This afternoon, I went to an event at my local library where Bioware writers Sylvia Feketekuty and Luke Kristjanson were asked questions about the video game industry and how they got to where they are now. Before I get into everything that was talked about, I’d just like to point out how awesome it is that this kind of thing exists. The Writer in Residence there set it all up because of the new interest in video games that the library’s interactive section was creating. What’s more, even though the email I got notifying me of the even said that only 30 participants would be allowed to come, the place was overflowing with at least 60+ people. And the library let them stay! People were lining the walls, standing in the back, sitting on cushions; it was great.
As for what the writers had to say, there’s a lot to unpack. The talk started pretty innocuously with the writers talking about what games they used to play, what their first gaming system was, even what games they were good at as children. As I’ve read a number of articles with people in the gaming industry, this was pretty standard fare and I didn’t take much stock in it.
The second half of the talk was the really interesting part. The WiR started asking the writers how exactly the became writers. Let me preface this next section by outlining what my general impression of what it’s like looking for work in the gaming industry today. First off, it seems extremely competititve, almost to the point of absurdity. There’s so many new startup gaming companies I can’t even keep track any more. Secondly, getting a job looks like more a matter of chance and opportunity than it does skill and talent. It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Galileo of gaming; if it’s not the right time to hire new people, you’re not getting hired. These two assumptions made me pay way more attention to what the writers were about to say.
Luke started by explaining how, when he first started, he was invited to write for Bioware sort of out of the blue (or so it seems). His application seemed to have involved showing the hiring staff a mod of Neverwinter Nights then he was just…in, I guess. He didn’t go into too much detail.
Sylvia’s explanation was a bit more satisfying, at least to me. She told us how she had worked tons of dead-end jobs, all the while playing video games and writing her own stuff. She, as a matter of fact, also wrote a mod for Neverwinter Nights for her portfolio when applying for the job. Her entry into Bioware didn’t seem so easy though, as she said it took three tries in as many years to get them to agree to START the interview process. After talking to her about her mod, getting her to do some modifications, and just overall grilling her about why and how she wrote it, they finally hired her.
These stories are encouraging for a couple of reasons. For one, they’re both English majors, something that I was desperately hoping would come in handy, it now being a couple years since I graduated with my BA and still not having a good writing job to date. Another reason their careers are encouraging stories is that they didn’t have to know anything insanely technical to become writers: they basically wrote new stories for software that existed already and landed a job based entirely on how creative that project was. This is great news since, even though I’ve been slowly introducing myself to game-making environments, I won’t necessarily have to know them in-and-out if I want to land a job in the industry.
As for the discouraging part of their talk, I’ll cover that in part two of this post. Get your tear ducts ready, people.