Love & Hate: A Story of a Lapsed Gamer in the Game Industry

A (long) history of my once upon a time attraction to games, evolution into a game maker, descent from gaming, and why I keep coming back.

[originally posted on my blog]


Hi. My name is Kheper and I'm a lapsed gamer working in the game industry.

It all started around the age of 7 with a Commodore 64. It was a mostly harmless flirtation with most of my first gaming year spent on a few small time games. The only one I remember is BC's Quest for Tires. And then piracy happened. An older brother of my older brother's friend had quite the collection of C64 games, which through some magical process (at the time) were copied and given to us. Soon our handful of mediocre games grew to a massive library of 100+ games of all manner and make. Just the process of playing, trying out a new, possibly hidden gems on the disks, being oh so careful not to touch the film in middle, was fascinating. Some favorites from this era include Space Taxi, Ghostbusters, Skate or Die!, and Wizard of Wor. Needless to say, I was hooked.

In 1991, the year the Super Nintendo was released, I received my first console, the NES. Before this, I had of course already played and was addicted to an NES thanks to friends and relatives. I had even read every single issue of Nintendo Power available to me at the local library. My first year with Nintendo was spent with the likes of Mega Man, Battletoads, and of course Mario. At this point, video games had surpassed digging for rocks, researching dinosaurs, and adventuring outside as my favorite after school activities. For better or worse.

A turning point in gaming for me.
A turning point in gaming for me.

Undoubtedly my parents saw this as a worse. The following year found the usual video games replaced with obscure board games like Hero Quest and Battle Masters. These were quickly assimilated into my usual game routine and, much to my parents dismay, just increased my fervor for gaming. It also marked a major turning point in the types of games I enjoyed. Maybe to sedate some inner adventurer lust (I was Indiana Jones for 4 Halloweens in a row) lost as I turned away from outside adventures, my gaming interest went from action platformers to role playing and adventure; Mario was replaced with Zelda, Mega Man with Final Fantasy, and I guess Battletoads for this obscure Christian Zelda knock-off game (no joke!). The stories, the exploration, the discovery were becoming increasingly more relevant to my interests. Or, maybe I was just getting tired of having games I could never win, I never was any good at action games.

Needless to say, I had become a gamer. I followed game news and knew of all the major releases. In 1994, I finally received a Super Nintendo along with Final Fantasy 3 (6). I have never been so addicted to a game. I literally went two nights without sleep, playing the game for over 50 hours straight. There were of course others; A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy 2, Final Fantasy Mystic Quests *shudders*, and Ogre Battle, which I actually rented from Blockbuster never to return. The next year had even more role playing goodness in the form of Chrono Trigger, which was like $70... and people complain about game prices now. I was hopelessly in love with J-RPGs.

And then my family finally got a PC. My first Christmas started the affair. I've always had quite good taste. My brother and I received; Diablo, Masters of Orion 2, Civilazation 2, and Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall. Can anyone really blame me for cheating on my precious J-RPGs?

A good enough reason for an affair?
A good enough reason for an affair?

So at this point I'm 16 years old. In my life I have 1 friend and my older brother who I play games with, a dependable but predictable lover in J-RPGs, a new and engaging affair with PC rpgs and strategy games, off time with board games, and a part time job at Wal-Mart to pay for my addiction and the upcoming N64. This is a time in an adolescents life where they must start making very important life decisions. What is a boy supposed to do?

I left my console lover. I blame Final Fantasy 7, but maybe it was the whole genre was just so dull and predictable against all those wild PC games. Essentially, Playstation forever killed my interest in console games. Interestingly enough, I still enjoyed the N64 as a go to when friends were over. Without the console distraction I could focus my energies on the PC. Oh if only life were so simple.

Remember Hero Quest? Well, it would occasionally appear out of the closet. At first I'd just replay the levels, but eventually those grew boring and I started to make new levels. But even those became kind of dull and repetitive. Then I made a breakthrough. I didn't have to just use the skeletons and goblins provided, I could make up my own unique enemies! This quickly turned into making new items, new weapons, and new player characters. I, not some machine, not some rules in a book, had the POWER! With my stock boy status at Wal-Mart, I managed to make a couple new friends. We became a gaming group. What started with Hero Quest turned to AD&D, which funny enough I had to sneak past my very conservative parents, and even to more complex board games such as Avalon Hill games, Axis & Allies, and eventually Settlers.

