Making games as a hobby
I had been working at Google for about a year and a half, and while it was a fantastic experience and a great place to work, I realised it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was a small part of a small (for Google) team working on a relatively obscure feature, and damnit, I wanted to be impactful.
(Let me pause for a moment and check my privilege: I’m a tall white man, from a college-educated, middle-class family, lucky enough to have gotten interested in software as a child. I’m blessed to be in a position to want to be “impactful” and then do something about it.)
I’m really passionate about video games. Games were the reason I got interested in computers—I remember playing the Adventures of Maddog Williams from a DOS game demo disk and wondering how it worked, and how could I make something like it?
I really got into programming when I discovered Creatures 2, an artificial life game where you take care of fluffy doe-eyed creatures called Norns, teach them how to talk, and guide them around the drop-dead gorgeous world of Albia. The thing that drew me in was that it was possible to make addons for the game (“COBs”, or Creatures OBjects), by scripting them in a little language called CAOS (“Creatures Agent Object Scripting”). I read every tutorial I could find on CAOS and ultimately stumbled across the community for the game, which was full of amazing, supportive, friendly people whom are the main reason I’m doing the things I’m doing today.
So when I was thinking about where to go next from Google, the game industry was a hugely tempting option. But I couldn’t seem to square it with the idea of being “impactful” in the world. Games are beautiful and important but I didn’t believe that I would be satisfied unless I was curing cancer or solving global warming or some other similarly world-shatteringly critical problem. But what I really wanted was to make games.
I attended the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco in 2012, and there I heard Brenda Romero speak. I’ll find the video in the Vault later, but the thing that really stuck to me was something she said almost off-hand about her relationship with game design and the games she makes. She put making games next to a bunch of her other hobbies in a list, and what a revelation that was to me. I hadn’t even considered that I could do that as a hobby! In my mind, I had to either dedicate my life to something I loved but didn’t really feel was important, or to something important that prevented me from doing what I really wanted to do.
A lot of my thoughts in these areas have evolved in the past three years, but I’ll be forever grateful to Brenda for showing me that what I love and what I believe in can coexist.