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The Homeless Game Developer: Week 1

by Jonathan Neves on 10/11/17 09:48:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Something funny happened on the way to Texas, I ended up not going. Not for lack of trying, I had absolutely all intentions of going to Austin Texas and staying there for the long haul or the partial haul. But leading up to my trip, in general, I hit a bit of a snag, at least at the time I thought it was a snag, but thinking about it now, I had money, I still have enough money that regardless of the cost of gas or food, I could have made it. I could be in Austin right now, typing this blog. Probably not in the same situation that I find myself in, but I'd be there more broke than I am now, so hindsight and all.

I began my journey about mid-day on Monday morning Oct. 2nd, 2017. For those of you paying attention, that's the morning after the Mandalay Bay Mass shooting. We were enjoying my farewell BBQ at my place with some good neighbors and awesome friends the night before and then we saw the flash news of it happening and we were all shocked and scared that loved ones might be there. My neighbor was relieved because she initially was planning on going to the concert with another friend. Without knowing the specifics of anything that had happened the night before I kept my sights on what was in front of me as this was affecting me for the foreseeable future, but at the time, other than the feeling of excitement and fear, I may have felt a bit of foreboding without knowing exactly why. I packed my car with everything that I really didn't want to sell or give away as well as everything that I might need in case of catastrophic emergency including and I'm knocking on wood as I write this, nuclear disaster because I don't know if you've been paying attention but it's hard not to. I felt ready enough or at least competent enough to handle anything that may come my way and I yearned for it, finally, a change was about to take place and after my farewell's I was on the road again.

The first leg of my trip was to take me to Austin Texas. I had applied to multiple positions in the area, for various developers, both small and large. Some positions I knew were going to be perfect for me both by qualifications and passion for the projects each developer was known for. But as I started to make my way towards that destination I started to get responses from Austin and they were all leaning towards rejection. Fuck, not again, that same old sting from an employer before they even meet me. I had made it as far as Flagstaff, AZ when the sun started to set, I thought it would be a good idea to set up camp and sleep through the night and continue my trip in the morning, but I guess with all the problems of wildfires during the summer, campfires were not allowed in the area at any campsite. So I parked at a nearby gas station, bundled up in my vehicle, crammed myself in a very uncomfortable position and did my best to fall asleep.

In the morning I awoke to find other people had the same idea as I and a very nasty cough in my throat. I also received more email responses from Austin and nothing was looking good enough for me there. With no real prospects that I would be heading towards or any social support systems in the area I could count on, I changed directions and made the decision to go towards San Diego instead. At least there I had friends that may be able to help me and there were no current responses from any applications I had made, I figure the only choice to make to save myself cost and time was to go somewhere else. I messaged my friends in San Diego that I'd be coming much earlier than planned and started on my way through Arizona.

Despite my cough turning into a feverish cold, the desert didn't happen to change my outlook on the environments that I'd be happy to live in. Phoenix is a happy place, I recalled reading an article about climate change that would effectively make Phoenix uninhabitable by 2050 from just the rising temperatures. I'm so sick of the desert, from Iraq to Victorville to Las Vegas, given the choice to live somewhere I want grass again and even snow in the winter. I stopped for food and expressed my first signs of despair for my adventure to my mother over the phone. Whoever says familial and social support isn't required or necessary in times of crisis or doubt, never faced any real crisis. After a quick pep talk, I was back on the road. That was an interesting journey to San Diego, it came very close to the border with Mexico multiple times, it was hot as you might expect and uncomfortable. I also unfortunately murdered a hell of a lot of yellow butterflies, I felt pretty bad about that, but they were all in my path on the interstate and their corpses litter my radiator grill, sorry butterflies.

A few miles outside of San Diego, I finally get a response from my friend in the city. It's not the happiest news, but what could I really expect at this point. Since I was arriving two weeks earlier than expected, he couldn't accommodate me as he already had another friend staying with him. With night approaching and with no desire to sleep in my vehicle again, I went looking for another campsite, one where I could light a fire and stay warm and contemplate my next move before attempting to sleep the entire night through. I found one, a site where I could do all those things. If only I didn't arrive 15 minutes too late to register and was locked out of the park area. Getting even more sick and tired of looking for another suitable place to sleep for the night, I parked my truck on the side of the road, crammed myself into it again and tried to cough myself to sleep. I don't know exactly what time it was, but the rattle on the window woke me up. A police officer I assume was just doing his job was at the driver's side, he motioned me over and told me in a stern voice, "you can't sleep here, you need to move on or I'll have to cite you". "Sure thing officer," I said as I slowly made my way to the wheel and started the engine. "Don't make me come around here again." "I heard you, I'm moving." Not wanting to even attempt to go further into the city and earn more harassment, I started driving north into the country to a small town called Julian where I found a small market and family restaurant. I parked at the small town shops and passed out again, this time without interference. 

