Psychology grad builds a future in gaming research
When Carson Flockhart transferred from a university in British Columbia to study psychology at MacEwan, he did his research first. “I knew I was interested in psychology, but I also knew that just attending classes wasn’t going to be enough to get me where I wanted to go, so I read a package about psychology research at MacEwan and saw that Jayne Gackenbach was studying video games and dreams. It felt like my own dream come true.”
The self-described hard-core gamer decided to email the prof out of the blue—the summer before he had even taken his first class at MacEwan. “She wasn’t looking for students to assist right then, but I offered to help and she agreed.”
Starting at level one
Carson started at the bottom, coding data and taking notations for other researchers, and worked his way up to his first solo work—an independent study that looked at whether video games offer a nightmare protection effect for first responders.
“Many people in these roles suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and one of the horrifying parts of that is re-traumatizing nightmares,” he says. “Jayne had already published research showing that video games offered a nightmare protection effect for hard-core male gamers in the military, so we wanted to see if we could replicate those findings closer to home.”
Carson found himself heading out to fire halls and police stations looking for volunteers to anonymously fill in a form and submit a description of one of their dreams for the study.
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“My first study was challenging, but I relished it,” he says. “We were able to replicate the findings in Jayne’s earlier study that showed when males play a certain amount of video games they experience less threat in their dreams. The dreams are still scary in content, but you call tell in the language the person uses to describe them that they are less fearful.”
Meeting heroes and testing the waters in Helsinki
The hard work paid off last summer when Carson shared his research at the Toward a Science of Consciousness 2015 conference in Helsinki, Finland.
“I met some of my research heroes and even got an open invitation to do a PhD fellowship there in the future—it was the cherry on top of my whole experience at MacEwan,” he says.
Carson has technically graduated, but his research continues—right now he’s writing a paper with Jayne that will be submitted to a journal in January. He’s also working full time to save up for grad school.
“I feel like I got really lucky—that’s the only way I can put it,” he says. “If I had stayed in B.C. and hadn’t pushed to get involved in research when I came to MacEwan, I don’t think I would be doing research that I’m really passionate about. Being able to combine video games and my career is a big deal for me. This is something I can see myself doing for many years to come.”
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