View past Rants

Rant #12: In Which The Author Speaks To The Youth Of Tomorrow

One of the odder aspects of my job, at least to me, is that 8 years of steady plugging in the videogame industry has turned me into someone who can speak with vague authority on my craft. It's not that I don't think I have useful information to share, but rather that being asked to share that information implies a few other changes that have occurred over the years that I may not have noticed while they were happening. Or, to put it another way, "How the heck did I get up here?", particularly as I do my best to focus on the metaphorical heights - and there are many - that I have yet to reach.

But all that aside, at this point I've got 8 years of experience, multiple conference gigs (GDC, E3, Austin), and a reasonable number of titles under my belt, and that means that I occasionally get asked to talk about game writing. Most recently, I was asked by the nice folks at the Gaston County Public Library if I'd come out there and kick off their summer teen programming. Apparently, one of the librarians had found me on LibraryThing, which led to her reading the game writing book to which I'd contributed, which led to her asking me if I'd drive out and speak.

(Follow that? Good, because I didn't, and at some point I'm going to ask someone to explain it to me.)

Now, I'm a sucker for libraries. I spent an awful lot of time in school libraries, synagogue libraries, and various branches of the Cheltenham Public Library growing up. (Alas, I did not discover the East Cheltenham Library until it had moved into its new, non-haunted location, but I did once take out 18 books at a single shot and return all of them, read, without incurring a single late fee.) In college, I dreamed away the dim hours in the warm, cozy confines of Olin Library and had numerous pleasant conversations with Wesleyan's magnificent documents librarian, Erhard Konerding. In Boston, my work as a researcher for an executive outplacement firm necessitated numerous hours spent at the Public Library, digging through reference materials in order to put together dossiers on Ocean Spray and Gillette, not to mention more obscure assignments like trying to dig up every coffin manufacturer in upstate New York. I even worked part-time in the synagogue library for a couple of years, which I guess qualifies me as a library rat emeritus. This is a very long, roundabout way of saying that there was no way I would be able to say no.

So, err, I didn't. And, after numerous false start attempts to put together a Powerpoint presentation on game writing, I finally cobbled something together and set off bright and early on the morning of June 13th for someplace south and west of Charlotte. I had no idea what to expect; I honestly had no idea how long my presentation would run, how big the audience would be or what it would be comprised of, and due to my nephew's unfortunate melding of my car's front bumper with another vehicle, I was driving a green Chrysler Sebring convertible with a My Little Pony license plate cross-state to get to the gig.

The last time I'd driven to Charlotte and My Little Ponies had been involved, bad things happened. The omens were not good. We'll just leave it at that.

There were probably 35 students in the audience, ranging from fifth grade to twelfth. Two adults, plus a couple of librarians, rounded out the room. I had a projector on a cart, another cart for my laptop to sit on, and an hour, give or take. Frankly, I had no idea if what I had to say would be in the slightest bit interesting to them, whether it would be germane or appropriate, and by the time zero hour approached, I wasn't sure I'd be able to speak in complete sentences. After all, I was just the old guy in the collared shirt, there to tell them about *whirr click* Exciting Job Opportunities *whirr click beep* In The Fields *buzz crackle whirr* Of Tomorrow!

So I did the only thing I could do. I started talking. I talked about what actually goes into game writing, and what makes it different from other types of writing, and how people get into game writing. I talked about some of my adventures (and misadventures). I talked about why some things happen, pulled aside the curtain a little put, and generally tap danced as fast as I could.

At this point, if I were hewing true to Hollywood form, I'd haul out the Blackboard Jungle clichés, or suggest that at the end they all got up on their chairs to start declaiming "Oh captain, my captain." Err, not so much, at least not this time. They sat there. Some volunteered answers to questions. One student was kind enough to volunteer for an example, and then had to deal with me walking away from him mid-answer to try to prove a point. Some yawned. They were, in a word, teenagers, and because the cart was set up behind the third row of seats, I couldn't see half of them in order to judge whether any of this was hitting home.

At the end, one question. One. But they didn't throw things at me, either. And once we were done, once they wouldn't be asking questions in front of everyone else, then they started asking, and showing me levels they'd done, and letting me know that maybe I hadn't been entirely boring.

Maybe none of them will grow up to be game writers. Maybe all of them will. Maybe what I said will spark someone down a different career path, or just provide a pleasant hour inside an air-conditioned building. I have no idea, and I don't dare venture to guess. But they seemed glad I came, and that, I think, is enough. What happens next is up to them. Here's wishing them good luck.