I fell into the computer game world by accident.
I was a nanny for the Bechtel family in Atherton, CA in 1990 and was thinking about doing some writing on the side. A friend who worked in games suggested I go to the Computer Game Developers Conference. It was one of the first conferences, and was held in San Jose that year.
The Bechtel kids loved video games, and I had helped organize an amazing Super Mario themed birthday party in their back yard, including an obstacle course based on the first level of Super Mario Land, manned by a tall guy dressed up in a Mario costume. So, I knew a bit about these games, I thought.
Turns out there was a big difference between video games and computer games. Many of the computer games back then were still quite geeky. As in, you read some text on the screen, you solve some puzzles, you lead your guy around on a treasure hunt to find things to put in his bag so you can get to the next part of the story, where you read some more stuff on the screen.
I’m not so into puzzles, actually.
But my friend said those companies needed writers and creative types, and he gave me the name of the conference organizers. I met with them a few weeks before hand, to figure out what game guys actually did, and what a game writer might actually write about.
I drove out to Campbell, near San Jose, and met these two middle-aged, sweet and very nerdy geeks who were working on “Interactive Fantasy” games. As in sci-fi type stuff, you know (but I didn’t, really). They suggested I get business cards made up and list my title as “Interactive Fantasy Writer.” So I did.
Turns out being a cute 23 year old girl handing out “Fantasy Writer” business cards at a game geek conference in the early 1990’s is a shoe-in for attention. Well, just being female helped, too.
I usually don’t mind attention, but I was slightly overwhelmed by this crowd, so I wandered over to the Carnegie Mellon table because they had a good sign. They were recruiting people to their OZ project, which was AI and Computer Science merged with theater. I have a BA in English and a BFA in Theater, for the record. I love the Wizard of Oz, so of course I was interested.
The main guy there was Joseph Bates. He was the head of the OZ department, and he had good social skills, in a college professor sort of way, so I stayed near him.
[Side Note: I haven’t thought of him for years, and forgot his name, actually. But I saved his business card, and found it this morning. I’ve moved six times since then. I have a garage full of packed boxes I haven’t opened in at 4 years, but I found this guy’s card in 5 minutes. I’m impressed with myself. Aren’t you?]
Mr. Bates wanted me to apply for their OZ project program which matched up drama students with AI and computer science students. My GPA (from a tiny liberal arts college) was high, he sensed that I was dramatic, so he thought I’d be perfect for them.
Carnegie Mellon? Me? Hello? I had to Google it just now to make sure I spelled it correctly, because “Melon” is a real word, but it just didn’t look right next to Carnegie.
I may seem smart in person, but my SAT scores were low enough for me to promptly forget the exact number, mostly because at the time I was hanging out with a few perfect SAT score Stanford Grad students, and it was best for all of us when I said “Oh, I can’t remember my SAT scores. They were much lower than yours, of course.”
I mean, these people are real-life rocket scientists now, know what I’m saying? My housemate had her Master’s in Materials Science and was working on developing hazardous gas sensors back in 1990. I didn’t even know what Materials Science really was. I was smart enough to know it didn’t involve fabric, even though my grandmother referred to fabric as material. And I was glad there were people thinking about hazardous gas sensors, because they seem like an important thing.
So, I personally had no desire to take the GRE and embarrass Mr. Bates, or myself with the results. I figured I wasn’t smart enough or rich enough for Carnegie Mellon. But I enjoyed hanging out with them.
It wasn’t long before I wound up in the middle of a crowd of nerdy game geeks. Literally. Several of them asked for my card, which had my phone number on it.
Boy Geeks are smart. And surprisingly brave. And sometimes cute, and I did end up going on a few dates with one of those guys, but I’ll tell that story another time.
Alas, I didn’t actually get any writing jobs from that conference, and I kept my day job with the Bechtels. But it was a great job, I have to say, so it wasn’t really a hardship. I planned several more good parties with them.
Later, however, I did get an interview with Noah Falstein from LucasArts Games who I’d met at that conference. He liked me (in a professional way!) and I liked him, but they didn’t have any jobs for writers at the time. He wanted to hire me, send me to school to learning basic programming, and then work me into a game designer role.
As if. Me? A programmer? Not.
I asked Noah if he could get me an interview at SkyWalker Ranch, since it seemed to me they might need someone like me up there to work with George Lucas. He claimed he couldn’t, sorry, but they were two separate companies.
I think he was just irritated that I rejected his incredibly gracious offer to help jump start my career in game development, despite my complete lack of knowledge about anything in the genre. He was willing to take a chance on me, and in retrospect, I wonder if I was stupid not to have taken the job.
But seriously? You would not want me programming your games. Just messing with the HTML in Blogger to get my pictures right has been known to make me cry, and I would have embarrassed myself and Mr. Falstein trying to learn C, with or without the ++.
The good news is, all this game conference and LucasArts interviewing stuff made me seem like and actual game girl, so it was pretty easy to get more interviews, and then a short term contract with Dynamix, a Sierra Online company, to do some research for an educational history game. They eventually hired me full time, and boom, I was in.
While at Dynamix, I met a man named Rhett Anderson and the rest is history.
Stay tuned for Chapter Two. There might be romance and stuff.