Skip to main content Skip to footer
Post header Skip post header

Since St John’s: Megan Quinn (2008)

Posted on Apr 26

4 min read

Career Events & News

Megan Quinn (2008) studied for an MPhil in English at St John’s, completed a PhD in English at Princeton University, and now works as a senior narrative designer at a game studio.

As I listened to I knew not what in Latin and very nearly stepped on my academic robes, I graduated with an MPhil in Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Studies from St John’s in 2009. The idea behind the MPhil was to develop a research paper substantial enough to qualify me for a PhD. And, sure enough, I got into the PhD programme in English at Princeton University and graduated with considerably more Latin recitation in 2018.

Megan Quinn

At both St John’s and Princeton, I was lucky to have the time and space to pursue creative writing in addition to my academic work. Some fellow MPhil students in English organised a creative writing workshop, where I received careful critiques of my fiction and the challenge to try to match my colleagues’ writing. In between dissertation writing sessions at Princeton, I wrote short humour fiction paragraph by paragraph, some of which appeared on McSweeney’s. Despite the time I made for creative work, I never thought of it as a realistic career option. Who, after all, gets to write for their job without the benefit of a wealthy spouse or a simple willingness to starve?

But the academic job market in English is scarce too. Like many new PhDs, I taught as an adjunct while I applied for more permanent academic positions. During my time as a Lecturer at San Francisco State University, I enjoyed a wonderfully supportive Writing Program Director, the benefit of a union, and absolutely great students. Working as an assistant instructor at Princeton had shown me how to organise lesson plans and balance constructive criticism with encouragement in my comments on student writing. For the first time at SF State, I taught college writing courses, designed my own syllabi, and led formal academic writing workshops.

Leading writing workshops would turn out to be a useful skill not only in academic job interviews, but also in my current job. Even with a union, however, adjunct pay was low and teaching was not always available. When the pandemic hit the United States in the spring of 2020 and the prospect of any kind of academic job in the fall dwindled, I became more aggressive in my search for alternative career paths.

It’s worth it to apply for jobs that interest you instead of simply applying for the jobs you think you can get.

There were a couple of paths that I focused on: high school teaching and technical writing. While I felt ill-suited to the content of the latter, the availability of jobs for technical writers made it look like a practical choice. Since I lived in the Bay Area, creative writing jobs in games also popped up in my searches. I took the time to apply to some of these jobs simply because writing for games sounded fun and interesting. To put it bluntly: I did not think anyone would hire me to write games.

All of this is to say that it’s worth it to apply for jobs that interest you instead of simply applying for the jobs you think you can get. As it turns out, no one wanted to hire me to do technical writing. But someone did hire me to edit and write games. I started as a narrative designer for the interactive romance story game Chapters at Crazy Maple Studio in July 2020. To get the job, my short humour fiction publications, as well as unpublished short stories, mattered in the form of writing samples. When I interviewed, my MPhil and PhD enabled me to talk easily about both the history of romance novels and what makes a good video game. My teaching experience made it possible for me to get promoted after seven months to senior narrative designer, a role in which I teach new hires how to make compelling games.

Now I imagine my goals for the future much like the games I make: as a branching narrative rather than a linear path.

A typical workday includes everything from editing to rewriting to adding new writing to scripts drafted by a game writer. On a given day, for example, I might write in a car chase scene, give my romantic leads more banter, develop a through line of jokes about a fictional reality TV show, or simply polish a line here or there. When I’m not working on my own scripts, I give advice to new narrative designers on everything from story to style. I also write promotional text for my games, coordinate with our art department, do quality assurance rounds, and give comments in weekly workshops. Since teaching became an important part of my identity in academic life, it’s been particularly gratifying to be able to teach as part of my job.

Megan Quinn standing in a doorway

My advice to students or alumni who secretly want to pursue creative jobs is to be honest about it with themselves. While it makes sense to pursue more ‘practical’ options, sometimes the actual practical path isn’t obvious. If you want to write for your job, look for careers where there are more opportunities. In applying for jobs in games, I happened upon the kind of job I might get – it helps to pursue work at small or independent game studios – in a market where there are more opportunities.

Now I imagine my goals for the future much like the games I make: as a branching narrative rather than a linear path. There are branches to pursue different types of writing, bigger games, or more teaching. What I’d most like students and alumni in the humanities to know is that it’s okay for their lives to branch out in different directions. Whichever direction they pick, their creative and critical skills will help them find interesting paths. Maybe they’ll even get a fun path full of car chases.