Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: A Love Letter to Video Games

Erin Hoffman | 11 Jul 2008 21:00
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Well, nearly a year has passed, and this column is winding down. It was an experimental undertaking, and perhaps it's because I feel enormously privileged to have had this opportunity with The Escapist that I am also feeling the need to close on a high note.

One of the most difficult things about discussing "quality of life", as any advocate will tell you, is that it means something different to every person you ask abaout it. That sense of 'quality' is elusive; it's a huge Katamari composed of all kinds of factors from physical and mental health to a sense of fulfillment, creativity, challenge, camaraderie, innovation, security, investment, meaning - all in different measures depending on the particular alchemy of one's personality. It's a moving target, and it's hard to hit.

Perhaps one of the most abstract, but most addressable, discussion points, then, is what we do like about this crazy business. Geeks in general tend to have a cynical outer shell, usually to hide a hidden idealist from the brutalities of the outer world, so it can be a challenging conversation to start. But an important one.

Most importantly, we need to remember why we're here.

Why I Love Gamers

In 2004, I almost left the industry. I was in final round interviews with Qualcomm, in fact. After Black9 (and after Shadowbane, which is another story), I was exhausted and disillusioned. My simple anger painstakingly fermented into a robust and complex beast suckled on office politics, publisher extortion, and plain old-fashioned ineptitude. But most importantly, I was out of cash and needed a job. I had less than five years' full time experience and the industry was going through a dry spell. But before Qualcomm finished its hiring process, my husband Lan got the job at EA; the fate that led us to Los Angeles was as simple as their hiring speed exceeding the telecom giant's.

The rest is history. After EA, I would have been well and truly done if it weren't for one thing: the gaming community.

When I wrote the ea_spouse essay it would have been simplicity itself for the community to ignore it, to respond with disillusionment, or apathy. It would have been as easy as inaction.

But they didn't. You didn't. Gamers - and make no mistake, this response came from the game fan community, not from developers - called newspapers, forwarded links, posted blogs, banged on doors. The developer community whispered it faster than the public did, passed it more rapidly; but the fan community acted. I did nothing; I posted one link to the essay on the "gamedevelopers" community on livejournal (which at the time was composed largely of students; in 2004 it had 350 members, and today has about 870), and then I let it go.

I think subconsciously I was testing the community. I wanted to see what would happen. I needed to know if anyone cared.

And they did. They cared a lot. It took less than 36 hours for the LA Time to call, and that call was a direct result of another phone call made by a fervently infuriated gamer.

Gamers have bigger hearts than they'd like to admit. And they have far more power than they know.

That's why I'm still here.

The Tribe

Gamers are a fractious lot; it's hard to figure out what it is that unites us as a community. For one thing, most of us are flat-out too smart for our own good, and as a result, dairy cows are, by and large, happier creatures. Give them grass and sun and water and they're good to go.

Not so, gamers. Gamers need to be challenged, and this persistent pursuit of challenge is the essence of heroism.

When we philosophically inspect the roots of thematic resonance in videogames as a whole, what we find is active heroism. We find epic storytelling and high adventure, the brave defending the innocent and the righteous overthrowing the corrupt. I assert that this is more than the inevitable propagation of a simple mechanic (Defender taken to the nth level); it is the essence of a generation, the essence of a subculture.

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