When I awoke again I had another decision to make. I wasn't too far away from San Diego, I could head back in that direction and patiently wait for some correspondence from the few developers I applied to or I could continue north towards Los Angeles where I had lots of applications completed and plenty of friends to count on. I sure didn't want to be harassed again by San Diego police, especially since I'm so much more use to Los Angeles police harassment, why take that pleasure away from LAPD. I also have this OCD issue with driving back through places I've already been. If I'm ultimately heading in one direction, I don't see the necessity of turning around and retreading old ground. Unless of course, I get a job at one of those locations. I would happily drive with reckless abandonment to the open position that I'm guaranteed to get. I decided to continue towards Los Angeles, it's more familiar to me as I use to live there, I have a lot more social support there and I knew of locations in the city to sleep at without harassment. What was planned to take at least 16 days to arrive following other locations only took me 3 days and once again because I arrived too quickly, I couldn't rely on the help of friends because they all had other plans or people to take care of. So once again I was forced to cramp into my car for the night, heavily sick from my cold and sleep, worried that at any time during the night, police would be knocking on my window or at worst just tow me right into the impound.

Hopelessness, despair, regret, any of these are a disease and can spread pretty quickly unless mitigated. On the morning of my third day in Los Angeles, after sleeping in my truck at Veteran's Park in Culver City I wasn't exactly in the highest of spirits. I'm humble enough to admit if I've made a mistake in my calculations and I did make a few mistakes before I left. I didn't have easy access to my resume so I basically cut off my own legs to any employment, not just game development but also regular jobs that could help me survive. Fortunately, one of the members of my development team had it on hand and placed it in my dropbox, that's one problem down. The other major issue that I failed to prepare for is the follow-up to the various recruiters involved in the hiring process, had I done that instead of driving everywhere first I may have had a better estimate as to where to go for employment instead of wandering around aimlessly. Also, having my mind to myself for so long without any type of distractions or good news started to weigh on me so much that I expressed a desire to go back, to give this whole thing up, to even give up game development entirely.

Warren Spector once told me that this industry chews up and spits people out, it's not for everyone. People will look at the end product and say "I love playing video games, I should do that for a living", trust me, you really shouldn't. It really is not for everyone, just pick your controller back up and keep playing, go back to your regular job, because game development is not for you. Thank you, friends, and especially to my mother, for motivating me to keep on task. She says to me, "you would hate yourself, you would fill yourself with regret if you gave this up now. If you go back to Nevada... if you give up this career that I know you love and that you're really good at, you'll look at this and wonder why you didn't persevere. You never give up on anything, if there's a chance to succeed, you never give don't. Go find support where you know they will give it to you, where they really won't have a choice, unlike friends who can turn you away. I believe in you and I know you believe in your abilities, so get off your ass and do something about it."  That's all I needed, enough support to get me moving again. I b-lined it straight to the main Veteran's Affairs building in Los Angeles and after a brief consultation was placed in the Hollywood Veteran's Center for assisted housing and board. That's where I am now, where I'm typing this blog from. I'm living amongst 46 other veteran's having a tough time of it getting employment or affording to house, but we're all given assistance to put us back on the path and I'll be using every advantage or tool in their arsenal to help me follow-up on my applications so I don't end up on the street again or at the very least, prepare myself for the next leg of the trip. 

Something else I want to note about this week. Before I had that conversation with my Mom and before I drove up to the VA buildings. A white van pulled up next to me and a girl started rustling around with the doors open. I introduced myself as a fellow free spirit to which she replied happily. Her name was Tia, a 19-year-old college student who was living out of her van for a year. She expressed the enjoyment she had for being free, free from rent and financial pressures, she came from a family of means and was enjoying the life of a surfer girl, watching concerts, getting high, etc. I asked if she was ever harassed by police, and of course, she was, mostly for petty things, but also for going to the bathroom on other people's lawn and minor drug offenses. She never spent a night in jail but she could always come up with a viable excuse to get out of the situations she found herself in. I asked her if she wanted to live this way as long as she could, she expressed no desire to follow civilized norms I guess you could call it that, but she really couldn't be sure as time goes on. What stood out of this was that she sought this life out, to be homeless, but millions of people in the city may not even have a choice in the matter. If rent in the city goes up 5%, it's estimated that 2000 more people will be homeless and the rent has been going up every month for the past year. Los Angeles is also dealing with a Hepatitis B outbreak amongst its homeless population and if this trend continues, we're looking at similar problems in cities all up against the Pacific coast. This is not the life for me, I have no intentions of making a homeless life my norm and with renewed vigor, I won't.

Next week should be interesting, at least enough for me to have a better grasp on what I may be able to accomplish while in this program. Stay tuned.

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