A Letter to Owen, Part 1

Writing a letterA woman contacted me on Facebook to tell me that she of a gift she was preparing for her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. The boy is a very avid gamer, and she wanted to present him with a book of letters written by people who worked in the game industry. She asked me to make a contribution, and here is what I wrote.

Dear Owen.

Your grandmother asked me to write this letter to you describing how I came to work in the game industry. You are very lucky to have a mother who is so encouraging about such an unusual career, because my parents weren’t – at least, not as first.

You see, when I was your age back in the 1970s, video games consisted of simple blips on black & white television monitors. Technology was nowhere near advanced as it is today. Computers were the size of refrigerators, telephones carried voice conversations over wires, and calculators costs $100 a pop.

Despite having grown up as a sci-fi geek who read books about advances in technology, I never imagined playing games on a device like a computer and certainly not a phone. Although I did design my own board games, my career interests were in art, writing, and film. Because my eye-hand coordination wasn’t very good, and I hated math, I never saw myself using any equipment more sophisticated than a movie camera.

One thing I did know for certain was where I would be going to college. California State University in Northridge was just a couple of miles from my house, and it never occurred to me to enroll anywhere that wasn’t a short bicycle ride away. I also knew that the campus had a well-regarded Radio-Television-Film department.

However, when I bicycled down to pre-register for RTVF, my heart sank – the preregistration line was filled with hundreds of people. I didn’t believe that all these people would be able to find jobs in the very competitive entertainment industry, and I didn’t have enough faith in myself to believe that my chances were any better than theirs. So, I decided to enroll in a variety of courses to figure out what subject to major in.

Despite not seeing myself as an engineering-type, I decided to enroll in an introductory computer science course, because, as I said, I was a science fiction fan. At first, I did not like it one bit: coding, logic, flowcharts, processors, and binary arithmetic – none of it made sense to me. Until, as suddenly as turning on a light switch, it all made sense to me, and I figured out how to make a computer do my bidding.

A few weeks later I was sitting in the computer lab waiting to use the shared printer to print out my homework. To pass the time, I started typing out a Star Trek game in which the player was in control of the Enterprise and needed to combat Klingon warships in the adjoining sectors. Although I still wasn’t particularly fond of math, I figured out how to use algebraic equations to determine the distances between ships and plot out firing trajectories. As I was planning out attack scenarios, it occurred to me that a computer could be used to tell a story, but one in which the player interacted with the plot. I could see the computer as being as valid an artistic medium as an easel, typewriter or movie camera. And so, as soon as I printed out my homework, I went down to the administration office and changed my major from “Undecided” to “Computer Science”.

 

 

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About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, 3DO and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, Lead Faculty, Game Production Program at The Los Angeles Film School, co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge, and answer kid’s questions about game design on the Boy’s Life website. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on January 6, 2014, in Career Advice, My Career. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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