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The Designer's Notebook: Passion Versus Professionalism
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The Designer's Notebook: Passion Versus Professionalism

October 25, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

Read a few dozen game recruitment ads, and you'll soon notice that most of them say they're looking for people with a passion for games. It sounds very enthusiastic and romantic and fun. The ads go on and on about how much passion the employees at the company have, and how they're looking to employ people who are just like them! "Wow!" says the naïve young modder in his bedroom. "I have passion! That's for me!"

Industry recruitment ads say this because they're hoping to attract starry-eyed innocents who just love games. Many game companies depend for their survival on the exploitation of starry-eyed innocents. Ideally, of course, they would like to find highly-experienced starry-eyed innocents, but there ain't no such animal -- you can be innocent or you can be experienced, but not both, as William Blake observed.

"Passion" is an excuse used by employers to mistreat their employees. Your passion is supposed to make up for the insane hours and low pay for which the industry is notorious. Many job ads emphasize the importance of passion in applicants; few emphasize the quality of life that the employer offers.

How many of them talk about their on-site child care, their whole-family insurance plans, or their generous vacation policies? None. They're all assuming the reader is a young single male with no interest in family life, and ideally, no interest in taking any vacation.

This practice does a disservice both to the innocents and, if they would only realize it, to the human resources people who have to sort through the job applications. It encourages everyone who has a passion for video games, regardless of their skills as a developer, to apply. This means that large numbers of people get unrealistic hopes and send in resumes for jobs they're not qualified for, and the HR people have to dig through them all.

Let's talk about what passion is good for, and what it isn't. Passion is a burning, ungoverned desire or other emotion, such as anger. In its extreme form, it's really obsession, and that's never good. When cultivated intentionally, passion is a form of self-indulgence. It feels nice, but by itself, it isn't necessarily creative or reliably productive, and it has nothing to do with talent.

Art requires passion. True art comes from the soul, and the artist must believe passionately in what she does. Someone who makes passionless art is a hack. Art also requires passion because art is even more badly compensated than the game industry is.

The game industry doesn't produce works of art for the most part, and for every visionary who insists on following her own dream regardless of where it leads, the industry needs about 200 worker bees who actually make the products that sell.

Peter Molyneux gets a lot of credit for being an industry visionary, but he's not the one who writes the code or models the landscapes. The vast majority of the people in the industry don't get a choice about what to work on.

The company says, "We need a new driving game for 2014, and you're going to do the wheels and mufflers." You can do it or get fired. There's a lot of grueling donkey-work in game development, especially at the lower levels.


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