From Teacher to Student [10.21.08]
- Allen Brooks
I'm not that guy -- I'm not the kid who was playing Nintendo his entire life thinking, "Man, when I grow up, I'm gonna make the next Super Mario Bros.!"
I was more into Shakespeare than C++.
I went to school in southeast Virginia for Theater Performance and Film Study. The program was rigorous and focused, and on top of my education in theater and film, I received knowledge about myriad other topics, turning me into a well-rounded academic.
When I graduated, I stuck my toe in the acting world, but that industry is tough -- unrelenting, unforgiving, and many times very mean. Instead, I ended up taking a job as a high school theater and film teacher. I thought, "Pretty sweet gig, right? Summers off, regular pay, and the opportunity to practice all day long what I love to do."
As it turns out, with the exception of loving my students, teaching didn't fulfill me the way that I had originally thought it would. Problems with administration, having to adhere to the "no child left behind" regulations, and the pay (which turned out to be nothing compared to the hours the job requires) left me feeling as if there were something else I should be doing.
I started thinking about where I should go. I looked at who I was and where I was in life, my skills, and what I could offer a company.
The Job Search
First, I applied for a number of jobs around the country, mostly in tech firms. I had experience in Internet media, radio, TV, and film, and I even landed an interview or two with some really big companies, but they were hesitant to hire from outside the industry (especially from such a different sector as acting or teaching). Around the same time, I found myself, as an enthusiast, really getting into video games.
When I finally put some thought to it, I realized I had spent my entire life studying video games. I've been playing them since I could hold a controller, and I found myself reading books such as Stephen Johnson's Everything Bad is Good For You. Moreover, I realized I was passionate about the interactive media form that video games had become. It's not just that I appreciated the fact that games were more mature and developed than when I was a kid, but I realized that games have made an incredible impact on education and learning, even if that's not widely accepted as truth yet.
I was playing more, listening to podcasts from 1up, and subscribing to sites like Gamasutra. It was there that I found the Gamasutra job board.
I started sifting through the long list of job ads that turned up on Google Reader every few hours, curious whether or how my existing skills fit into the game industry. Not experienced enough here; no working knowledge there; too few shipped games (none, actually) over there, and on it went. I applied to a few jobs on a whim, got turned down by all, and even got a free trip to California for my troubles. (If you can make it through life by simply being flown around for job interviews, weekends on the company dime are pretty sweet.) But as it continued, I realized that I needed one thing, if nothing else, to get me in the door: firm training in video game development.
The School Search
A new search commenced shortly thereafter: the school search.
It's hard to decide to go back to school after you've had a career job. You lose not only pay and benefits, but your ability to contribute to a household. I am extremely lucky in that I have a wonderful wife who is supportive of my goals. She and I are working on this together, saving so that I can afford to not work for the duration of my game development training.