My Life with Games

I. 

I hate the word “gamer”.

I don’t particularly like the idea of a “gamer culture” either, because it draws a circle around a small subset of games and a small, unrepresentative group that plays them and says, “these are what games strive to be, and these people are the essence of folks who play games”. The average gamer is 30, and has played games for roughly 13 years. 45% of gamers are female. 36% of gamers play on their smartphone.

Buying a Sony console is a tradition for the men in my family. My father bought me a Playstation when I was very young. When I was ten or eleven, I saved up gift money to buy a Playstation 2. My younger brother bought the family’s Playstation 3, seven years later.

Many Saturdays, my brother and I were up at 7am for a half-day’s slog through some given platformer. For the first years I’d play and he’d watch, to be honest. We’ve since flipped places. We played the Tekken franchise to death (Tekken 2 was my first console game). Nintendo and X-box culture had to be absorbed by visiting friends’ houses. Ultimately my brother bought a Wii, but by then my console gaming era had ended.

Gaming was a social event. There was no stigma to it. Going to someone’s house and shooting the holy hell out of each other would fill the time until we got the whole crew together and decided what we were ultimately going to waste the day doing. And we did other things. We played soccer. We went bowling. Eventually, we drank.

In the early 2000’s we had an old Dell desktop, a machine that hid its monstrous full form behind this wooden desk with cabinets, fitted into a corner of the room. I loved Real-Time Strategy games. Age of Empires and Sim City kept me up into strange hours. Much later, in college, I would seek out those games again. Other than some multiplayer fun on Steam, I wouldn’t really play much during college. I tried my hand at StarCraft 2 and found that I sucked. Same with DotA 2. I still dabble with them.

Back in those early years, maybe a decade ago, my neighbor and I would read up on who the new characters would be in the next Super Smash Bros. Okay, that actually is really nerdy, isn’t it.

There were games of the non-electronic variety. At home, Monopoly would bring us together (and tear us apart). In high school, my friends and I would get together for insane evening-long sessions of RISK, which would ultimately become lengthy debates and diplomacy (except for that one guy who just wanted to destroy). We’d play Cards Against Humanity, too.

Not that I didn’t spent a lot of time outside, too- back then, my parents would kick us out, not as punishment but just because. A basketball and some chalk would yield games of foursquare. We’d go exploring through the many conjoined backyards (our neighborhood was gigantic). There were street wars with airsoft guns. There were totally made-up games. I was the oldest in my cul-de-sac, so I ran things. I made the games.

 

II. 

I learned HTML in fifth grade, with a book (!) from the library (!!). I wrote a text adventure, with links sending the player to different webpages, modeled after those Goosebumps “Choose Your Own Adventure” titles.

During sixth grade, I downloaded a copy of early game-authoring system Gamemaker. I soon made my first original 2-D platformer, called “Wheelchair Crisis”. The protagonist was in a wheelchair because I couldn’t draw a walk cycle. He could jump, though. All sprites were drawings I made in paint. I made dozens of levels. Sometimes it was suddenly two-player. There were helicopter-flying levels. It was a mess.

I made demo discs of my games to sell. All the classics: Wheelchair Crisis. A shooting game called Seagull Battalion (yes the projectiles were poop). A never-to-be-finished adventure game.

The desktop that housed these games crashed. Now that first wave of games exist in memory and presumably in a couple of dozen unmarked CD-Rs. It’s unlikely to still be on my middle school’s network.

I became a moderator in a Gamemaker community. I learned to script properly, instead of using the drag-and-drop features. I played with other authoring systems, including 3-D ones. Sometimes I won things. I put it them on my college applications.

 

III.

I went to Carnegie Mellon with the intention to learn about decision support systems and games. I thought it was a good match, because of the people and work that had been done there: the legacy of Herbert Simon,  the futurist and game developer Jesse Schell, the CAPTCHA developer and “Games with a Purpose” producer Luis von Ahn, for example.

I met some folks who lived in my dorm, while walking back from the local game developing club. That night we made a game together in just a few hours, and if you don’t mind me saying so it looked damn good. 

We ended up making a lot of games together. We entered competitions and sometimes won. We went to game jams and crunched arcade games out left and right. But none of us actually wanted to be in the industry. That sort of put us at odds with our peers. We didn’t really play many commercial games at this phase, either. It was more the joy of making. Most of our work isn’t even consistently uploaded anywhere. Still, we grew into a small collective.

We were interested in using games in weird ways (some of us for different reasons). Some of my co-developers became my roommates. We made games and prototypes for clients. We won some competitions. We made games for crowds during an electronic music concert. We read philosophy on games, and dug into research literature. We won research grants separately and together on the topic. Game studies was a young field.There was a lot of low-hanging fruit to explore.

Ultimately, although I considered it, I didn’t stay in school beyond my BS, because I thought I saw an opportunity to really see businesses in action, to see how things actually fit and how game-design sensibility might improve things in large organizations. So I graduated early and went to work.

“Serious Games” and “Gamification” were taking off as ideas. And, honestly, I expected (and still expect) a period of disillusionment, where some of the early over-promising poisons the concepts for a little while. But then there’d be some interesting opportunities in all of that wreckage.

I’m exploring some game-related opportunities with some of my former college friends. I expect that I’ll find myself talking more about games, philosophy, and games studies in the future.