The Life of a Game Designer – Part 3: The Game Makers Guild (almost)

I want to talk about the Game Makers Guild, but apparently I need to write about some buried sh!t from the past.

PAX Purple Banner

I was still in a whirlwind when we left PAX Unplugged in Philly and flew home to Boston. My mind was abuzz with questions and possibilities, fears and doubts. Could this work? What the hell was I doing? Where do I start? Why should this be any different than any of my other failed attempts at a creative life? What makes me so damn special?

All my life I’d been told time and time again that I was destined for mediocrity. As the immortal Dread Pirate Roberts proclaims, “Life is pain. Anybody who says otherwise is selling something.” So to be painfully blunt, after my mother died I was raised by an alcoholic father and an abusive grandmother. Both of whom hated their lives so much that they made sure that everyone else was just as miserable.

My life was filled with chaos, rage, and an overwhelming sense of apathy. And when you are a shy, insecure, introverted teenager this will really fuck you up. Needless to say, after years of being told that I was nothing, would never amount to nothing, and should expect nothing, I proved them right and became nothing. I was the invisible man.

Nobody saw me at school, because I was never there. Nobody saw me at home, because I was never there. I would spend countless hours sitting alone in the woods near my house just to be nowhere. I lived in my grandmother’s basement and left my window unlocked so no one could hear me leave by the front door. I always found it ironic that the time our house was robbed, the thieves smashed in that same window to gain entry, even though it was unlocked.

I went from a straight A+ student in 4 AP courses to a straight D student overnight. No one said anything. No one cared. Not one teacher, guidance counselor, truant officer, or God forbid, a parent ever said or did anything to help me, stop me, or even question me. Nobody gave a shit. And if nobody gave a shit, then why should I? When I finally dropped out of school, nobody missed me.

Now it’s easy to throw a pity party and I know that “you have to have faith in yourself”, and “you can only rely upon yourself”, and blah, blah, blah. But in your formative years before you have any sense of “self” there needs to be somebody, anybody that helps you build that sense of self-esteem and self-worth. I’m not making excuses, and all my mistakes and self-sabotages are mine and mine alone, but I never had that.

I wasted years in misery and I fully credit the Rocky Horror Picture Show with saving my life, but that is a story for another time. However the one area that I would sabotage myself time after time is with my creative life. I was a good illustrator and when nothing else seemed available to me, I thought I would try my hand at being a starving artist. Well, I got pretty good at the starving part.

Rocky Horror lips
Its no lie, these lips saved my life. Yea, lips!

I went to college for graphic design, dropped out. I went a second time for graphic design, switched to film, dropped out. I got a job in a book store because I liked writing, hated my boss, quit; or got myself fired, it’s hard to remember. I got a job making commercials for TV, hated the sales weasel, switched gears completely and somehow became the volunteer firefighter out of spite. That job I loved.

The adage is: find the job you would do for free, and do that. Well I would, and did, risk my life fighting fire for free. And I loved every minute of it. There I felt something I had never felt before; self-respect. Plus everybody loves firefighters. Little kids chase after you on the truck, pretty girls wave to you, old men salute. And this was before 9/11. I was a firefighter before and after 9/11 and maybe someday I’ll talk about it.

So after 30 years of waste, I’d found something that gave me purpose. I wanted to be a career firefighter and if we had stayed in New York, I would have been, but instead we moved back to Boston.

Now all of Massachusetts has a completely screwed up system of guaranteeing that cream of the crop will sink to the middle. To become a firefighter, you have to take a civil service exam. That’s good. But then the scores are ranked solely based upon residency. That’s bad. I took the test 4 times and each time I got a full 100 on the test and then added my firefighter and EMT credit on top to have a final score of 108. This made me the top score all four years.

But I never had residency. I moved from New York to my wife’s grandmother’s attic then to a condo and then to my first home and each year I lost my residency status. Massachusetts ranked every person who claimed residency, many of which were falsified, before me with the highest overall score. I usually fell in the 500 – 800 range. So I never got on a crew. In the meantime, my wife’s uncle suggested that I work for the Sheriff’s Department. They were hiring and often people work there while waiting to get on BPD or Fire. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Eventually you compromise; what you want for what you need, freedom for responsibility. I had a wife, two kids, a dog, and two mortgages. So I stayed at a job that nobody ever chooses as a career and made a career out of it.

And I made a decent career out of it too. I worked hard, got put into a responsible position, got on TV, got promoted to Sergeant. I thought I was in good shape for further promotion and I would retire after 30+ years.

But lately, I have become disillusioned with the department and true nature of the administration. As such, I barely have it in me to make it to 20 years, let alone 30.

So what does any of this have to do with designing board games?

Just that after 50 years of always doing only what I need, I’m terrified of the prospect of doing what I want. I haven’t fed my creativity for 20 years and that terrifies me too. Plus, I have the weight that my future depends upon my success. I’m pretty sure this is the epitome of a mid-life crisis.

But I’m jubilant and hopeful at the same time. This seems plausible, and doable, and maybe even fun. I have 3 years until I’m eligible for retirement. If this does not work out before then, then I simply have to stay, and I go back to doing what I need. But wouldn’t it be great to actually succeed at something that I want?

I apologize for making you read my trite psychoanalysis of myself. It is supposed to be cathartic to write this stuff down and put it out there and move on, but I just feel sad. Don’t worry, I’ll snap out of it and be fine. Again, I apologize. Next time, I swear to talk about the Boston Game Makers Guild and the post will be all good things. I promise.

One day its fine, and next its black. – The Clash

Catch up with Week 2 here.

Move on to Week 4 here.

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