So What Do You Do?

by Steve Bowler on February 9, 2008 · 7 comments

in business,general

Allow me to get a little personal for a moment.  I’ve always hated the question in the title.  It comes up at weddings, meeting new neighbors or friends of friends, and as recently as this morning, getting your hair cut, which is what reminded me to talk about it here.

Now, it’s no secret I’m an attention whore when the attention is coming from people who truly love videogames.  I love comments, I obsess over the analytics of this website, and I love when something I’ve written gets read by the masses.  I even enjoy the (exceedingly rare) story of someone being excited about me speaking on an industry panel.  I want video game lovers to enjoy my work, and I enjoy the attention that garners.  I love being at industry and game conventions.  When you’re with your people, you’re comfortable.

But for some reason, when I’m out in public, with the rest of the general population, I hide what I do at my job.  Once, when I was sitting at a wedding reception, I told people that I sold insurance for a living, because when you make video-games (or make movies), without fail, you become the center of attention at the table (unless you’re sitting with a fighter pilot or a ninja), and the game of 20 questions starts.  Oh, what games have you worked on?  Any that I’ve heard of?  Do you get to play games all day?  It’s really unwanted attention in that environment, because no matter how you handle yourself, you wind up getting comments like “I wish I could play videogames at my job all day.”  And even if they mean well and are joking by it, it shows they really don’t understand what game developers do for a living.  Sometimes they even seem a bit let down if they don’t know any of the games you’ve worked on.  One of my supervisors from way back once said,

“Just apply the Ghostbusters rule. If they ask if you worked on X title, you say YES.”

Because it’s easier meeting someone’s expectations than having them not understand why your studio makes game X but you worked on game Y (that they often haven’t heard of).  So I know I’m not the only person who’s experienced this feeling/phenomena.

Worse, when I hit videogame stores, I make sure my ID badge from work stays hidden.  It’s a fringe case; game retailers are usually on the edge of the industry.  The people who work there are often the same fans who attend the conventions, but when I shop there, I just want to get in and get out.  I have no desire to interact with the clerks or manager on an “industry” level.  I want to go in and buy a game and be a fan just like any other person.

I’m not going to lie to you, making videogames is a lot of fun.  If it wasn’t, people wouldn’t put up with the 80 hour weeks that happen all too often, but it is a lot of work at the same time.  And I don’t want people reading this to think I’m being a drama queen “oh boo hoo poor me I’m so famous” because I’m not.  I’m not even remotely famous, especially within my discipline, and maybe that’s why the unwarranted attention bothers me.

I guess what I’m wondering aloud here is: am I the only developer who feels/behaves this way?  If you work in the industry, I’d love to hear your take on this.

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