It's important to put some context into this. As I start my PhD program, I recognize that I applied, and failed, three times before this and had gotten to a place where I no longer felt like I had choices. I needed to be grateful, thank you very much, for the opportunity set before me. So when I got my first decision, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, even though I knew I'd hate the weather and knew I'd hate the political climate, I was sold. Besides, I would get to work under Stuart Moulthrop, so it's really not a lesser choice by any stretch, academically speaking... I had just vowed I would never move where it snowed again! And like any good vow when temptation hit, I was abandoning it like cold coffee.
And then I received acceptance from UCF. My yearly trips to Florida for the ICFA conference held there every March had me rather familiar with the Texts and Technologies program. Many of the games focused folks at ICFA were also in that program, so I already had networking inroads. Further, I knew I'd get to work under Anastasia Salter, who is a fantastic scholar and had been trained by Stuart Moulthrop. Now there is the whole "Florida" problem and Orlando is certainly not a peach of a city, but hell, I've adapted to worse. So suddenly, UCF it is!
And then my backup said yes, as well. I caved this time around and applied to an Education PhD, knowing those are a bit easier to get into, but also knowing there was a decent chance it would lack funding. UT Austin, to its credit however, has a great education program and some researchers there working on great games related stuff. So, if I couldn't shoot for my dream, I could at least shoot at the board and see if I couldn't take advantage of the location in order to keep my middle school teaching position while I went to classes. But, of course, having already received my offers, UT Austin was right out.
And then I received acceptance from UC Santa Cruz. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and I had a number of lovely conversations and I was very much excited about his Computational Media program. However, I also knew that aside from Noah, everyone there was very maker focused and still looked down on students who just wanted to "talk about stuff." But, whatever, right, because it's a UC school, in a political pleasant state, with fantastic weather, and top scholars. What could be better?
And then I received my acceptance to UCI. UCI was the weird one. I didn't know much about their reputation and was unaware of them being particularly potent in game studies. But my potential advisor, Josh Tanenbaum, seemed super chill; we totally nerded out together for quite awhile during my interview (which, in hindsight, I now realize the interview should have signaled to me that I was in the running). So when I got accepted I was stoked. I knew they were bringing on board Kurt Squire, Constance Steinkuhler, and Katie Salen. Katie Salen, whose books I've read cover to cover! So strange having star crushes on academics... but whatever. So suddenly I had a real decision on my hands between UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine.
AND THEN UCF made things more complicated by offering a very friendly support package. Friendly enough that I had to reassess. With cost of living considered, UCF had the best offer. But the UC schools had more prestige and both were in the stage of developing their programs from the ground up.
So why UCI? Honestly, they sold me at "hello." While making my decision, UCI sent me out to meet with my program and introduce us to the potential of it all. And it was astonishing. They were seeking to make of their Informatics program a game studies home where some of the best of the best gather to the table. And they seemed to be succeeding. They had top names, they had a broad range of research, they welcomed a wide category of students (based on field interest), and had desires to mark us as one of the first true game studies cohorts. So though the funding package was great, the academic opportunities were incomparable.