To be the designer that I am today, the designer who made Train, I needed to teach. I needed time to consider the power of games with other academic game developers like John Sharp, Ian Bogost, Tracy Fullerton, Drew Davidson, Colleen Macklin, Frank Lantz, Jesper Juul and Geoff Long. I needed the space to focus on games broadly instead of my immediate genre narrowly. I needed to say what I felt was beautiful and compelling and important in design again and again for three years until I really understood what the hell we as game makers had been up to since the 1980s. When you're in the seat and traveling at light speed, it's impossible to see all the ground you've covered with any kind of perspective at all.


It was academia that taught me how to look at what I loved, dissect it, see all it had affected and inspire people to believe in it even when the games were non-traditional, non-commercial and one of a kind. I even wrote a deconstructivist and formal analysis of Doom because I could, and separately, made sure that all my students knew the greatness that was Bill Budge and Dani Berry.

We Hug: The Sequel

Class finishes, and I see students sitting out in the corridor. Another 10 or so aren't leaving class. It's 7:30 on the last day of the quarter. In my days in college, this was a time for abject debauchery at best or a drive home for more of the same at worst. It meant a break from the grind, a release. Instead, these students just stood there, unsure of what to do. I can't think of what to say to disperse them, so I offer, "You want to help me get some stuff to my car?"

We path to my office, the students following me like so many Pikmin, and we collect boxes, dice, games, prototype parts, history books, the shrapnel of the everyday game developer. At my car, the goods loaded, the same group of students continues to stand there. One of them starts to tear up. "You changed my life," she says. "You made me love game design."

It's a critical hit, and it takes me out even now, rounds later.

Somehow, I hold back the tears - sort of - but as they each approach me to say thanks and to give me a hug goodbye, I'm falling apart. The goodbyes done, I get into my car and drive away. Then the tears come. It kills me to see them in the rear view, even though I've left them in awesome hands. It is humbling, a great gift, to change a life in a positive way. I start to full-on sob, and it doesn't stop until I am nearly home. I call my best friend, also a game designer, and I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude, sadness and a love of game design itself that I actually make him cry, too.

In the morning, I put on ripped jeans and a T-shirt to herald my return to game development, then put the car in drive.

We Change

The industry itself is transitioning, as it always has. Years ago, I was concerned that my long history in roleplaying games was dooming me to extinction as a designer. I watched Ultima, Wizardry, Might & Magic and the SSI Gold Box series go down for the count before Blizzard saved the day. Another gaming shift is now occurring, one in which I, as a woman in my 40s, am front and center.

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