Married To The Games Industry

Original Author: Jackie-Firth

Hi All!  I’m Jackie, the better-half of a video game developer!  (The first step is admitting it 😉 )  I’ve played this role of better half for over six years now; a game dev widow if you will.  Boil it all down and what does that mean?

1.       Game Dev Widow          [geym dev wid-oh]

Rockin’, ultra-supportive, super-tolerant and exceedingly proud spouse of undeniably cool, über geek that makes games.  See also, saint and masochist

 

Being a game dev spouse is like being an un-credited member of the development team.  It’s practically a job all on its own.  It’s a job I do proudly with as much grace and humor as I can; while trying to keep my complaints about the downsides of the industry to an absolute minimum (Sometimes I fail at that last bit).

 

There was no introduction to the games life for me, no sweet courtship leading up to crunching and craziness, I knew my husband, Andy’s career would play a major part in our relationship from the very start.  We met online (shock, horror) and were fast friends.

 

When I trekked out to California to meet him in person, he was so busy at work he had to send a town car to fetch me.  This should have been my first clue, instead I was like, hey cool… dude with my name on a sign!  The driver deposited me at the studio where I was thrust into a sea of geekery,  unwashed boys who’d been crunching for weeks lined up to put in their order for a deliciously greasy burrito.  Andy then dumped me at his place with a promise to ‘be back soon’.  (I say dumped, it wasn’t all that dramatic we chatted for his lunch break….ooooh 45 minutes, and then he departed)  In Andy-land soon meant eight hours.  Eight hours of puttering around in someone else’s house, uncomfortably.  Just as I was searching through my things trying to find his office phone number he walked in the door.  That right there should have been my second clue.  But I’d already started to fall for him and all of the little quirks that should have been obvious were overlooked.   Honestly, even if I’d taken note of all of these things right then, I knew for a fact that I had never met ANYONE who loved what they did as much as Andy.  Who was this crazy man that worked 60 hour weeks happily (God if I’d only known then that sometimes I’d long for 60 hour weeks) and was still eager to get to the office when he woke up in the morning.   He’s a game-dever for life… he’ll be hobbling in to a studio using a walker when he’s 80 talking about when he programmed on PS2 and game cube while youngins’ make the same perplexed faces hearing how today’s veterans worked on Atari.

It’s been an amazing, exciting frustrating, heartbreaking, thrilling, gut wrenching six plus years.  Filled with cross country moves, making new friends, saying good bye to family, transforming friends into family, parties, launches, and studio closures (those really blow, I’m sorry, this fact cannot be sugar coated)

Now, I’m certainly not saying we have all the answers, but I think our experiences have taught us a lot and we’ve found a pretty decent (or at least pretty decent for the games industry) balance…  This is how we roll, maybe you do to.

 

Be Involved.

Let me start by saying, I am NOT a nerd, I’m not!  (Despite whatever widespread rumors my husband has instigated), Ok, maybe I’m a little nerdy.  But, not like a programmer.  I decided very early on in our relationship, that I was NOT ok with being passing ships.  If work was going to keep him away, I was going to understand it, and engage in it.  I’d also make an effort to spend time together even if it meant I was going to sit on a skeezy futon in a studio reading while he “squashed bugs”.  I am now more fluent about profilers, vector math, anti-aliasing, rendering etc., than any non-game dev freak should ever be.

I also take the time to try to get to know husband’s co-workers and their spouses.  No one’s schedule other than another game dev family will match up quite right.  Most people don’t understand that “crunch” means your husband is a precious commodity in your home.  Game Dev Widow Friends will understand without you having to explain and be the best comrades, champions and shoulders to cry on when you need them.  Who else is going to get that your husband being home early means 7 pm and that a good weekend is one where your husband only had to go in to the studio for 14 hours on ONE of the days.

I pop into the studio and steal the husband away for lunch dates when possible.  I bake peach cobbler and drop it at the studio, yummy homemade treats are a great way to get them through a long night.  We have karaoke nights and dinner parties where we invite friends not only from the studio Andy’s at but other studios in the area.  And when we can’t make it home for the holidays to be with family, we always host a holiday meal at our place inviting all of the other misplaced game developers who either can’t make it home, or don’t have family.  It’s quite the schmoregesborg of people jammed together sharing good food and a lot of laughs.  We’ve turned our game developer friends into our extended family.

Being this involved is beneficial for us on two levels…. One, I’ve OPTIMIZED our relationship! (Like what I did there?  I know you do!) And Two, my networking has proved most helpful to us when the fecal excrement hits the fan.  In 2007 the studio Andy was at went down and I was able to quickly update his resume and contact every game developer I know to help set up interviews and got the ball rolling before he even got home that day.  He interviewed the very next day.  When the sea is overflowing with very talented fish after a layoff, it helps to be speedy.

 

Give & Take.

Now, because I know about frame rate and perforce, you can be darn sure husband knows about scrapbooking and which PTA mom is my current nemesis.  Nothing irritates me more than when he forgets to ask about my day too.  We’ve had some major knock down drag out fights in the past on the subject and here’s where it ends for me personally…  Game Dev jobs are super cool & important (not as important as you know, curing cancer as some of them might act sometimes, but important nonetheless), but that doesn’t diminish the value of the things I do…. And if for one second you forget the value of me above your job, think about it like this:  The next time you have a man-cold, and are sick in bed, your producer’s not going to take your temperature, make you a cuppa (cup of tea for those not cursed, er um, blessed, with British husbands) while patting your head saying poor little bunny, and if your priorities aren’t straight… neither will I.  Take to heart the saying “If your wife is happy, your LIFE is happy.”  It couldn’t be truer.

