Of Role-Models and Dreams
People often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. At the proper age, a knee-jerk “Astronaut” or “Firefighter” or “Horse-riding ballerina-princess” might be returned, with a gleeful grin.
But as the respondent’s age increases, the question makes less and less sense. To render an answer to “What do you want to be” becomes an exercise in blurring what the respondent is thinking, in order to fit the question. See, the proper question becomes “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
When someone asks you the “What” question, and you think “Steven Spielberg”, you mentally reduce the resolution of that answer to the fuzzier version: “A director.” But deep down, you keep wishing to be like that person.
On a coplanar and intersecting tangent, Gabe & Tycho from Penny Arcade recently did something really stupid. See, when they received a review copy of the recent Nintendo DS game Orcs & Elves, they found that it also came with a Nintendo DS, actual and whole. Tycho had this to say about it:
We didn’t even open the thing. If you have been doing this for almost a decade, as we have, you develop a very comprehensive and far reaching cynicism that applies to anything that a company sends you. We arm ourselves in this way because we think it will make us deliver you a more robust assessment of the medium. Also, we are assholes. Professionally.
So, believing it to be equivalent to their own well-loved DSes, they offered it as a prize in a recent contest, and sent it out in the mail a few days ago. As it happens, however, the DS was signed by the game’s chief developer, who had been attempting to donate it to raise funds for Penny Arcade’s charity Child’s Play, which endeavors to bring video games to hospitalized kids and make their stays easier. As Tycho concludes,
He used his position to secure something incredible for the charity, and believed that I would be literate enough to read the enclosed letter. He was wrong.
Now, the locus of these two threads: the game designer in question is, much to my surprise, John Carmack. This is the man that co-founded id Games, and wrote Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom, and Commander Keen, the very games on which I cut my teeth. But what I found most interesting is the fact that, in the midst of reading Tycho’s post about this signed DS, after he revealed the existence of this object, but before he revealed its fate, I was consumed with an urge to track down any sign of it and find pictures or some other evidence of this item’s existence. Why, you ask? So that I might salivate in admiration of such a thing.
See, in the past, I had idly considered how my answer to the above-mentioned questions would be this man, who established the FPS genre as we know it. But somewhere along the way, I have come to genuinely idolize him. The idea of not only setting the bar for an entire generation of games, but then being the only one to effectively rise above that bar, consistently, is so appealing I can hardly verbalize it.
To put it another way, I would be happy to make video games a tenth as successful as his.
But deepening this worshipfulness is my recent discovery (during the research phases for my Money and Space posts) that he is an active contributor to the field of civilian space exploration with his company Armadillo Aerospace.
So, to review, this guy kick-started the first-person shooter genre, got pretty wealthy doing so, has continued to do work in the computer gaming field (including discovering a rendering technique that bears his name), while taking his wealth and plowing it back into the pursuit of outer space. Can you blame me for liking him?
And if he’s reading this, given that he is known to be active around the intertubes, I just hope he realizes that I realize it hasn’t been all lollipops and bubble gum, but it sounds like it’s been a fun ride.