The following is a multi-part series about how I got into the game industry.
On the Something Awful forums, Nickoten asked me the process I took to get into the games industry. I’ve told people in person, but I realized I never wrote that whole story down. To fix this, I’m going to start writing about my journey to working in interactive media. I should preface this by saying that I don’t think anyone else can take this kind of path anymore as the landscape has changed significantly. What I do hope is the overall themes of my story can help others in their own paths.
Since around kindergarten, I wanted to work for Disney Imagineering. I was very interested in creating narrative environments of which a lot of the rides at Disney specialized in. Taking an audience member and making them apart of the story, rather than viewing the story unfold. As I grew older, I had less of a dependency on working for Disney specifically, but still wanted to create these thematic landscapes of which the audience participated in directly. Throughout all my life, I haven’t deviated from this ultimate goal. The tools and forms of presentation have changed, but that driving essence hasn’t.
Grade school was very limiting for me in working in anything arts and entertainment. Band was about the only thing available to me at the time and waited every moment to participate. The alto and later tenor saxophone was my instrument from fifth grade and lasting though high school. This was my first foundation in performance art and the basics of performing to an audience. There were a few plays in grade school, but due to ‘morality restrictions,’ which was limited to Christian plays such as the one John Brownlee wrote about on Boing Boing. I also the school announcements which were one of the few outlets of work in media at the Roman Catholic grade school I attended. It was the start of my career in voice work, which I wish I did more of today.
In High School I had plenty of other options available. The theatre department was relevant which I took to as a fish to water. I am a card-carrying member of the International Thespian Society and can produce the card upon request. More music options such as jazz and marching band. At the start of sophomore year, I started getting involved with the video production team at the high school. In the three years I spent, Jeremiah, myself, and others built the program to a media production house with live broadcasting and other projects. While my family has supported me all the way, and the arts/theatre department of faculty were highly supportive, other teachers and especially the administration were less than supportive. Mostly along the lines that my work wasn’t applicable to ‘real life careers’. As you might have guessed, I didn’t listen much to them.
Senior year is when I started to gain more of a backbone and confidence that my work can be applied to a larger picture. I became heavily involved with the Thespian Society by being on the state of Michigan board. That year was the most productive year to date having produced two festival events and toured a show called “Guns Kill Kids: And Other Stupid Comments”. It was the first time I was appreciated for my work by complete strangers. What I learned is that I should have worked on outside projects much earlier in my life, but hindsight is 20/20.
My high school years showed me how I learned; I make my own curriculum. The best environment for me is a place with good teachers of established media who are also open to mix other fields of work. To me, the best teachers are the ones willing to learn new things. With my interests in storytelling, and the lack of established academics in the field of Interactive Media at the time, I needed a place where I can have the most flexibility.
College Planning & Limited Options
When it came to college planning, I was in a difficult position. My high school’s grading scale was rigged at every student’s detriment. While the national average was a 93% for an A, my high school’s level was a 96% and trickled down from there. This resulted in me looking dumber on paper. While the staff would make statements that schools adjusted for this, the dark secret is it only applied to colleges in Michigan, Ohio and maybe Indiana. For schools outside of this geographic, admissions wouldn’t realize this subtle but very dramatic difference. So in effect, I was too dumb, but only on paper. Cost issues aside, I couldn’t expect my 2.71 GPA for high school would be seen seriously. Which would be a 3.1 had I went to a public school (higher if the extra religion coursework was removed).
I should make clear that I knew I was good enough for these schools. I didn’t meet academic requirements due to the paperwork.
With this limitation, I had to pick a college which allowed me the greatest flexibility but with good foundations. To be honest, there wasn’t a school in the midwest that really sold me on this. The only schools that started to fit these goals were MIT, Emerson College, USC, UCLA. All of which I knew I didn’t have a chance due to my grades on paper. Instead, I applied to Western Michigan University. Having done work at the college in the Summer of ’99 with the video production department, it was the most comfortable choice for me.
Then and now, I knew I had settled into a college rather than picking a college I wanted. My plans were to build up my academic record and reevaluate either during my undergraduate work or make grad school the place where I started actually learning the way I wanted. This isn’t to say that WMU was a bad school. For the options I had a the time, it was the best school I could pick. There seemed to be enough flexibility for me to work on what I want. My plan was to walk in the door as a Cable/TV Broadcast major and work it out from there.
The admission process was embarrassingly simple. A WMU admission counselor was at my high school, where I sat and talked to her. In four minutes I was officially accepted into WMU. It was way too easy, and I didn’t even feel great after that. No challenge. Nothing I did in high school really mattered. I showed up, and I was in.
To be continued!