The Passion Of The (Game) Developer

Ever since i got notice that the GDC Europe in Cologne is looking for lecturers i’ve been thinking whether i should take that opportunity and submit a lecture proposal. Moreover, and more specifically, i’ve been thinking about what the heck should i be talking about?

Soon i was questioning myself: what am i really good at? Do i have anything to say that intelligent people of the games industry would enjoy hearing me talk about? What kind of knowledge, or experience, do i bring to the table to justify the talk, to be taken seriously, with the necessary authority. Like most potential lecturers (i assume) i don’t want to come across as a douche bag who is talking about something he doesn’t really have a clue about, experience with or worse yet, lecturing to people who actually know a lot more about the subject matter.

So i’ve began wondering … somewhere in the 10 years of my experience as a professional game developer has to be something compelling, some concentration of knowledge that is so utterly groundbreaking, earth-shattering that everyone would just love to hear me talk about. I did not see it. I did not find it. But i knew it was there, it was just hiding. That thing that would make the crowd roar. Which would everyone leave the session with a feeling of joy.

What could it be?

I digged. I digged deeper. I even went as far back as my childhood. Still, nothing. Is my professional game developer life really all about, well, scripting Lua? (that’s just too basic and boring) Or grinding through numerous localization problems? (i’d prefer to never touch that subject again) What is it that i perform well … writing an excellent database frontend tool? (most of my internal users would beg to differ) Producing great code under pressure? (i’m not even a great coder to begin with) Or … what?

It left me stumbling for quite a bit. I even considered reverting to the obvious … something like a BattleForge Postmortem. Most of which i would have to piece together through interviews with various of my coworkers, and honestly, there would be better people for that kind of lecture. Producers or Manager with the oversight, and insights into the business side. Who experienced all the difficult decisions first hand. No, it would feel like i would just be a representative of something bigger. But my consideration was to take the lecturing opportunity for two reasons:

  • Attend the GDC. Network. Learn from others. And to get myself out there.
  • Lecture about something that i really feel passionate about – because that’s when i can deliver great lectures.

I didn’t think it would be so hard to find something i’m really passionate about. It was actually (and is?) kind of depressing. I’m questioning my whole life here – as i do frequently, i mean just for fun, you know. We all do it. So i do what any man would do … i called my girlfriend for advice.

I asked her: “What am i really passionate about?”

Without even a fraction of a second thinking about it, she answered: “Sex.”

Well, not quite the topic that i could present during the GDC, i believe … but it got me thinking. I asked for more examples but she just couldn’t think of anything else other than sex – weird, because that’s normally how my brain is wired. Anyway, at least i knew I was looking for something that is really comparable to passionate love, or lovemaking for that matter. And then i wondered … when was the last time i felt like this? Absolutely passionate about what i do, how i do it, and why i do it. I was slowly unfolding the things that made me happy when i do them. Like being helpful, enabling people to do their job, to solve problems for them. Most problems … hmmm, for most of them, anyway. So the team factor is also important for me. But there’s more, for example developing something i truely believe in, something that would make everyone’s job better, easier and would allow them to work more efficiently. Like that SpellForce 2 dialog scripting language i wrote a few years ago. There were some more examples but actually they aren’t the point.

The point is that i realized: the work i really loved doing and kept coming back at with joy, is the work i started on my own accord and (for the most part at least) owned it. I drove the direction of the work, i designed and defined it, i improved it by working in the feedback i got. I thrive on feedback if it is given properly and i have my hands free to do that work the way i want it to be done, and when. But it all works best if i can feel that others around me work on their tasks with the same passion than i do. Otherwise, it can quickly turn frustrating and depressing. Wrong people, wrong time, wrong tasks – and it all goes downhill before plummeting into a bottomless, black pit. I’ve been a programming, thinking and designing tool who put the work and dedication into what i did so others who may be “technically challenged” can benefit by leveraging the powers invested into the tools by me.

Now if that tool is a game or used to build a game’s core features … then that’s my passion. It’s as simple as that. Helping others make great games, and making great games myself. Directly without outside influence unless it comes in the form of user feedback and meaningful suggestions.

Still, i got no further with my idea for the GDC lecture. What am i going to say … that i’m a helping hand, putting myself in the service of the greater good? That i deliver such outstanding tools that everyone watching my lecture should listen to my every word in awe?

Eventually i pondered about this back and forth, going from enthusiastic to giving up on myself – until i realized: all i really need to do is to talk about passion! How passion affects us all and how not doing what you’re passionate about will ultimately lead to a 9-5 job (or drive you insane). And the seductiveness of that. How easy it is to lose your passion, giving up hope (unless used as a strategy), and just doing your job as good as you can under the circumstances – each and every day, thinking you’re just passing through a depression in your life and everything isn’t as bland as it seems. How it should actually be great, if it weren’t for …. things like whether the light is too bright in the room, the noise outside is too much, it’s too hot or too cold and bickering with your colleagues about all of that. No big fights … just nuisances. Every day a little bit. And trust me – people obsess about that irrelevant stuff as if it were heartfelt. With passion, if you so will. I know i did, too.

In that situation, the only thing you can agree about with your coworkers – due to a lack of common interests or shared goals – is the fact that the others aren’t really doing their job like they’re supposed to. How the recession is just going to fuck us all up. How utterly wrong and completely ignorant decisions are being made. Stuff like that. Things that we obsess about only in the absence of passion. And the worst part is: that kind of behavior/thinking re-enforces itself.

While on the other hand great work was and is done if it is done with passion. And i usually didn’t even realize that it was passion that made me love my work, that helped me crack the hardest coconuts and allowed me to push through mundane tasks without taking some form of cellular brain damage. Just like good sex makes you feel more powerful even though you’re completely exhausted. For the moment.

And that is what i would like love to talk about during this year’s GDC Europe. No authority needed, just passion and a long experience going through uphill joyrides and downhill battles. Giving my experience to the audience – with passion. And maybe throwing in a sex joke here and there.

If they let me.