August 28, 2012

Why I’m No Longer Afraid to Work With Games

“Do what you love, and love what you do” –Some Random Guy Whose Name I Forget (or never knew in the first place)

It took 20 years for me to hit my breaking point, but I’m fed up. Tired. Exhausted. I don’t want to live in fear anymore. I’m sick of doing the things I love under the cover of darkness and secrecy. I realize now that I want a career in an industry I care about. I want—no, I need—to have a job doing something that I love. It’s not money that drives me, nor am I motivated by what I studied in high school or college. No, what I love most are games.

I’ve been a gamer all my life. Video, card, board—you name it. I’ve collected more types of cards than I can count, solved more mysteries than I’d ever imagined, and owned more video games than I can remember. But I’ll always remember the first time I played any game—digital or paper.

My first introduction to games was through my mother. She was the school nurse for a private school in Manhattan, and due to her position and location in the school, a lot of kids would hang out in her office—usually because she was awesome person to be around (or it could have been because kids didn’t want to go to class and feigned sickness, but I like to believe it was a little bit of both). One day, some unknown student left his Sega Game Gear in her office. My mom, not knowing who it was that left it, kept it in her possession for a month and waited for someone to claim it. After that month was over, no one came in asking about a missing game system, so she decided that she would just give it to me.

Several hours of Shinobi (and a ton of double A batteries) later, and my fate was sealed. There was no turning back—I was hooked.

Perhaps the best gift I’ve ever received.

My soon-to-follow gaming addiction overwhelmed my free time, along with my finances. Eventually, my parents grew unwilling to completely support my hobby and decided that I needed to get a job. So off I went to find work that paid well for someone with my skill-set (read: age 13, no former work experience). After some brief searching on various different job boards around the school (we didn’t have Craigslist or Monster back then), I stumbled across several child care gigs.

Since I lacked 'real world' experience (as in, office positions, cashier experience, and the like), most of my jobs in high school involved working with children. Not so much the tough parts of it; more like the run, play, and stuff them full of candy before sending them back to their parents or guardians sort of stuff. After hours and hours of just spending time with children and watching them (because that doesn’t sound creepy in any way, shape or form) I realized what we have in common—we both like the same stuff. I’m a fan of a lot of “childish” things, though the reason I like these things is because they are complex entities dressed up in mystical or mysterious packages. Also, sometimes they’re just really adorable. I can understand other stuff, like finance, or economics, or math; in fact, I majored in all three in college. But I’m not really passionate about them—they’re just something I happened to fall into.

Have you ever watched Avatar? No, not the really awesome movie, and not the really shitty movie—the kids’ television show. Well, that’s really a misnomer…I don’t think it’s just a “kids” show. It’s for everyone that appreciates what it’s trying to convey. In the case of this cartoon show (because it’s not an anime, those are made in Japan by definition), the message is about doing the right thing despite hardship—a moral lesson we can take to heart. It just so happens that the moral lesson is dressed up in explosions, flying yaks and a few quirky characters.

C’mon, how can you not love this? His name is Appa!

And that’s what I really enjoy about things like video games, anime and the like—they have a message and a story, and I just so happen to love the medium in which those stories and messages are conveyed. In the case of games particularly, you even get to interact with the story…almost like you create it because of your actions. That’s an incredible feeling.

Now publicly admitting one likes fantasy, or sci-fi, or similar genres is…difficult (at least, for me). For some reason, these genres are viewed as childish or geeky by the populous at large. There’s a stigma that exists associated with anime, games, and fantasy in general. When you admit to a random stranger that you have a vast collection of paper cards with pictures of dragons and demons on them that you use to battle other strangers who have similar objects in their possession, sometimes you get weird glances. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to have a career in any of these things when I grew up because I wouldn’t be able to admit to strangers I liked them—it would be a secret reserved for my friends and family.

Just one of the random people I’ll meet at a Magic: the Gathering tournament. Yes, I play in those. Yes, he’s a wizard.

