|11 November 2017|
Growing Old in Videogames
Iíve had this conversation a few times lately, with friends whoíve worked in games as long as I have. When it dawns on us that we might actually be making games deep into middle age, it comes as a hell of a shock.†
We have an idea in our head as to what ďfiftyĒ looks like. Fifty is respectable. Fifty is distinguished. Fifty is not having all night play sessions with the new Tomb Raider trying to figure out how to get past that @#$!! bear. †
Most of the artists I know who have been in games for a long time sort of fell into it. There werenít a lot of schools offering courses in game development back then, so we all came to games from wildly different backgrounds: I had been a layout artist at a local newspaper. Someone else was a cartoonist. And one friend was a baker. Games, for me, was an unexpected shot at stability. I was a kid, making games with OTHER kids. It didnít seem like a ďcareerĒ, it was just a fun job. Twenty years later, Iím the target of a lot of ďold manĒ jokes at work, and Iíve only realized recently how long Iíve been doing this.†
There werenít a lot of rules back then, like there are for people with real jobs. In other industries, thereís usually a grown up waiting for you on your first day to keep you in line. They let you know that itís not okay to come to work at 10:30, or use cardboard boxes to turn your cubicle into a wicked-awesome fort, or to wear toe shoes to work. (Or anywhere, really. Seriously. ANYwhere.)†
The thing is, middle age sneaks up on everyone. Always has. Iím just arguing that itís a little more shocking for those of us who work in an industry that doesnít exactly encourage you to act your age. Think Iím wrong? Take a look at a picture of your grandpa when he was 40. He already looks like an 80 year old man. He probably did when he was 20, too. His pants are hiked up to his chin. Heís wearing wool trousers and a tie. Heís polished his shoes and his hair to a sheen. He looks RESPONSIBLE.† Now take a look at 40 year old video game-makiní you. Youíve got a hoodie on. Itís probably got Bobba Fett on it. Youíre wearing cargo shorts. Or cargo pants. Definitely cargo-something. Your socks probably donít match. And if youíre wearing shoes at all, theyíre either Crocs or Converse. Youíre an over the hill Dennis the Menace. Youíre a grey haired toddler.
Iím not judging, mind you! Itís not YOUR fault! If youíve worked in games for a long time, nobody ever told you to dress or act like an adult. Your extended adolescence wasnít just tolerated, it was encouraged. Nerf gun battles in the hallways were commonplace (in the late 90s/early 00s, anyways. Budgets are too lean to buy ammo these days). Taking vacation days to assemble your Halloween costume was revered. And that dork in the Stormtrooper helmet, rolling down the hallway on his Segway? Thatís your BOSS, dude.
Retiring in Games
Ten years ago, the phrase ďIím retiring from videogamesĒ was the lottery story: it meant that you were cashing out. You got into a small studio early, and made a ton of cash on stock options when it went public. You were smart with your money. You didnít blow it all on 3D printers and authentic Indiana Jones hats. And now youíre going to devote your time to designing your annual Burning Man sculptures. Or breeding Burmese Mountain Dogs.†
Today, ďretiring from video gamesĒ means that your gnarled, arthritic fingers arenít able to grip your Cintiq pen, your rheumy old eyes canít tell the difference between a smudge on the screen and a curpuscular ray, and you regularly fall asleep in scheduling meetings. (To be fair, everyone falls asleep in scheduling meetings.) Youíre being put out to pasture.†
So, NOW what do we do? I guess we make peace with the fact that weíre going to be making video games until our sleeve tattoos have faded and weíve put custom-made orthotics in our Chuck Taylors. Itís also comforting to know that, while weíre all getting older, so is our audience. Maybe we should start focusing on developing games that people our age can relate to.