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10:50am on Friday, 13th February, 2009:
Suppose you were a lecturer in Architecture at a university, interviewing 17-year-olds who have applied to come and study your subject. The first question you ask is: "Why do you want to study Architecture?". The prospective student answers, "From an early age, I have always enjoyed living in houses, so I want to become an architect".
Hmm. Isn't that rather shaky ground upon which to build a career?
How about this: you're a lecturer in Brewing and Distilling (yes, there are degree courses in this at respectable universities), interviewing 17-year-olds who have applied to come and study your subject. The first question you ask is: "Why do you want to study Brewing and Distilling?". The prospective student answers, "From an early age, I have always enjoyed drinking alcohol, so I want to become a brewer".
Yes... Mayyyyybe you need to think that through a bit more?
"From an early age, I have always enjoyed cutting up mammals, so I want to become a veterinary surgeon".
"From an early age, I have always enjoyed watching TV, so I want to become an actor".
"From an early age, I have always enjoyed spending money, so I want to become a shop manager".
"From an early age, I have always enjoyed laughing, so I want to become a clown".
The reason I mention this is, of course, because: "From an early age, I have always enjoyed playing computer games, so I want to become a games programmer". Out of every 3 prospective students I interview on a Wednesday afternoon, the chances are that 2 of them will basically give that reply.
Look, if you like programming — if programming is what you find fun — then you don't care what you program so long as it doesn't offend your morals. Programming a game is no different to programming a container port management system, except you don't get paid as much.
Ah, but "I want to work on something I'm interested in". Of course you do. You want to write the calls to the middleware that the tool you're working on with 3 other people will use, so it can be passed to a level designer who will use it to script the behaviour of a group of monsters which will delay the player for all of 45 seconds en route to the next boss in what starts off as a Fantasy RPG but suddenly morphs into one about penguins when some new product manager takes over at the publisher.
What you actually want to do is design games. You may not realise it — you may well deny it — but that's what's driving you. The only question is whether you want to design games that you want to play, or that other people will want to play.
Oh, and if a lecturer says to you out of the blue, "Is there anything you'd like to ask me?", then in the event that you don't actually have anything you want to ask them, just say, "What's the most important book on your shelf?" You're always going to learn something from that, even if it's simply that the lecturer is a jerk...
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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (firstname.lastname@example.org).