The world outside of video games had become my pastime. My real life was spent in D&D campaigns, making and playing board & card games, and many great PC titles such as Planescape: Torment, Diablo 2, & Baldur's Gate. I even would take a break with more action heavy games and first person shooters. At this point, any aspirations of becoming a businessman or athlete or adventurer had died, I was going to MAKE video games.


My first attempt was at DeVry in Columbus, Ohio... moving right along. A year after graduation I moved out to Bellevue to attend DigiPen Institute of Technology. In my first semester I programmed my first game, a text based RPG, and made a weird simulation using an in-house tool. Something more interesting was happening though, I was becoming bored. I tried to get excited, I really did, but everything was so much of the same, it was like my relationship with console gaming all over. I found myself not only playing less, but desiring to play less.

Of course going to a game school, there was an abundance of people passionate about games. In hopes to cultivate my passion I tried new things; first person shooters like Counter Strike and Half Life 2, MMORPGs, even really well done blends of my favorite genre like Deus Ex. Nothing could peak my interest any more. It was all the same experiences I had before. I did enjoy some very good pen and paper experiences getting introduced to Shadowrun, Exalted, and others. But these groups were increasing difficult to get together and soon feel apart.

Late in my Sophomore year, I feel in love. She was an art (fine art) student who was certainly not a gamer but she was something the could not quantify in game terms, she was real. She was far more interesting than any character I'd encountered in my many years of gaming. We would go on adventures, when I was cut I would bleed actual real blood. It was good. It was real. I rediscovered that child in me I left behind with video games and with it my interest in playing games vanished. My passion transformed from an obsession with video games to an obsession with life and how I could use the medium I once loved to express and capture the intricacies of the lives we live.

I graduated and joined my first game company. It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted something new, something challenging but what the company, and indeed the game industry, wanted was the same experiences they previously enjoyed. Then my lover left me (we did get back together). I was devastated and on a whim went and backpacked through Europe. When I returned I was not the same. Life had become my game of interest. I found much more to discover, much more to learn than could ever be simulated in a game.

Me with actual monkeys!

Since that time, I have taken contract jobs in the game industry as a way to make money. I work for about a year and take a year off. I live poor but I live good. I have moved from a singular obsession with games and making games to a very diverse skill set including poetry, singing, guitar, fine arts, travel, philosophy, spirituality, fashion, and so on. I have friends from many different cultural groups and from at least 20 different countries. I still keep up with the game industry and have quite a few gamer friends. Sometimes, those friends recommend a game to me, I usually will check it out. I like my life.

But still, I find my thoughts keep coming back to games. At one point this really bothered me. I wanted a clean separation. Life is never so simple. I had phases where I attempted my own games before indie game development had even become popular. I have attempted, many times, to take my understanding of sublime art and apply it towards the game medium; all attempts were failures. There are ideas, half completed prototypes, and meager attempts at something new scattered throughout the many hard drives of my life. No matter how far away I go, how diverse my interests become, my brain always comes back.


Because despite how stuck the games and the game industry are on recreating the past, there is still a foundation of a medium that lays completely undiscovered. There is SO much more possibility. It is that possibility that is fascinating to me. It is that adventure into something new, something different, something undiscovered that keeps me coming back, keeps me from getting better paying programming jobs, keeps me from pursuing another passion. There is a wealth of new experiences awaiting my, or maybe your, discovery. I develop games for the same reason I began to love games, my real lover, the love of the unknown, the mystery.

After a long hiatus from my individual pursuit of the medium, I find that now, more than ever is an amazingly opportune time to set out on a new adventure. Unlike even 5 years ago, we now have far superior tools and far less draconian distribution channels. And, even more importantly, the industry seems to be waking up and realizing there is a world outside of video games. Talks of diversity, condemnation of actions without meaning, and games, like Cart Life, which are looking to capture more the nuances of life than in fulfilling some power fantasy; these motions are blazing new trails everyday. So grab a fedora and a bull whip and let's start really exploring the new possibilities hidden under the surface of this medium we call video games. Who knows what you'll find?

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