Where are they now?
Emily Marlow (BA Religion, Theology & Bible 2015, MA Biblical Research 2016)
For our latest alumni profile we spoke to Religion, Theology and the Bible graduate Emily Marlow, who recently completed her MA course, about her time in Sheffield and her on-going studies into religion, sexuality and gender within video games and other media.
What did you study while at Sheffield?
I first studied for a Bachelor's in Religion, Theology and the Bible, followed by a Masters in Biblical Research and now I’m in the first year of my PhD, working with the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS), broadly studying religion in video games. I’ve always been interested in religious studies; when I was a child I liked it because the narratives and art surrounding religion really engaged my imagination. As I grew up I realised that religion permeates every part of society and culture and this thought convinced me to study religion at a higher academic level.
My bachelor’s dissertation focused on how film representations of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had been skewed using his gender and sexuality; a camp, homoerotic Pilate when the directors wanted the audience to dislike the character, a decidedly heteronormative, masculine version when they wanted audiences to empathise with him. My Master’s dissertation looked at Christ-figures present within the 2013 video game Bioshock: Infinite.
What first attracted you to Sheffield?
I moved to Sheffield from New Zealand in 2009 on the recommendation of several friends. My father was born in England and it was almost a rite of passage amongst my family to live in the UK at some point. I had intended to only stay a year but I loved Sheffield so much that I never went back.
The University of Sheffield was always discussed amongst friends as a really high quality university, and just from the enthusiasm of the few people I had spoken to I decided to give it a go and apply.
Did you get involved in any clubs or societies during your studies?
I joined NODDSOC (Not Only Dungeons & Dragons Soc) in my first year (I’m a big players of roleplaying games!). I think it’s great that Sheffield has such a large, well established RP society.
What are some of your favourite things to do in Sheffield?
My husband is born and bred in Sheffield and was really raised around the idea of walking as one of the ideal activities to do in Sheffield, and I definitely agree! I love the sheer amount of nature in the city, the amount of walks available and the high quality of our parks. I enjoyed living down the road from Endcliffe Park for several years but I definitely think Weston Park is my favourite. I also love visiting our great galleries and museums, and seeing how well supported culture is amongst the public.
What are your best memories of Sheffield?
Whilst my graduations are amazing memories (especially as I was lucky enough to have my whole family present!), I’d have to say marrying my husband last year at the Sheffield Town Hall.
You received a scholarship for your master’s course; what difference did this make to your studies?
It may sound a bit blunt to say this but the main difference receiving a scholarship made to my studies was the fact that it made them possible at all! I’m proud to come from a working class background, but being working class meant that I just didn’t have access to the same opportunities as some others did.
I was so profoundly grateful to have received the support that I did - and the fact that the University was so supportive towards the type of research I wanted to do was just amazing. I found out that I was graduating with a First for my BA in the same week that I found out I had received funding for my MA and it just floored me.
Your work has focused around religion, gender and sexuality in a variety of media, but particularly video games. How did you get started on this line of research?
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was born at the perfect time to interact with the emerging world of video games. Having said that, if you had told me at that age that this kind of research was even possible, I wouldn’t have believed it! For me, moving from studying the Bible in culture to studying religion within games seemed like a natural progression. My parents raised me to analyse art, theatre and film, and I think video games can be analysed in much the same way as those older, more established types of media. They are such a huge part of our culture (for example, US gamers spend over 22 Billion dollars on games in 2015), yet there is very little coverage of things like religion within games.
Do you find this impacts on how you can enjoy games/films/books?
I sometimes joke that studying games is a case of “Pick which game you want to ruin for yourself”, but I try my best to balance research texts with texts I interact with for fun or entertainment alone. However there is often a situation where I’m playing a game for fun and end up finding things to research!
How do you think games are engaging with these themes compared to other media?
Video games are interacting with religion in such a startlingly different way than other media. For some reason the mainstream media still perceive video games as a lower/lesser form of media, and so when video games do interact with aspects of religion, often very controversially, it’s not reported or discussed. This allows game writers to ‘get away’ with discussing topics that larger media, say, blockbuster films, couldn't. Bioshock: Infinite, a 2013 game that sold over 11 million copies, discussed big ideas of zealotry, faith, forgiveness and the entire religion/science debate whilst still appearing to be a bog standard ‘shooter’ game. Games like Infinite can discuss religion in a much more nuanced way as they often have a much longer period of audience time to use. They can also allow for the player to interact with religious aspects, like rituals, and learn about religion in a really diverse way.
You are fairly active on Twitter about your work; how do you feel this (and other social media) is impacting on education and research?
In my opinion, Twitter and other aspects of social media are drastically changing the landscape of academia. There are good and bad aspects of it; it can be distracting but it also provides amazing ways to connect to others, to have great discussions which are not dependent on what someone does for a living or where they’re from. I’ve made so many great connections and friendships through Twitter; the majority of times I’ve spoken academically, or been invited to, have been the result of a connection on Twitter. It’s an important resource that shouldn’t be ignored.
You are now embarking on a PhD at the University; what do you hope to achieve with your research?
I’d like to, in some part, help to challenge the idea that video games are “just games”. Video games are such a large part of our culture and I think with the advent of true VR that’s only going to increase. Games are (for many of us) a part of our everyday activities and they have gone largely under-studied for many years. This has to change.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self, or someone else considering postgraduate study?
When I talk to people about what I study, especially younger people, I often get asked “But how did you get to do that?” or I get told “I didn’t know you could study that!”. So my advice to others is to ask - ask what you can study, and if there is something you are really interested in, ask if you can fit it into your studies. Old advice but still very relevant - you don’t know if you don’t ask!
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