Why I Make Games

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A Christmas Care All

by Alan Emrich

Alan Emrich, our American cousin, is not the uncaring insensitive brute that he appears to be. Today, with the pressure of Father Time breathing down his neck and Father Christmas ready to pick his pocket, Alan has taken this opportunity to review the blessings of being a game designer.

I guess everyone has those days...I have been known to rail at the cast of characters who surround me in this, the best of all possible jobs. I have cried out at the Fates and plumbed the depths of Miseryís embrace to let you know that being a game designer is not the dream job most people think it is. Allow me to explainÖ no, there is no time for that. Allow me to sum up: if dignity, self-esteem, creativity, and wealth mean anything to you, then brother, make another career choice. To illustrate this, I recently stood up at a meeting where everyone decided to pick his favorite nits at my work and exclaimed, ďConsider yourselves lucky you have Alan Emrich to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!Ē Thatís what Iím talking about.

But, this is a time of year for reflecting on the joys in oneís life; yes, even the joys of oneís career. There are some moments in game design that have really make the daily grind worthwhile, and for your gift this year I shall count said blessings to let you know that God is still in his heaven, I still work with and around games, and all is right with the world.

The Legacy Lives

There are three reasons why I get up in the morning and go do the work I do (four, if you count the paycheck, but it would be last on the list). These are: gaming, games, and gamers. Iím blessed with a love of everything our hobby is about and can proselytize the joy of gaming like the true believer that I am. I donít need inspirational reminders posted in my office to keep me focused. Wherever I settle, a stack of games always settles near me. To some, life is a moveable feast; to me, life is a moveable game table.

So, foremost there is ďgaming.Ē That means the overall hobby and what I can give to it. This column, for instance. My design efforts. Helping at gaming conventions. Writing reviews. Teaching. Dealing Poker. All of these things are a great blessing in my life, and Iím very humbled to even be afforded the opportunity to present my efforts to you. The joy I feel when I see someone discover this wonderful hobby of ours is indescribable. The thrill of playing, the exercise in thinking to solve a fun gaming problem, the chance to play anotherís good design and delve into it like a reader delves into a good book, teaching those who will follow me in this crazy businessÖ thereís nothing else like it. Yes, long after Iím gone, I hope gaming remains a vibrant and thriving hobby. Gaming can teach, it can inspire, it can entertain, and it can help to add a measure of joy and even grace to our existence. Like I said, to me, thatís worth getting up every morning and going to work for.

Second on my list is ďgames.Ē That means the individual games themselves. I consider each to be its own gift to posterity. Through inspiration and perspiration, whether artisan or craftsman, those who made that game are trying to immerse the player in the experience of the game itself. Does it have those precious, elusive elements that will allow it to stand the test of time? Or did the designer eschew timelessness in pursuit timeliness? Is it inspired or insipid? What experience is the designer trying to give the player? How well was that goal achieved and did the rest of the team deliver the polish the design deserved?

Just like an expert in a subject canít go to the movies or watch television and not comment on the inaccuracies when the area of their expertise is discussed (one has only to watch me rail at the media when I see them try to present ďhistoryĒ ó where my formal education and training was honed), so one who makes games cannot merely play but must analyze every game he plays. I feel compelled to find the essence, the very soul of each game I delve into and try to remember encountering that soul just as other would try to remember any pleasant person they shared some hours with.

What Iím after in the games that I help make, whether itís one of my own titles or the myriad games still in the works to whom I solicit my (often undesired) advice, is to help create better games. Thatís what gets me up in the morning. Knowing that I have another chance to help put better games out there. Games that will encourage people to delve further into our hobby and not give it up after a horrible gaming experience. Games that might stand the test of time and be fondly remembered (if not played) long after Iím rolling dice in the hereafter. A game (or book or play or movie) is a monument to those who made it, and I want to leave monuments that will be enjoyed in the replaying for as long as people are interested in games. Itís a tall order, but itís a blessing I must count ó to be able to have the chance to help build these monuments on a daily basis.

It Takes All Kinds

Finally, there are the ďgamers.Ē Thatís you. You have made me rich. Not by buying my games and lining my pockets with gold. (My name is not Sid Meier, and the rest of us in game design donít have ďrich and famousĒ contracts.) No, youíve made me rich by sharing these articles with me. The greatest blessing of all to being a game designer, and the single biggest joy that I receive from this job every day, is hearing from the nice people Iíve met through gaming, and smiling knowing that Iím touching lives in a positive way of friends Iíve yet to meet. Every thoughtful comment, every considered criticism, and even the occasional word of praise that comes to me from my fellow gamer is why Iíll never quit. Iíve made so many great friends and good acquaintances (and you know who you are) and will make so many more (of course, you donít know who you are yet) that every ďdown sideĒ to working among gamers pales in comparison. With such friends, I feel that all things are possible.

So, let me offer you all the Seasonís best, from one crotchety old game designer to you special people out there that play games. I do most humbly and sincerely thank you for the immeasurable joy youíve added to my life, and I will work hard each day to try to return it back to you ten-fold with the best games that I can help create for you to enjoy. God bless you one and all!

Alan Emrich is the former Strategy Games Editor at Computer Gaming World magazine, has written several computer game strategy guides, and has designed and developed several published board, card and computer games since the 1970s.