There comes a point when talking to new people I meet outside of our industry that the inevitable question is asked, “So Michael, what do you do?” The first time I was asked this question, I was 16, it was the late 80’s and I had just had my first game published. I replied "I'm a programmer", after a while of receiving blank and confusing (sometimes guarded) expressions I started to change my answer.
In the early 90's I would respond with "I make worlds" or "I build universes", this generated a few interesting discussions, especially with one chap with strong religious views but mainly I managed to get a smile from most people. Over time I started to specialize in game mechanics and Artificial Intelligence and hence changed it to "I build brains" or "I create Artificial Life". I of course still got that confused look and I would still have to elaborate with varying degrees of success on exactly what it was that I did. That however all changed in 1999 when "The Matrix" came out and all of a sudden everyone had a glimpse into what a virtual world was.
The most violent reaction I ever encountered was when I happen to be out having a few drinks with a few female officers from Her Majesty’s Customs and Exercise office in Dover. At hearing that I was involved with making computer games I immediately got verbally attacked by three women who, to summarize their words, "I corrupt children and undermine society with my sick, twisted and evil games". As it turns out their only experience of computer games came from some quite disturbing games they encountered in the course of their job. I never did get them to change their perspective and I imagine they still consider me directly responsible for all the nasty and evil computer games in the world.
As the new century started and computer games became more popular and mass market I started saying "I program computer games", to which I generally got the response "Program?". Thanks to some adverts from Sony and Sega if I had responded “I design computer games” or “I test computer games” everyone would understand what I do.
These days, I simply say "I write computer games", it's 50/50 between getting a polite smile or a glint of interest.
I have pretty much reached the conclusion that only programmers or someone that has experienced some kind of programming really understands what it is that we do.
My name is Michael A. Carr, I create worlds, build minds, corrupt children, undermine society and write computer games.
What do you do?