Hey there, I’m Sean Duncan (he/him pronouns). I teach University courses about games, comics, and media.
I am currently employed as an Assistant Professor, General Faculty in the University of Virginia’s Department of Media Studies. In my teaching, I focus on games within an interdisciplinary network of research and design, helping students understand the fun, important, and often messy ways that games serve as loci of cultural and subcultural practices, platforms for social interaction, and as interfaces that shape community practices.
I’ve previously worked as a user experience intern/usability engineer at Microsoft, I was formerly the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Interactive Media in Miami University’s C. Michael Armstrong Interactive Media Studies program, and before UVA, was most recently an assistant professor in the Learning Sciences at Indiana University and Research Scientist in Indiana University’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology. I have a fairly recent CV linked up on this site, so feel free to poke through that if reading about someone else’s academic papers and presentations happens to be something you enjoy.
In my research and my life, I often find myself mixing up games, fandom, and critique. I try to straddle the “aca/fan” line of being active within cultures of play in digital and analog spaces while also occasionally conducting research on them. The blog on this site will reflect that — I’ll be talking about games, comics, TV shows, films, fandom, politics, academic nonsense, and even cooking on occasion.
My background was originally in educational research, but I have ditched that moribund field for the greener pastures of Media Studies (if in a non-tenurable position). My main focus professionally is the family of things called “games”: Digital games, mobile games, board games, card games, role-playing games, larps, folk games, art games, political agitprop games, interactive fiction, even sports now and then. Games are expressive, allow their creators (and players!) to communicate their perspectives on the world, balance complex systems of rule sets and narratives, and make engaging and fun media that can be used toward artistic, political, and critical goals. For more detail on my research, please visit the Research page; for more on some of my teaching, please visit my Courses page.
It should go without saying, but I also play games. Not a ton of them anymore (it’s hard in quarantine with two small kids), but I believe that anyone who writes about, studies, or critiques these things needs to maintain a modicum of engagement with the medium. My students always ask me what my favorite games are, so here are the two reigning champions — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for digital games, and Android: Netrunner for strategic analog games. And although I’ve only played it once, I had a hell of a good game of Sagas of the Icelanders at GenCon a number of years ago, so maybe that makes it near the top of my favorite RPGs. Lately, during our never-ending self-quarantine, I’ve found myself playing a fair amount of: Slay the Spire, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Ring Fit Adventure, Human Fall Flat, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Blades in the Dark, Thousand Year-Old Vampire, Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and others. As you might be able to tell, my tastes lately bifurcate pretty cleanly — games I can play on the Nintendo Switch with my kids and role-playing or story-oriented games I can play without the kids.
Netrunner in particular is one I’ve thought a lot about and played a bunch. It was my primary gaming obsession the last few years, and I’ve played in countless face-to-face and online tournaments for the game, including attending all of World Championships from 2015-2018 (the picture above is a collection of all the fun swag I brought back from Worlds 2017). I’ve dabbled in some academic writing about the game as well, and have linked up several pieces I’ve written or co-written on a separate page of this site. It’s been a big part of my life that I suppose I tie to being a parent (I got the Netrunner core set only a few days before our son was born), and while I don’t play as much as I used to, I’m always trying to find a way back into this game and its community.
I am also a fan of comics, and teach a course at UVA called “Comics & Sequential Art.” I’m pretty lousy at drawing, but I enjoy dabbling with it every now and then. Speaking of family again, my son and I have even doodled our own little minicomics and sold them at the Small Press Expo in DC, and, many years ago, I put together a couple of well-received minicomics anthologies about food. I’ve got a little page here dedicated to those books. I’d like to do more, but as I age I find myself getting more self-conscious about my ability. Maybe someday!
Speaking of the family a third time, I should also mention that I’m married to the inestimably wonderful Elizabeth Ellcessor , and we share a home with two little friends and a couple of cats. If you want to buy us something fun, we certainly won’t say no; here’s my Amazon wishlist, full of wonders, delights, and junk. Also, if you’d like to chat, please feel free to get in touch via email at my first name, the letter c, then my last name at Google’s email service. Or you can find me on Discord as scd#9602 — feel free contact me if you’re interested in joining my small, private, social Discord.