A topic came up on the accidental tech podcast about gaming, what the average age of a “gamer” is, does one grow out of it? and gaming being a rich experience in many cases more engaging than a movie or novel. I won’t rehash the discussion here but if you are curious checkout the after show of episode 62 and more discussion in the follow up of episode 63 and 64. These discussions got me thinking a lot about gaming and how it has effected my life.
I grew up with games, my father was a gamer and we had hundreds of board and video games around the house. Family board game nights were a regular thing, Talisman and Illuminati were regular favorites but we played so many I couldn’t list them all. Euro games didn’t seem to be as popular at the time, or at least they weren’t in our local game shops and before the internet that basically meant they didn’t exist for us. This meant there was lots of late night dice rolling, whether it was were adventuring in Talisman, expanding our train empires in Rail Baren or blowing up ships in Modern Navel Battles. They were all challenging for my young mind and engaging. I think I even learned how to form and deliver an argument thanks to vague rules in certain games. I wasn’t always right and didn’t always win but I learned a lot and had great fun doing it.
Video games were no acception, in the early years it was hot seat games of empire rotating between two computers. I had to learn how manage my building resources and have enough forces to crush my brother and maybe if I was lucky challenge my father for control of the map. Later we setup a null modem and took our military strategy real time with RTS games like Warcraft and Command & Conquer. Resource management and quick reaction times were key, I learned how multi tasking that way. I had to juggle the competing priorities of resource gathering, base defense and mobilizing an offense all at the same time. If you didn’t you lost plain and simple.
Playing video games also landed me my first programming job. I had moved to Chicago on a whim during the late 90s with no guarantees. My best friend’s brother at the time was working for a firm there and had some idea’s for a personal project and figured I could help him out with it. So moved to Chicago with nothing but a laptop. My first week there I was hanging out at their offices at night playing RTS games like Age of Empires with the developers there. I remember we were deep into a multi game session and in walks the CEO fresh from a Duran Duran concert. He walks over to me and says they are looking bring on some more programmers and would I like to be a part of that. I was a little taken aback I had build my schools web site and had learned a little bit of Perl CGI but by no means felt I was a professional programmer yet. I was honestly a little scared, I remember saying that I didn’t want any pressure but I would love to try. He offered to give me a shot with a very modest hourly wage to start. I was thrilled! It wasn’t a lot of money but it was a opportunity of a life time right in the middle of the dot com boom!
I took to it right away. We had a CMS built in Perl that we customized for each client. There were many talented engineers there that taught me a tramendous amount about writing software the intricacies of the Perl language. I layout out interfaces with tables and spacer gifs and explored more rich interaction using DTHML.
Before long I was given a substancial raise and was working with larger more strategic clients. I even took on the role of a lead developer and helped coach junior programmers when they came on board.
Many of these skills are basically archaic by today’s standards but they helped lay a solid foundation in a rich career in software development that I still enjoy doing to this day. Looking back on it all I’m not sure it would have happend if I wasn’t playing video games and developed a love of working with computers to solve problems.