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What it's like to be a game programmer

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ApochPiQ

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I was over in a thread and got all introspective and thinky and such. So I'm going to empty my brain before I go back to work.


I don't tell people what I do - at least, not if I can help it. Whenever I meet people, the conversation goes something like this:

Them: So... what do you do?
Me: Menial computer work.


If I'm lucky and they have some sense, they'll stop asking questions. Occasionally, though, you get one of those weird people who doesn't realize that "menial computer work" is code for "you don't want to know." What follows typically ends up like this:

Them: Oh, really? What do you do with computers?
Me: I make software.
Them: That sounds cool. What sort of software?
Me: *sigh* Video games.
Them: OH MY GOD THAT'S SO COOL WOW TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT WHAT'S IT LIKE DO YOU REALLY JUST PLAY GAMES ALL DAY BLAH BLAH BLAH
Me: I can't talk about it.


(This hypothetical exchange is only slightly exaggerated due to me being bitter and cynical. It often plays out just like that, except they're not really saying "blah blah blah" - that's just what I hear.)


Invariably, whenever this painful and damnable conversation occurs, I say the same thing: "It's not really as interesting as it sounds."


This isn't to say I don't like my job. I love what I do, and not too many days slip by without me reflecting on just how fortunate I am to have it. It's essentially perfect - I honestly can't complain.

But I have no way to relate to anyone. It isn't like retail or fast food or some other pedestrian career that everyone, in some way, has had contact with and therefore can understand. Nobody else writes games for a living. The experience of buying and playing a game is so utterly removed from the process of creating it that even avid gamers rarely have any concept of how their games come into being.


At one point, I imagined that GDNet would be different. After all, these are not the teeming, unwashed masses of Backwards, Georgia - we're all sort of into game creation here. Most of us have a pretty good idea of what it takes and how it works. So surely here I could rant and ramble about my daily work experiences, and find some understanding and interest - right?

Not so much.

The problem is, even to fellow game developers, there's really not much to say. I can't talk about how I solved Big Problem X because nobody else will ever have that problem - much of what I do is unique to the particular sort of games we produce. And, in the end, who really wants to read a five page story about how I stayed up all night hacking on an obscure glitch in the menu rendering code? Boring!

There is some interesting stuff... but between NDAs and general caginess, I'll never be able to talk about it until it's so outdated even archaeologists and ancient historians won't find it interesting. And most of that is just possibility - not even things we're totally committed to doing yet.



So what's it like being a game programmer?

I spend most of my time pretending I don't have a job, or just do something nondescript and vaguely forgettable like "insurance paperwork filing" or whatever. Every now and then I gloat about not having to punch the clock when my friends start whining about how they have to go to work in the morning. That's about it.

In public, I dread questions about employment, and do my best to manipulate conversations to avoid it. In some ways, I'm the guy who knows he has a really lame job, and is trying to keep it a secret. The problem is, it's a really cool job, and I just can't be stuffed explaining it in patient detail over and over again to people who think the Internet is Hotmail and MySpace. (Or, God forbid, to people who think the PS3 is a decent gaming product. But I'm not going to open that can-o-worm.)


Sometimes, in between trying to change the subject to politics and trying to telepathically convince people I do nothing all day, I go to work. And then, for a few glorious hours, I do the most fascinating and challenging and incredibly rewarding job I can imagine ever doing.



It's pretty much like being a secret superhero. You do all this really awesome stuff at night, while everyone sleeps, and then you spend the day trying to act like you sweep floors for a living.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Mayor just called, and I really must be going.
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I always just tell people that "I sit on my butt and type".

Often, I add "Indoor work, no heavy lifting, paycheck every other Friday."

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Speaking on behalf of someone making a space trading RPG (in space), I respectfully request you give me all of your knowledge in nugget-like form.

I usually tell people I'm a "software engineer". This is better than when I told people I was a "computer science undergraduate" and people asked me "Like Word, and stuff?"

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You're doing it all wrong! If you go with the flow and tell them how cool and exciting your job is, without getting into much techical details ("that's a bit complicated"), it will make for an awesome conversation and they'll remember you forever :)

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Hmm, if someone came up to me, or anyone really and you told them you develop games, im preety sure they are going to be excitied to meet you and very interested.

and you dont have to answer as many prefer not to for some reason, but how much do you make doing this job and how long have you been doing it?

you dont have to tell me yours exactly but in the ball park, im just interested in general pay..

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