Growing Old in Videogames


#1

I’ve had this conversation a few times lately, with friends who’ve 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 “fifty” 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 weren’t 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 didn’t seem like a “career”, it was just a fun job. Twenty years later, I’m the target of a lot of “old man” jokes at work, and I’ve only realized recently how long I’ve been doing this.

There weren’t a lot of rules back then, like there are for people with real jobs. In other industries, there’s usually a grown up waiting for you on your first day to keep you in line. They let you know that it’s 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. I’m just arguing that it’s a little more shocking for those of us who work in an industry that doesn’t exactly encourage you to act your age. Think I’m 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. He’s wearing wool trousers and a tie. He’s polished his shoes and his hair to a sheen. He looks RESPONSIBLE. Now take a look at 40 year old video game-makin’ you. You’ve got a hoodie on. It’s probably got Bobba Fett on it. You’re wearing cargo shorts. Or cargo pants. Definitely cargo-something. Your socks probably don’t match. And if you’re wearing shoes at all, they’re either Crocs or Converse. You’re an over the hill Dennis the Menace. You’re a grey haired toddler.

I’m not judging, mind you! It’s not YOUR fault! If you’ve worked in games for a long time, nobody ever told you to dress or act like an adult. Your extended adolescence wasn’t 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? That’s your BOSS, dude.

Retiring in Games
Ten years ago, the phrase “I’m retiring from videogames” 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 didn’t blow it all on 3D printers and authentic Indiana Jones hats. And now you’re going to devote your time to designing your annual Burning Man sculptures. Or breeding Burmese Mountain Dogs.
Today, “retiring from video games” means that your gnarled, arthritic fingers aren’t able to grip your Cintiq pen, your rheumy old eyes can’t 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.) You’re being put out to pasture.
So, NOW what do we do? I guess we make peace with the fact that we’re going to be making video games until our sleeve tattoos have faded and we’ve put custom-made orthotics in our Chuck Taylors. It’s also comforting to know that, while we’re all getting older, so is our audience. Maybe we should start focusing on developing games that people our age can relate to.


#2

Just stumbled on this, thanks for making me feel like i’m not the only one. Really was bothering me as of late. I work with a bunch of late 20yr olds. I JUST got made fun of for my age, not but 4 minutes ago. My defense is to ask if they need their diapers changed. Seems to quite them down for a while, im going to have to work on a new one to quite them down for longer. :smiley: Thanks again.


#3

I like to calmly let out a small sigh and say something under my breath about “millenials”. Then I go back to my office and send an email about where the day’s “participation trophies” will be handed out. :slight_smile:

Really though, it’s actually quite fun at times being the office “old guy”. Weird too because A. I’m not THAT old, and B. when I was new, there was no one at my current age. At one place even the owner wasn’t even 30 yet. What a wonderfully odd industry this is …


#4

I would occasionally get challenged by a “young buck” coming up thinking they know everything. I was usually in a position of authority so I would lead them down the path by their ego to handle a whole project from start to finish, including dealing the with client, management and other artists. Then I would watch as the weight would slowly crush them, then rapidly begin to suffocate them.

I’d let them sweat a little, feel the pressure of being on the edge of getting fired and physically looking ragged. Then I’d coach them out for the win, unless they were trying to cut my legs out from under me with management (which has happened a few times as well), then I let them fully fail, I take over the project and complete it by the deadline. They usually had a new found respect, moved onto another company or completely left the field.

Talent humbled, space created, new boundaries formed. Pain is an amazing humbler and wake up call. Again, I only did that when their challenges threatened the way I support my family.

Usually those instances a rare and far between. My favorite scenarios are learning new things from new upcoming talent and having their new energy around to boost mine. Then finding some balance between mentoring and appreciating each other’s value. I think being in the trenches with new talent is like being the “old veteran” player in sports. Everyone else is faster and somewhat stronger and heals faster, but you know where to be at the right place at the right time! The smart young guns learn as much as they can from the old farts and advance further and faster than their peers. If done right, the veterans will usually help boost new talent paying it forward when someone helped them.

I remember all my mentors and they were awesome. Do any of you veterans remember being the new blood and being taken underwing?