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Cracking Up Over what Being a Game Designer is Cracked Up to be

By Alan Emrich

Being a game designer is a “dream job.” You’ll know this because people will tell you all the time what a dream job you have. Of course, the trouble with having any job is an intimate acquaintance with its darker side - and, yes, there is a “darker side” to being a game designer. While not as “dark” as being a Drug Lord, perhaps, it’s not as financially rewarding either. However, there are some inherent advantages to being a game designer, and I thought I would share some of them with you in the form of a listing. Here, then, are my Top 10 Reasons to Become a Game Designer:

10. It explains to others why you’re always “playing a game” instead of “working.” And to most game designers, this is worth more than the best tip on the horses or the biggest pot in a poker game that you will ever receive. Not that this will prevent one’s loved ones from harboring an increasing disrespect for your choice in careers or for the unsavory “fans” of your work, but that’s a different problem that you won’t enjoy dealing with when the time comes.

9. To be able to impress twelve-year old boys with your important job. Actually, I’m amazed how many so-called “adults” are also impressed. Once upon a time, game designers were aking to pornography (e.g., having “no redeeming social importance,” in the immortal words of the US Supreme Court). Today, there’s a certain (albeit limited) “star quality” to the job. However, any game designer worth their salt can demonstrate enough introspection to realize how low on the career food chain they actually are. If they can’t, their Producers will pointedly remind them of this fact on every conceivable occasion.

8. So you can deduct from your taxes all of the books, movies, comics, and games that you would have bought anyway. Ahh… bliss! But this assumes that you’re organized enough to keep satisfactory tax records, which is another problem in its own right.

7. To eliminate any anxiety caused by owning vast wealth and possessions. There’s a long-standing “vow of poverty” that comes with working in the game business; a vow rigidly enforced by the owners of the game publishing and distribution centers. If you want to make money, get a real job in show business or become an owner of a successful game developer or publisher. You’ll never get rich slaving away on the oars of game design to the pounding drumbeat of a production schedule as you sweat over a game design’s ‘vision’ that was assigned to you by someone in marketing or management.

6. Getting to go the extra mile for “the professionals” on your team and garnering their respect. As a game designer, your game will do better the easier you make everyone else’s life on the team. But every sketch with stick-people you give an Artist to illustrate a design concept, every bullet-point your write for a Marketing Person to emphasize a key feature, every formula you work out for an Engineer to make the design all hang together won’t be appreciated. After all, they’re “the professionals” and your extra efforts will at best be considered “quaint.” Of course, they’ll have no problem telling you (at length) about what features you should include / changes that should be made to your design. Thus, they’re implying that you’re not a “real” professional (like they are) and that they have every right to climb in your pulpit and start preaching their game design philosophy. That’s your cross to bear, and the longer you can bear it the more cross you might become.

5. So that you can go to work wearing anything (or nothing at all). The dress code is lowest of all for game designers. Artists will try to convey some sense of style in their attire, engineers will go for the occasional “professional” look in their desperate search for respect, management often pretends that they’re dressing for success, but no one gives a fairy’s fart about game designers. They can dress in rags, never groom, and smell like yesterday’s privy wipings and the others in the office will just shrug it off with, “Oh, yes, well. That’s a game designer for you.”

4. Having a good reason to eat junk food and drink cola all day. You’ll soon discover that what fuels game design is the steady, daily consumption of a balanced diet consisting of the four food groups: fats, starches, sugars, and caffeine. Load up on those and you too can become a game designer! The inverse corollary, of course, is that things like exercise, grooming, bathing, and other societal “wastes of time” are to be eschewed.

3. Babes, babes, babes. Not that you’ll ever lead a jet-setting life of fine dining, dating gorgeous models, and staying at the fanciest hotels in exotic lands. You will probably see a few “booth babes” (attractive members of the opposite sex) at the Trade Shows where your owners (excuse me, “bosses”) will enslave you from time to time. Of course, said babes will take one look at you and their “Geek Detectors” will go off, so don’t get any delusions. You’re a game designer, remember? The custodian makes more money than you do and gets to enjoy life on the weekends.

2. Seeing your name in 6-point type on page 132 of a 132-page manual. “What? Your name is not Sid Meier, Brian Reynolds, or Will Wright? Well, then you’re a nobody and here’s how we treat nobodies…” Who designed Myst? Who designed Minesweeper? You don’t know, do you? That’s the point and the sort of fame that almost certainly awaits you as a hit game designer. No one wants to “make you a star,” kid; no one “wins” by helping you. That’s because you’re cheaper to employ the more obscure you remain, thus everyone is motivated to give you the “mushroom treatment” (i.e., keep you in the dark and feed you bull_ _ _ _).

1. For the joy of basking in the glowing reviews about “your baby.” Between the “press” (who will amaze you at how many facts they can get wrong in a single article) and the internet (who have no fear of damning you to the Seventh Seal for the tiniest perceived fault), you’re ego, patience, and sense of justice in the universe are all doomed. Reading reviews and comments about your game will leave you feeling mentally raped, beaten, and crucified. And that’s if they like your game! Your sanity will have to make a lot of “morale checks” and “saving rolls” if you choose to be a game designer, but none will be harder to pass than those after reading what has been written about “your baby.”

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.