Thursday, May 20, 2010

Census Week continues:
A memory from my last office job.

I've done a few interesting things in my life. There is a small number of people who are interested in my time in a synthesizer band in the 1980s. A somewhat larger number of people will happily listen to stories about my four day stint on Jeopardy! Among my students, there is more interest still in my career writing video games, which many young people think is the coolest job in the world.

Students are mystified as to why I would quit such a terrific gig. I explain that it is in general a young man's game, and the allure of working long hours without any extra pay wears thin after a while, and the companies can always find some one else, usually somebody young and less experienced, to do the job a mature person finds onerous.

Working for the census, some of the data entry is kind of like programming in that there are two levels of errors. The simplest level is math errors, like the number of hours worked when entered from start to end times not adding up to the total. Once those errors are fixed, a batch of payroll requests is saved and the next error level is reported on, checking to see if other time sheets from the same people either have overlapping hours worked or demand overtime. There's a whole rigmarole for people asking for overtime.

This reminded me of programming. The first level of errors are like spelling mistakes, but there are also logic mistakes that the compiler will catch. What makes programming more challenging than mere data entry is the next level, where you have to check if the program you have written that now is free from spelling and simple logic mistakes actually does what is says it will do.

To this day, I enjoy programming. Making the computer do stuff is fun and getting it to do it exactly correctly or making the output pretty or useful is a challenge.

I can even enjoy data entry, especially if I can see there is an end to it and I know what the payoff will be. For example, the research I did about the mortality rates for pro football players and pro baseball players compared to the general public was an enjoyable way to spend two weekend afternoons, with the bonus of debunking an unsubstantiated claim from the Internet.

But the work at the census, while not as interesting as programming, reminded me of why I didn't want to write video games any more. When Castle Wolfenstein and its ilk became a major game genre, I lost interest in a big way. They are called first person shooters in the jargon of the biz, and I hate them with a white hot hate. I am in no way exaggerating when I say I prefer data entry to playing games like Grand Theft Auto. I will actually volunteer to do data entry to answer a question that interests me. I won't play GTA for love or money.

I'm not some weird pixel pacifist who won't play a violent video game. I loved Defender and Robotron 2084. I helped write Road Rash II, for pity's sake. But when the first person shooter became the dominant genre, my days in the business were numbered and I'm happy I left to do something I actually consider useful.

1 comment:

ken said...

Be assured that at least one of your readers completely, totally, to the bottom of his soul, understands your feelings about video game development.

(Verification word "resties". Seems like it should really be a word.)