I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and reminded about my time in the game industry when I wondered, really wondered, why on Earth I ended up making games for a living.
This is something I especially wonder in times like right now. When I think about the literacy rates of schools in Texas (“One in three adults cannot read this sentence”) and wish I would have stuck to my original goal leaving college: teach public high school English. Or if there was something I could be doing elsewhere to try and help find solutions to horrible world events or maybe do something to aid in increasingly scary domestic events like what happened in Ferguson, Missouri recently. Or why make games in an industry where things like abhorrent harassment of its own occurs. Or. Or. Or. The list of things I could be doing frequently goes on and on.
So: why make games?
I grew up wanting to do nothing but make games. In High School, the pursuit of knowledge and endless, endless, endless challenges in learning programming then graphics programming then game programming then learning how poorly I learned all of those things and starting over again from scratch was fun. I mean, it was fun except for when it was just horribly discouraging. I gave up learning more than once, but one particularly dull class gave rise to my very first game that I coded, primarily, on my TI-86 calculator during class periods. It motivated me to do something different than I would otherwise be doing (like just playing video games), while filling in the time when other after-school activities weren’t going on (I was a runner and a drama nerd). So, nights of pouring through books and attempting to download demos and source code repositories on a barely-28k dial-up modem late at night to learn more about programming was something that was a lot of fun for me.
When I got to the University of Michigan as a Computer Science major in the School of Engineering, my desire to make games professional waned quickly. I didn’t have much in common with most of the other CS majors, and I was somewhat bullheaded about my own degree of knowledge about programming to the point where going to programming classes was something I did when I was already awake (infrequently) and had nothing better to do (even more infrequently). I switched majors to English with a focus on Secondary Education and Creative Writing (largely unrelated note: this is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made). And when I got done with college, I was going to teach high school and try to give back what I had growing up: some truly great and inspiring teachers/adults that instilled in me the belief that I can always do better.
In that sense, that’s one of the reasons I make games. There is always room for improvement in every aspect of the craft. Whether it’s a game I made/help make like SPACE COLORS or Cat vs. Aliens or Starhawk, or just a game I’m playing from huge studios like Diablo 3 or Destiny. There’s room for improvement in all games. There is never any doubt that there’s something that can be done to make a game better.
That’s all well and good for the part of my brain that loves the challenge, but what about the other parts? Well, socially, I’ve met some of my favorite people in the world in the games industry. I’ve found personal game development heroes in people like Clint Hocking and Shinji Mikami. I’ve developed, I think, a fairly well-established personal aesthetic and it continues to evolve with each new project that I undertake. And my current job as Creative Director of Team Chaos has me doing things I’ve never done elsewhere like take a complete game pitch to a studio and do an in-person pitch of the idea. Which would have been terrifying to me a year ago. Not that it wasn’t terrifying to me the day before pitching either, but it was less so because I had a studio filled with coworkers who supported me, the idea, and gave me the confidence I needed to go out and get it done. The entire process of that as well as just starting on and developing entirely new games with this team is something I adore on a regular basis.
But that doesn’t really answer the question: why make games?
Really, I think I make games for me, twenty years ago. Games helped defined my identity, they gave me hours upon hours of entertainment, they were engaging, they were enjoyable, and they were (and still are) my favorite form of entertainment. It pains me to think that there are gamers out there who either lost sight of what games are or what they’re for, but to get lost in that concern is missing the bigger picture: games, for most people, are fun.
Ultimately, that’s why I make games. And it’s absolutely part of my future plan to dovetail my experience in games with my devotion to education and see what I can come up with that will be fun and educational in a way that, hopefully, only I can do.
In the mean time, if you consider yourself a gamer, just sit down with a game you like and lose yourself in it. Remember why games exist, remember that a whole lot of people put a whole lot of themselves into making that game, but, most importantly, also remember that they’re “just” games. There’s still that whole world out there that’s ongoing and needs that thing that only you can provide. And it’s not hatred, bigotry, misogyny, sexism, anger, jealousy, rage, or any of those other emotions that seem to be clouding the Internet lately. It’s something uniquely you, and it’s pretty awesome.