Today, just typing the last sentence of that paragraph makes me feel like a complete idiot. Reading it over again confirms that feeling. How come I cared so much about what people think of my hobbies? No, not hobbies…that’s not a strong enough word. The word I’m looking for is passions. I am passionate about games, anime and the like. When I played Braid, I wanted to stand up on a rooftop and shout “Jonathan Blow is a genius” until my lungs bled. After watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I nearly cried at its beauty and incredibleness. And Magic: the Gathering has given me more friends than I can count.

So why didn’t I go on the roof and scream till I lost my voice? Or tattoo a Pokemon character on my forehead? Well, I’d like to say it’s because I’m not a crazy person, but I don’t think that’s actually true. It’s probably because I’m afraid of heights. Or needles. Or more realistically, it’s because I’m afraid of judgment.

Let me tell you a story—one that will show you the stigma I felt first hand. Back in middle school, I used to go to a summer camp in Rockland.  It was a day camp, but sometimes we’d go on trips and stay overnight in places. One of these places was Mexico, and we got to stay there for an entire week (yea, that camp was pretty awesome). While the trips were really nice, and the friends I made were really cool, everything wasn’t sunshine and cupcakes.

If only life were like this every day.

You see, we had a program director that wasn’t the…nicest of people. She did her job, and she did it well, but she didn’t have a lot of tact. Or maybe compassion. One of those. Anyway, one random day we were playing Magic in the camp common room. She comes over and sees us playing, and the following dialogue occurs:

Director: snicker “Hey, that seems kinda neat—what’s that game?”
Us: “Oh, it’s called Magic. You use dragons and demons and other monsters to fight your opponent.”
Director: audibly chuckling “That’s kinda cool…so I guess that makes you guys the ‘Magic Men’ huh?”
Us: “I guess so…? All we do is just play the things we love.”
Director: as loud as possible, so the entire camp hears “OK, whatever, see ya later Magic Men!”
Us: glare silently; slouch visibly; as ‘cool kids’ point, laugh and judge.

Note that the above story might be a little bit of hyperbole and is subject to my bitter, skewed sense of reality.

Now we were already kinda nerdy, but we didn’t care—we were doing what we loved, and naturally, we enjoyed it. But she gave us a name, a label, an identity, and then assigned a negative connotation to that identity immediately—and so did everyone else. It wasn’t the identity that segregated us to the social pariah zone—our actions put us there long before we had a name. But she made it tangible. She portrayed that it was appropriate to mentally partition a group of people into a place with a label. After she did that, we had next to no shot of getting out of that zone, and for the next several years, we were known as “the Magic Men.”

I’d like to say that it was an isolated incident; that something like that happened once, and only once. I can’t say that. Even now, today, when I tell someone I meet that I love things like Magic: the Gathering or Pokemon, I get looks. The difference is I’ve just stopped caring.

This isn’t the story of why I love what I love. Rather, this is the story of what’s been holding me back from following my dreams—a wall of my own doing, a perception based on the belief that what people think matters to someone’s happiness. In a sense, it does—especially if you value your happiness based on what people think of you. People in media have this problem. Your level of popularity matters, definitely, if you’re a singer, a movie star, a politician, or a bunch of other things. What’s changed in me is not the desire to impress, but rather the type of people I’m trying to impress.

I’m tired of trying to fit in with a crowd I don’t belong with. I’m tired of being worried if I’m judged for what I believe in. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I believe in to anyone but myself and my closest friends. If you’re reading this, what I believe in probably matters to you, too. If it doesn’t, then that’s fine as well.

After all this—the admonitions that I love “childish” things, the allusions to my personal experiences with people forming opinions about me without actually knowing me, and acknowledging to myself the desire I have to be a part of something I love, you’ve basically got two options. Either you can judge me for the fact that I play with paper pictures of dragons and demons and be on your merry way, or you can accept that fact and play them with me.

You know where you can find me either way.

No comments:

Post a Comment