I was a secretary for twenty years.
It’s not a bad job. I was terrible at it, although I had positions of increasing responsibility and was fortunate to support some of the nicest, smartest guys in high tech. I worked for Gary Campbell at Compaq for a few years and it was the most ridiculous cushy job I ever had, where mostly I processed expense reports and was there for genius tech people to download to and not trip over my dick when talking to Bill Gates’ secretary. Gary was a great guy. Gruff, no-bullshit, brusque in a way that made people dislike and sometimes fear him or both. But he was a brilliant, fair, down to earth guy who didn’t like me to get him coffee because he got why secretaries fetching bosses coffee was problematic, from a feminist standpoint.
So I did it for him anyway.
I got fired, like a soft-fire fired, by another guy like Gary, a CEO who finally looked me straight in the eye and said “god knows I love you but you are the worst secretary ever, and now that you’ve had your cancer wake up call would you please do something else for a living you actually enjoy?”
Which was kind of a ‘huh’ moment for me, and he gave me three or so months to find something he approved of and said if it was something I was actually suited for he’d even give me a recommendation.
I became a video game designer.
This boss, this boss who fired me was actually the one who helped me arrive at that conclusion and while the “career counselors” working with me insisted there was NO FUCKING WAY I could get into the industry, that I didn’t have the experience and it was TOO HARD
– clearly, these were people who had never gone through a firefighting hire process with four thousand other highly qualified candidates for one fucking firefighter position –
my boss helped and got me some contacts and while those specifically didn’t pan out, I did have a good friend working in the industry who helped me look, helped me with my resume and held my hand when I finally got a bite and had to do my first video game design test, where I basically had a weekend to learn how to do a mod and had never, ever modded before. Ever. In fact that weekend was the first weekend that I’d ever really played a single player RPG.
But I did all right.
The studio I applied to admitted that I mostly got in on my writing chops, but they liked that I had learned to mod in a weekend and it showed brains and a certain nice degree of insanity that I later would learn was a job requirement, and I got in.
It was home.
Look, folks. It was *home*.
I spent twenty years showing up to work thinking work was something you do that is separate from you. You get your coffee, you sort some mail, you make a spreadsheet, you make some travel arrangements and it is pleasant and mindless. You have a couple of friends at work who tolerate your strangeness, or are maybe a little bit weird in the ways you are, and you hang out with them but mostly you do your job and are relieved when quitting time rolls around and you home. That’s it. That’s what “work” is.
And then it wasn’t.
Suddenly at work I was doing the same things I’d always crammed my free time with. Making things up. Dialogue. Swords, fighting, characters, pretend books, pretend songs. Ways to torture my players. “What, not scary enough for you? HOW IS THIS FOR SCARY? YOU LIKE THAT NOW, MOTHERFUCKERS ARE YOU HIDING UNDER THE COUCH YET??”
I was doing that.
At my job.
I was surrounded by people exactly like me, not just one or two who were a little like me but people, even my bosses were like me. Everyone. Weird and who had read the same comics and could argue intelligently about the various representations of Batman, who knew who Lobo was, who had read the same books and cracked jokes about what one does and doesn’t do going into Mordor, and also grown up playing swords and wearing cloaks to school. Who had turned their closets into fighter ships and sat in there by the glow of a Lite-Brite set with a makeshift joystick yelling “PEW PEW PEW!”
I worked with these people to make games to entertain in the way we all had grown up wanting to be entertained. By immersing players in fantastic worlds with epic stories and thrilling combat, where we could be anyone and do amazing things, fantastic things. Conquer and do magic and make kings, become a name equating to hero on the lips of every wide-eyed child and you think – you think we didn’t work to make that happen even in an MMO? We did, because it’s what we want, as players. It’s what we grew up wanting.
I went to work and made worlds.
And it was good at my first studio and I loved everyone there so much, and then I moved on because I knew that while that was amazing, 38 was going to be even better.
And it was.
I made so many fucking friends.
I played hockey with people and wrote with people and played D&D with people and, oh, right, we also made a video game in there too. A really, really wonderful one, where I kept seeing things and would have this shock this thrill of holy shit we did that? That is fucking awesome! I put things into the game I was so proud of. Where later, I knew someone would be playing and would burst out laughing or stop, stock still and look at the screen and go “… shit.” In that tone of voice where you knew that in 25 words or less I’d just sucker-punched them.
I would open up the game and despite all the myriad things you see that you need to fix or make you facepalm or need to be tweaked or make you want to beat your co-designer about the head and say “WHY WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” mostly I would fall in and start playing and then a little while later think “oh, oh, right, no play. I’m working on this right now.”
And I’d dream in the world’s vivid colors.
And I’d wake up knowing Amalur was part of my psyche, the world-place I had lived in since childhood.
And I loved it there.
We, as designers, live in a state of perpetual magic. We lose sight of it sometimes because it turns out that magic is often buggy as shit but when something happens, and you lose it, the loss of color and wonder is almost intolerable, for people who need that color and wonder in their lives in order to survive.
I was surrounded by people like me, who need a world like that.
And what we lose, in losing that world and each other?