Sponsored By
Shelly Warmuth, Blogger

March 31, 2010

7 Min Read

I was excited to attend the Midwest Gaming Classic in Brookfield this past weekend and to be a part of a meeting of the IGDA Wisconsin Chapter.  A panel of developers and instructors were convened to discuss breaking into the industry. 

The question was asked:  "What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you entered this industry?" and the first answer, without hesitation, was "Don't get married." This point of view isn't new.  Quality of Life has become a huge catch-phrase in the industry. 

Crunch times are inevitable, the culture is one of passion.  Game developers are not as much workaholics as they are simply passionate about what they do. Like all artists, the work is a labor of love, instead of being about the overtime pay.  In fact, many developers are salaried and there is no overtime pay.  

After the meeting, I heard one developer discussing his singles status.  He stated that he didn't have time to meet someone and spend the three months getting to know them.  His career comes first.  On the other hand, he recognized that his inability to commit to that is unfair to anyone interested in him.  At the same time, many of his staff are currently going through divorce.  I've heard this all before. 

We're all aware of the frustrations of the EA Spouse story and the more recent complaints of the spouses of Rockstar employees.  Organizations such as Gamewatch are working to keep developers informed of Quality of Life issues in game development.  And yet, this time, hearing those words is personal. 

As my daughter prepares to marry a talented environmental artist, my own spouse expresses concerns daily about why I would even want a career in a field that is so obviously stressful to family life.  Meanwhile, my future son-in-law has been crunching for the last month, not due to poor production, but due to an extremely abbreviated production schedule. 

There is no doubt that Quality of Life is an issue that is a part of the very culture of game development.  The question becomes, is there a solution and, if so, what is it?  I believe the answer to that lies in the answer to my husband's question.  When we were younger, we had this passion and drive.  Programmers sit up at night writing code, doing mods, hacking, finding cheats, writing game guides.  Artists wake up and draw the creatures in their dreams.  They draw on napkins, notebooks, and anything else they can find.  Writers write poetry in front of the tv, post on forums and write articles, stories, fantasies, and anything else in their heads. 

This is no different than any other artist who practices their craft and we do it because we love it; because it fires something within us.  The difference seems to be that, while a struggling or unsigned artist does most of that at home, a paid actor, musician, or game developer is away. This is probably a rude awakening for a spouse who is okay with having their partner "there, but not there" and now has to accept simply "not there".  We try to prepare them for that, but the reality is still more than they expected. 

It's not simply that the partner is left alone.  When someone loves us, they don't want to see us hurt.  The artist's partner has to sit back and watch helplessly as fatigue sets in, sometimes illness, and sometimes frustration.  They also have to have their own life, separate.

The solution begins with choice.  Actors tend to partner with others in the entertainment industry because celebrities understand the rigors of celebrity and the industry.  Likewise, doctors have a tendency to marry within the health-care field.  Nurses understand the expectations placed on their MD spouse going into the relationship.  While it is definitely harder to nurture your game developer spouse if you're both crunching at the same time, staying within the same social circle is a plausible solution to game developer partnerships. 

There is one problem with this solution, however.  According to Erin Hoffman's blog, men outnumber women in the industry at a rate of 10:1.  However, if that is an option, it increases the odds of successful family life in a myriad of ways.  A partner in the same social circle will tend to share the same values and interests.  There is an inherent understanding of the culture of the job, which brings acceptance.  There is also a mutual freedom involved in a relationship of this sort.  Since both partners are leading busy, productive lives, neither is left missing the other or feeling left behind. 

It could be argued that it's not good to be so much alike.  There is the inevitable ego hit when one partner's game is commercially successful.  There is the separation and separateness of path that comes from being apart so much.  And, if there are changes in jobs, whose job do you move for?  However, these problems exist whether you are on the same career path or not.

No matter who you're with, hopefully your partner is supportive of you and nurturing.  If you're both busy, you have to be that for each other.  Being with a game developer requires support and self-sacrifice. 

In the interest of maintaining the Quality of Life at home, little touches will remind your significant other why she got with you to begin with! This is especially important during crunch times.

*In the interest of brevity,  the generic "her"  and "she" will be used to represent the significant other.  If your partner is male, please don't be offended.

  • We're all artists, no matter what our discipline.  Create something unique that belongs solely to your sweetheart: an avatar for her to use, a mini animation, a poem or short story.  The wise man creates this while not crunching, and presents it during a crunch.  She'll feel extra special if she thinks you're thinking of her while so busy, so don't let on.  And, don't forget!

  • Get your friends to create something for her that's outside of your discipline.  As above, she'll cherish the thought as much as the widget!

  • Have moves that are uniquely yours:  a special way that you touch her, a hug from behind, a certain kiss that is you.  You'll make yourself instantly unforgettable in her eyes.

  • Find code words and phrases that have meaning only to the two of you.  Keeping your relationship as a private tryst maintains tension and spices things up.

  • Randomly send her a sexy text, IM, or picture throughout the day.  It lets her know you're thinking about her and keeps the budoir active.  Activity breeds more activity.

  • Send flowers in the middle of the week during a crunch.  Don't bring them home, have them delivered.  Bringing them home makes her wonder what you did.

  • Order take-out.  Call her and tell her you're coming home and that dinner is already on it's way. 

  • Re-connect daily.  Off-limits are conversations about bills, the kids, and the job.  

  • Make a date that you don't break!

  • Help your significant other connect with those of your friends.  When crunch times hit, they'll have each other.

  • Take on some of their jobs, especially the jobs they hate.  If you're working 14 hours or more per day, it's unlikely that you want to do household chores.  If you do it during down times, however, you'll win brownie points.

  • Do the hard.  After a 14 hour day, the last thing you want to do is stop at the store on the way home, which is why it's so appreciated when you do.

  • Put notes in unexpected places.  Hide them everywhere so that she finds them much later and when she least expects it. 

  • Shine around her friends and family.  Open doors for everyone.  Walk her to the door.  Do the little things that show off her decision to choose you above all others.

At first glance, tips to enhance your home life doesn't seem like a game development issue.  Given the decrease in Quality of Life that is so rampant lately, however, it would seem apparent that a quality home life can only improve work productivity.

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