A graduation toast given to Sheridan College's Game Design class of 2019.
I want to thank the Sheridan College class of 2019 for this rare opportunity: to talk publicly to a group of game developers in crisis.
I can see a little panic setting in with some of you when I say that. But I don’t mean “crisis” in the sense of catastrophe. Danger. Trouble. There’s a lot of talk about crisis nowadays in terms of doom and gloom. I’m talking about “krisis” in its original meaning from the Greek. A critical point. A moment of decision. Transformation. A turning point. The Zero Hour.
Many great games begin this way, and build from one crisis to another. And tomorrow, when you wake up, no longer a student, but a game developer in your Zero Hour, I have this wish for you: that you draw upon an old video game trope, the Amnesiac.
Whether you’re planning to make an indie game, start at a big game studio, or even do something outside the industry to make ends meet for a while, I hope you will consider putting aside the flurry of thoughts and feelings and reactions—good and bad—that might overwhelm you. I hope you will think of yourself as the protagonist in a game who wakes up in a dungeon, or hundreds of years in the future, or, well, basically, in a situation where you get to figure a bunch of stuff out. About the world. And about yourself. Because that IS your situation. And because what’s ahead of you IS a game.
It’s bigger than it’s ever been in the history of games. It’s beautiful. It’s epic. It’s frustrating. It’s painful. And, as many developers have told me time and time again over the years, it’s worth it.
The challenges ahead of you are puzzles for you to solve. The people you meet and will work with are also players, like you. You’ll have to figure out who’s your ally. Who’s hostile? How can you help each other?
Like a game, the most rewarding interactions will come of forming a community, and building relationships with the people you play the game with.
As you play, you will fail. And you’ll succeed.
And I hope you will see those events for what they are: part of The Game, with success being that much more sweet after having failed, and failed, and failed…and finally figuring it out. And success being gratifying, even glorious, but in the end, simply part of the joy of playing. Because I promise you, after every success, no matter how big, you’ll be thinking, what’s next?
You are going to develop skills as you go, but like any good amnesiac protagonist, you will also be discovering your own powers. Having come through the four years of this program, and having made a game, I’m guessing you’ve already noticed a lot of your abilities: persistence, patience, teamwork, problem-solving, programming skills, design skills, storytelling, project management… working-your-ass-off-ness in the name of making an awesome game…ness.
But here’s THE super power I believe is more important than all of them. Really, the point of The Game itself:
Empathy is what makes us human. But it’s also what will make you a truly great game developer.
I’m talking about the kind of game developer who makes a game people remember and treasure. A game that changes lives. Changes world culture.
As your years at Sheridan have taught you, you cannot make a good game without imagining yourself in the place of the player, whether we’re talking about the levels, the environment, the game mechanics, the story, characters, UX design, the code…all of it.
And so as you discover and deploy your Power of Empathy to create a game for some portion of the 2.3 billion people (and counting) around the world who are playing games, think of what you want them to feel. What you want their experience to be.
Think of the son who, after years of estrangement from his dad, bonded with him over SKYRIM.
Or the autistic women who played TO THE MOON and felt acknowledged and validated after a lifetime of feeling isolated.
Or the leukemia patient who found inspiration to get better from ROCKET LEAGUE.
Or the little boy who survived the trauma of sexual abuse with the help of PAC-MAN.
Or the people who have fallen in love playing WORLD OF WARCRAFT….
…who learned to believe in themselves and each other playing FINAL FANTASY...
…who felt the power of love playing LIFE IS STRANGE; of friendship playing JOURNEY. The list is long.
People are describing our time as the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Things are changing. Fast. Play is a universal language that has the potential to bring people together across races, genders, ages, religions, abilities, social and economic situations. After four years at Sheridan, you have begun to learn to speak that language in a very powerful way. And every day, more and more of the world can hear you.
My hope is that you will use your power of empathy to connect with the people who play your game, and cause them to connect with each other. Your empathy will inspire theirs. That is the real quest. The win that will count.
And so with that, let’s raise our glasses and toast the Sheridan Game Design Class of 2019.
To your Zero Hour, your many powers, and to The Game that starts tomorrow.