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Go and Brush Your Shoulders Off: You Can Design Awesome Games. I Promise.

by Jordan Pailthorpe on 07/08/13 01:55:00 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.


Growing up many of us are told we can be anything we want to be. As we age, those opportunities begin to dwindle and diminish. By the time college rolls around the career paths are paired with caveats:

Do something where you will make money

Don’t take out massive loans for humanities because they won’t give you any credible skillsets

Maybe you could join the military? At least that’s a stable decently paid job


I always thought I wouldn’t be able to make games despite my ever present love for the medium. My dream of designing was always prefaced with a maybe, a signal that showed I was unsure of my ability to follow through with actually developing a moving piece of interactive software. Eventually the dream died altogether, crushed by the weight of responsibility and cultural pressure.

In college, after one creative writing class, I was swimming in doubt over my choice to pursue a liberal arts education in writing. Not only writing, but creative writing. Not only creative writing, but poetry. “What the hell are you going to do with a degree in poetry” I would hear my cultural contemporary devils say while perched upon my shoulder. Eventually those demons were silenced. I put everything I had into my English degree, culminating in an acceptance to Emerson College’s MFA program where I currently study poetry at the graduate level. I might not have a direct plan or career path that will net me incredible financial security, but at the least I can say with pride that I am a writer.

Well, what about games? If I was able to work hard enough to claim the title of writer, why not game designer? Why was I still doubting myself?

The barriers that are placed on the game design industry are tremendous. Many teens and young adults still feel they are not qualified to create games. You need to be a skilled programmer or a really good artist to “break into the industry.”

Thankfully, with the help of the Emerson Engagement Gamelab and Learning Games Network, I realized that’s bullshit.

I remember walking into the Gamelab for the first time last September a couple weeks after starting my graduate program at Emerson. On a whim I decided to attend a meet and greet where anyone could stop by to play Max Payne 3 and critically discuss the game over pizza. We passed the controller around the room, playing a little, talking a little, and getting an introduction to what the game was doing to us as players in a critical fashion. I had a good time and the space was inviting, but I still felt I had no entry point into the lab, no excuse to continually show up after this event was over. That’s when I approached Eric Gordon, the director of the gamelab, and somewhat embarrassingly asked if there was anyway someone like me, with no experience or skills, could get involved with the gamelab.

I won’t romanticize the story and say he gave me an inspirational pat on the shoulder telling me I could do anything I set my mind to. He simply ignored my own self-loathing not seeming to care about what qualifications I had or dwell on the things I didn’t know. Instead he quickly introduced me to my now good friend and colleague Wade. Wade was in the process of gathering a team to create an alternate reality game. He needed writers to help flesh out the narrative. I was in. It was that moment when I realized “I can do this.”

I’m still working hard on breaking myself into these magic circle of game design. Though I’ve assisted with design and writing on quite a few projects over the past year, I’ve never completed anything that I feel I can say “this is mine, I made this, look what I created.” I told myself back in September that within the year I would have at least one game that I can show off and say “I made this from the ground up.” Molyjam was offering me a reasonable excuse to fufill this goal and so I packed my backpack and spent the weekend in Boston.

This past weekend at MIT was a hell of a ride. I developed a game, primarily as a game writer and game designer. It might not be the best game, but it’s mine and it’s a start. All I needed was a little push, a little confidence, and a whole lot of creativity.

At Game for Change this past year, Leigh Alexander talked about the need for democratizing the game design process and advocating for the idea that anyone who feels they want to make a game should be encouraged to do so. There is no reason why anyone who wants to get their hands in game development, even if they think they are not qualified or not smart enough to become qualified, should be discouraged from doing so. I am hoping everyone who doubts themselves will come to that same realization I did, attend a gamejam with confidence, and tell the little devil living on their shoulder that his doubts are nothing but bullshit.


It might be cliché, but if I can do it, anyone can. 

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