|Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities #122:
Remember to Breathe
June 5, 2003 - In recent weeks I've seen multiple nuclear families wandering through Berkeley, the twenty-something members garbed in silly black robes that they will never wear again. It's graduation time, and that's made me realize that this is the ten-year anniversary of my leaving UC Berkeley behind and entering the "real world". In the almost exactly ten years that I've been working full-time I've basically had two types of jobs. On the one hand, I've had those jobs that just paid the rent. They were the typical 9-5 trudge where I worked as hard as I needed to in order to get some non-fulfilling work done. My stints at Sun and NASA both fit into this category. On the other hand I've had jobs that truly made be feel fulfilled. Chaosium was one of those jobs. I'm happy to say Skotos, which I've now poured something like four years into, is another.
It's great having a fun, enjoyable, fulfilling job. I would absolutely not make another choice. But good jobs can also really exhaust you in a way that a 9-5 job never would. I want to talk, perhaps briefly today, about the dangers of actually doing something you really enjoy, and specifically the dangers of working at an online game company.
The Dangers of Having Fun
The biggest danger at working anyplace you enjoy is that you're likely to really throw yourself into. As I write these words, it's 10pm on a Wednesday night. That's a pretty common time for me to write these columns. Sometimes, actually, it's later and I find myself literally burning the midnight oil. (Well, OK, I'm not literally burning oil, but I do find myself writing at midnight.)
If I dug out my last paystub, I'd note that my vacation is fully maxed out because I take so little of it. Other than the recent funeral I attended I haven't really taken any time off in the last year and a half.
The thing is, I'm not the typical workaholic. At those 9-5 jobs I used to work, I was without-a-question out the door the instant my clock clicked passed 5 o'clock (or 6, or whatever). Skotos is probably the only company I've ever given this much attention and time to. Here, I really feel a kinship to the games that we produce and to the customers that have joined us. And, in addition, I feel like by giving freely of my time I can actually make a difference, improving the viability of the company for myself, the other employees, the players, and the investors.
More Dangers of Game Companies
I do give Skotos a lot of my time because of those simple facts that I like the company and that I can make a difference. But, there's more. There are a few issues somewhat unique to gaming companies that help suck me in even further.
The first has to do with broadband connectivity. I've got a blazingly fast DSL line coming into my house which keeps me connected to the Internet 24x7 (actually 23.8x7; it's being flaky as I try and upload this article, and that does happy from time to time). One corner of my office is home to a work machine, and it constantly has windows open on some of our games as well as on my IMAP-accessible mailbox. If that tech-jargon all went past to you, the easy translation is this: I can see the troubles, travails, and problems that might be encountered at Skotos any time any day.
If I walk into my office on Saturday at midnight I can quickly assess that a minor error has emerged in some games of Galactic Emperor: Hegemony and if I really want to spend a couple of hours fixing it I can. Or, I can discover new emails from Malaysia, where our newest game, Space Federation, is being coded; if I reply to those in the middle of the night I know they'll be quickly seen, and I'll probably have another reply sitting in my mailbox by morning.
The second danger of a gaming company is that it'll probably be small. I wear a bunch of different hats at Skotos, from business development and marketing to occasional programming. Back when I was working at Chaosium I used to graphically lay out books, edit books, maintain our web page, maintain our computers, and even sometimes answer the phone.
That many hats is implicitly going to take a lot more energy and a lot more time than just going to your 9x5 job at Joe Corporation and doing your singular tasks would.
The point of all this? Working at somewhere that you really enjoy, especially a gaming company, can be a very, very tough job. Infinitely worthwhile? Quite possibly. But it won't just be a lark.
The Dangers of Gaming
I've found one other notable danger working for a gaming company: games aren't always as fun as they used to be.
This might not be the case for everyone, but for me personally it's true. I still do like to game, especially a fun strategy game that I've never tried before. But sometimes, when I get together with my friends for our weekly gaming meet I feel like I'd prefer to sit around and talk.
In addition, some "fun" things that I used to do are somewhat beyond me now. I used to write for lots of different roleplaying magazines, including Valkyrie, Tradetalk, Mythic Perspectives, and The Book of Drastic Resolutions. For that matter, I used to write lots of fictions. I still manage some of both, in fits and starts, but it's much more infrequent now... because it feels a lot like work.
I have a very fun, beautifully creative job that I like a lot, but at the same time it's constrains me from using my creativity in other ways. When I worked 9-5, I could get home by 6, then write about something I really cared about. Now, that's a lot harder, because so much is bound up in what I do for a living.
I don't really have any pithy "lessons learned" to go with my article today. I suppose I want to say that even if you have a terrifically fun job, that it'll still be a job. You might be perfectly thrilled about going into work every morning and I remember it being a revelation that that could be true when I started working for Chaosium but you'll still need to put in your 8 hours (or 10 or 12). And, you should really consider what it'll mean to you to start combining your "fun" with your "job". The lines can get blurry. Your job might be more fun, but in return your fun may be less fun, or your fun may be more job.
I take it back, I do have one pithy lesson learned, imbedded in the title of today's article: Remember to Breathe. Even if you do get that job in the gaming field, you need to take a break sometimes, to smell the roses, to go workout at the gym, to enjoy a vacation in Hawai'i, or whatever. Just because it's fun doesn't mean it's the be-all and end-all of life.
And with that said I'm going to take my own advice and take a breather from this column next week. I'll be back in 14 with some recharged batteries and some fresh energy.
I'll see you then.