Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Is That All You Do, Play Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 15, 2010

It was a little bit of a shock when we had to go to the hospital a week after I graduated from college. I almost automatically wrote down, “Student” on the form when it asked for my job title. I realized – holy crap! – I was actually “unemployed.”

My wife was teaching second grade at a nearby elementary school, but she was also pregnant with our first child. The whole thing with her being the principle bread-winner wasn’t going to last much longer. I had to find a job. But for the immediate future, we had the luxury of having a few weeks for me to search for the “right” job, not just any ol’ job for a fresh-faced graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. And – bizarrely enough – I was trying to hold out for what I’d considered a “dream job,” – a job as a videogame programmer.

At one point, I’d made some tentative calls to Origin and asked about what kind of qualifications they were looking for (almost immediately before they were acquired by EA and … well, slowly destroyed…) After reading some articles, I’d known that besides a degree, I need to have some proof of my game-making ability. I needed a portfolio of game projects I’d worked on.

I’d started working on them before I graduated. One, a game called “Armorena,” was a 3D multiplayer tank-game I’d written as a project for my final course at school, a class on networking. I say, “3D,” but it was flat-shaded polygons. This was 1994, after all.

I also had an incomplete strategy game inspired by the board game Supremacy. I had a cyberpunk action RPG (back before they were cool) that I’d STILL like to finish one day, where you played a Neuromancer-style console cowboy hacking through computer systems and uncovering a global conspiracy.  And I had a dumb little fighting game with custom sprites doing fighting moves. A friend wanted to help, and had added some cartoon characters to the mix. We had Homer Simpson doing martial arts in that game. It was silly. Terrible gameplay, but I was never a huge fighting game fan. I think it had more in common with the old arcade game, Karate Champ than Street Fighter II (which was still very popular at the time).

Fortunately, there were game companies locally. And so I started my search locally. Through my Teaching Assistant job, I’d learned of a new game start-up being put together in Salt Lake, and had been in contact with them, though they were still trying to get funding together. They eventually became SingleTrac, my first job out of college and the beginning of my game-making career. But I also sent my resume and interviewed at other places.

While I was working on these games and trying for the “dream job” first before – or so I thought – having to “get serious” with a more ordinary job – I was also playing games. I’d write, I’d play. I’d look through the Wanted Ads.

During this stretch, my wife’s grandparents paid us a visit for a few days. I was knee-deep in making and playing the games, now out of school, and my grandmother-in-law apparently did not approve.

“Is that all you do, Jay, is play games?” she finally asked / accused one afternoon, on the second day of their trip. I had a job interview at a game company scheduled for the next day. But, as I was still unemployed about a month out of school, the words stung.

I didn’t know how else to answer, other than to say, “Yes, as a matter of fact, that’s all I do.”

Video games have fed my family for roughly half of my career, now. I guess I’m pretty well vindicated by now. But I still get angry when I think back on that incident.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    I think I’ve commented before that one joke I like to tell goes, “I tell my mom I’m a drug dealer (not a game developer) so she still has respect for me.”

    I also call game playing the “occupational hazard” of game development. Yeah, I spend a lot of time playing games, but that’s because I have to in order to stay current. A recent article on creativity said that a lot of what creative people do is synthesize different elements they already know in new ways. Playing games gives you the pieces that allow you to cobble together something creative.

  • Arkos said,

    Also, you need to get a haircut, too! :p

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, Get a haircut, and get a real job. 🙂

    @Brian – You know, around the time the Columbine shooting happen, that wasn’t much of a joke. For a while, the media spun it so that somehow videogames directly caused the murder of those innocent students. I didn’t actually do that – I remained proud of what I did – but it did cause some frustrating reactions.

    I find one of my occupational hazards can be not playing enough games – when the dev times grow large, the playing time grows small. I think that’s a bad mode to get into as a game developer, but it’s easy to let happen.

  • Aelfric said,

    Some of us are glad that it’s all you do.

  • Spaceman Spiff said,

    Several of us have been there, with the doubters around us who just can’t fathom the viability of what we do. Like you I have to try to let go of the anger at people who just didn’t understand. I have… mostly.

    My parents believed in my game programming career, my dad more than my mom. They actually supported me from my TRS-80 and Atari 800 days in High School, as I was able to find small contract work writing programs in BASIC for $10/hour back as opposed to my peers working at McDonadls for $3.35/hr.

    When my professional salary exceeded that my old man’s.. who had a pretty good career of his own, he was very proud of me. Seeing that meant a lot to me. Having my parents see my games on the endcaps at Best Buy didn’t hurt either 🙂

    hehe.. Did I mention I interviewed at origin in ’94 and got shot down big time? So I had to break into the industry a couple years later with that silly old RTS game. but I digress.

  • Mrs. Rampant Coyote said,

    Not to mention, it’s VERY cool to tell people that MY husband writes video games. In some crowds, that’s better than being a rock star! You can keep on playing games, I guess…..

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    I can’t say that I’ve actually encountered anything like that – possibly because being female changes people’s expectations (people instead get mad at my husband for being my house-spouse instead of having a Real Job) and possibly somewhat because being ME, what many people thought I was supposed to grow up to be anyway was a WRITER so it’s not much different.

    I face my own levels of insecurity about making games that are “little” and “cute” and not all that fancy-looking and that the average person has never heard of, though. 🙂