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.


Adam February 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Thats funny that you tell other people that you are an insurance salesman because I am the exact opposite.

When I am in a family/friend/stranger environment I am happy to tell them that I am a designer. I know the will have no clue what that means or what I do all day but I love my job so much that I feel pride when talking about it.

I have wanted to be a designer since I was a kid and now that I am I rarely hide it :)

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock February 17, 2008 at 5:36 am

Interesting – yeah, that really rang a bell for me. (I’m a professional Machinima creator, so half-way between the games and movies example).

I may have to start telling people I’m an accountant.

Steve Green February 18, 2008 at 2:37 am

Damn, that’s probably the biggest disappointment of my morning. If I found out that someone sitting at my table in a wedding worked in the games industry I wouldn’t leave their side. Much like those poor maligned sales clerks I’d kill to work in the industry and short of that my best hope is to live vicariously through those who do.

I understand what you’re saying and it makes total sense but those of us sitting on the benches like me simply assume you’d love to talk about your job, the insurance salesmen of the world never have people dying to know everything about what they do. Don’t feel you have to entertain us poor schmucks at every opportunity but at least feel happy that you have a job that people other than yourself are interested in.

Skye August 5, 2008 at 9:19 am

Since this on the “Greatest Hits edition” I will comment. This entry came out before I started reading this site on a regular basis.

Not being in the gaming industry, a DoD consultant instead, I don’t have your problem. When people ask what I do I give them the short answer. Public Relations. If they do want more information, I go into the “improving relations between military installations and their communities” speel. Usually the line of conversation is not pursued any further because to most people it isn’t that interesting to them.

I think the closest I had before to being a wedding “celebrity” was my Marine Corps days when I would show up in my dress blues, but that is just asking for people to come up and talk to you, and I loved the attention.

I probably wouldn’t leave your side, but at least I would try to ask intelligent questions. A game developer is not something encountered on a day to day basis, so there is some novelty there. It is interesting and to some people it seems like a dream job. Unfortunately people forget that for you it is a job, and talking about your job at a fun event does get old real quick.

Scarecrow August 7, 2008 at 7:47 am

Hey, maybe you’re not interested, but this happens in other jobs, eg bookstore, ie the one I work in. “Oh, I’d love to work in a bookstore! I’d just read all day.”
Oh really? Because I get a stern talking to if I spend more than 2 seconds perusing a book I’m meant to be shelving. So what you actually mean is “I wish I could sit around a bookstore reading all day without buying anything, leaving stuff in a pile on the floor for someone else to put away.” Amazing! Because that’s exactly what you just did.

Bodybag October 4, 2008 at 3:41 am

Bit late perhaps,

I’m a college student currently, studying a game development course (I come from the regular IT business as a software engineer), and when people ask me the same question, I usually answer that “I do software”, or “I do computer science”.

Because if I answer truthfully, I get “OMG UZ GONNA MAEK TEH NEXT GEARS OF WAR???” or the old “I wanna play games too!!!!!11~“`1@!one”

So yeah, I haven’t even started yet and I know how you feel.

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