 

Make Time.

In addition to all of the above we make a genuine effort to make time for each other and our family.  Now it doesn’t happen every week, but we truly try.

Tuesdays are for Family Game Night, we do board games usually but sometimes we do family Karaoke.  Pull out the PS2 and battle it out on Sing Star.  We know several gamer families that use Rock Band or Guitar hero for their family game time.

Fridays for Family Movie Night, sometimes the kids pick, and sometimes we like to introduce them to the classics, Back to the Future, Princess Bride, So on and so forth.

And Saturdays, we snuggle up and watch something NOT rated G.  We take turns picking the flicks we watch though mysteriously, it feels like we watch one romantic comedy for every five sci-fi monstrosities.   And, we try to get a date night in every other month, more if we’re lucky.  It’s hard when you live away from family (Also, a good reason to be so chummy with other game dev folk, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours… you watch my kids so I can wear something that doesn’t have snot on it and eat my meal before it’s cold and I’ll do likewise for you)

To my mind the most important piece of making time is this… studios have core hours- and my husband does the best he can to make sure he is in well before core starts so that he comes home at a decent hour.  He makes sure that we get time for family dinners, helps with homework, attends school functions (sometimes, kicking & screaming), makes it to Karate & Basketball practice.  Even if this means getting up at 5 am every day, he does it, and he does it happily because our family is the priority.

I know many of my fellow game-dev widows compromise with family breakfasts.  Husbands who help with the pre-school rush, getting the kids dressed and out the door.  It means a lot to the kiddos to have that quality time.

Other families we know make sure there’s a family activity, friends of ours in Chicago have the older kids participate in fencing with Dad and when the little one is old enough he’ll join in too.

Maybe 5 am isn’t an option for you every day, but maybe if you can adjust your core hours so you can be home just a couple extra times a month to tuck your kids into bed…. Or to make sure your wife is able to get a shower before 10 pm.  It’ll make a HUGE difference in her life.  One way or another, make time for the people who will be there for you long after your current title is on the budget rack at Best Buy with no security wrapping.

 

Know When It’s Time For A Change.

I’m going to keep this bit as short and sweet as I can, because it is my LEAST favorite aspect of this industry.  You know when it’s time to get out, in your heart you know.  It’s sad to leave, it’s hard to pack up and say good bye to friends and family.  It’s scary to embark on new things.  But Longevity is not one of the industries finer qualities.  This last move was particularly difficult on me.  I didn’t want to go, I sulked and whined and I still miss Chicago.  But Seattle is growing on me.  The last straw was when our then six year old started telling people we live in Naperville (burb) Daddy lives in Chicago.  When it gets to that point, you’ve overstayed.

When you’re about to embark on a big change; count on other gamer wives to be your guide.  Join the Facebook group “The Better Halves of Video Game Developers”, these are some amazing ladies who know their stuff, or friend them individually ask about schools, cost of living, neighborhoods, recreation, commute times (they’ll give you an honest answer … No, you can NOT get anywhere in LA in 20 minutes).  No one will understand you quite like another game dev widow.

Ps.  If you just finally got around to unpacking the last box from your last move or you’ve had the audacity to hang pictures on walls, If your husband’s gone without business cards for over a year and they just showed up,  If the holiday season is upon you and something seems not quite right at the studio…. Don’t be surprised if NOW it’s time to go again (that sounded a little jaded… whoops)

 

For Giggles.

A few months back the Game Dev Guys were circling around a note on Facebook called Game Designer Challenge; These were the rules: The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. 15 games you’ve played that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what games my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your 15 picks, and tag people in the note — upper right hand side.)

Andy tagged me in this even though I’m not really a gamer.  I responded to him only and he then took it upon himself to make a note of it and pass it around facebook.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who can chronicles life by the games their husband’s been working on, I hope when you look back on your challenge it brings a smile to your face.

 

Jackie’s Game Designer Challenge.

I’m not going to bother doing this as a note even though you’ve tagged me ‘cause let’s face it… I don’t really game that much

So, here’s my list for you:

THUG 2: The game you were making when we met… ” just wait here in my apartment 😉

THAW: ahhhhh PS3 launch… bye bye husband

GUN: “What’s the name of that pirate game Andy made?”

Guitar Hero 3: Let’s Move to Chicago

Marvel: Spider Pig, Spider Pig Does Whatever A Spider Pig Does

Ride: ‘daddy lives in Chicago we live in Naperville’

Reach: Lets Move to Seattle 6 months Preggo…. but Hellooooo Sanity…. you actually got to, you know be there when the baby was born

 

and now for a game I actuallly played ZUMA: Destroying Joysticks since 2005

 

I hope you all find balance and learn to love, not just tolerate the role of Game Dev Widow.  It’s a crazy life, full of ups and downs, rewards and consequences, but it’s the one we have.  And if you do it right, it’s a whole lot of fun!