attractiveness, and empowers people who are awkward in normal circumstances. The idea sounded like fun and could be yet another powerful tool for science engagement. So I decided to give it a try.


After 1-2 months of watching tutorials and playing around in Blender and VRoid Studio, I managed to make a model which could track my eyes and body movements but couldn't get the mouth to move. I asked a friend who is a professional 3D artist to redesign the bear head since my art skills didn't suffice. Although I initially tried to learn VRoid Studio and Blender as a way to cut costs, having to rely on my friend after spending 1-2 months on a subpar product made me realise the value of paying professionals for their work.


I most definitely think there is merit to learning the ins and outs, especially if it is an integral part of your work. Research works the same way. A good understanding of the fundamentals can save you a lot of time searching in the dark and can help you come up with innovative solutions based on intuition. Having said that, delegation and outsourcing exist for a reason and playing to people’s strengths can lead to amazing results in a fraction of the time.

However, just as the model was finished...I became a full-time PhD student.


The bear head I designed (LEFT) and the one my friend designed (RIGHT)

For more than half a year, I worked on my PhD research while applying for grants in science engagement during which my exploration in science engagement stagnated. Setting the stage for a career in science engagement after PhD was taken over by immediate experiments which made steady progress in my research. At this point, I have come to realise a full-time career in academia is not for me (more on that in a future post). Yet, I was trying to chase after publications, partially influenced by my supervisor's (slight) obsession with the numbers game and a desire to meet my own ridiculous quota of 3 papers per year almost on my own.


Some meditation was very much needed and it came in the form of the COVID-19 lockdown. Since my experimental work halted, I had time to stare at the ceiling and revisit some of the questions that hadn’t had the chance to cross my mind for a long time. By serendipity (or more likely the Youtube algorithm), I stumbled across Ali Abdaal's youtube channel.


There are many things I have to thank Ali for but the most important one is providing me with a process to content creation and the tools to execute it. I've been using Notion, Roam Research, and Readwise and the experience so far has been great. Inspired by his journey, I started this blog as a way to practice my writing as well as accumulate content while sharing what I know with others.

And here we are. Lockdown has been lifted for the most part in New South Wales.


To be honest, I'm worried about once again being caught up in the flow of rushing experiments and losing sight of my passion for science engagement. I have yet to come up with a good workflow and haven't had much luck with sticking to a schedule.


But I'm working on it! I said I would build a science engagement empire and I aim to deliver!

 

Hey, Cogito here. Apologies, I've been quiet for quite some time. I've been working on a grant application for an astrobiology outreach documentary which got accepted this week! The next few weeks are going to be busy with PhD coursework on top of pre-production for the documentary. Stay safe out there and I look forward to seeing you in the next one.



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