"Working in the game industry" was never an answer until a few years ago. I simply had never thought of it as an option -- probably a product of my growing up in the Dark Ages before programs like Unity and RPG Maker existed -- until a World of Warcraft guildmate who did work in the games industry expressed surprise that I was a 'civilian.' He told me that the way I discussed mechanics and content sounded exactly like the sorts of conversations he'd had with devs at his workplace. (Side note: said guildmate became my stepfather a few years later, because the world is kind of a weird place.)
I loved and, of course, still love video games. I had just gotten laid off from my barista job at a tea shop. I was living in a spare bedroom with my grandparents on the Gulf Coast of Florida, an environment in which I felt terribly out of place. There was nothing to lose by trying, and the more I thought about being involved in actually creating the games I played, the more excited I was at the idea. I sent in over two dozen applications to the industry -- mostly Blizzard, I won't pretend otherwise -- over the span of a year and a half and moved to Southern California to be a more attractive candidate until finally I landed a QA position for inXile's Wasteland 2. In my time there I met some great people and got my first real taste of the industry, but ultimately, Blizzard was still my goal; I'd been playing World of Warcraft since its release originally as a hardcore raider and now dreamt of creating the stories and content I spent so much of my time playing through.
And eventually I got in.
But three years later, I still wasn't doing the work I wanted to do. I was at the right company, but not in the right role or on the right project. I kept trying to move into the type of position I wanted and got devastatingly close a few times, but before I could try again, I started getting sick.
Well, sicker. I'd been unwell for close to a decade with mysterious symptoms that no doctor seemed able to link to a particular disease. Suddenly I was in too much pain to walk between buildings for meetings, getting confused over day-to-day tasks like crossing the street or getting ready in the morning, exhausted all the time no matter how much sleep I got, frequently incapacitated by stomach attacks... the list went on and on. When it started interfering with my ability to do my job, something had to be done. I ended up with a diagnosis of Sjogren's Syndrome and probable fibromyalgia on top of my existing IBS and complex PTSD. It's not fatal, but it increases my risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke, as well as seriously affecting my quality of life. On top of everything else, I'd gone through a divorce and later started a relationship where I gained not only a loving partner but two fantastic kids. It was enough to make anyone re-evaluate their priorities.
So I did.
I wasn't happy. I hadn't been happy for a long time. And I didn't have the strength or the will to keep fighting my way down that particular path towards fulfillment. We live in a society that stresses production as a means to determine worth -- if you can't produce according to arbitrary standards of what you 'should' be doing, you're a failure. This thinking is so damaging and so wrong that it hurts my heart to even consider how far past the point of sanity I'd pushed myself and my fragile health, all out of the fear of not being good enough in other people's eyes. I was supportive of my friends who were starting their own businesses, focusing on their art, staying at home with their families, or taking care of themselves due to their own medical crises; why couldn't I extend myself that same understanding and courtesy?
Answer: I totally could. I just had to rewire my brain a little in the process, but I finally got the courage to walk towards a life of fulfilling my own passions and principles, not the ones forced on me by others.
I realize that in the eyes of many I'm walking away from a dream job. There's a recurring passage in The Devil Wears Prada I'm reminded of -- the protagonist, Andrea Sachs, has landed a job as an assistant to an elite fashion editor who ends up being a complete nightmare to work with. No matter how badly she's struggling or how unreasonable the request given to her by her boss, the people she talks to keep telling her "A million girls would kill for your job" because they're so blinded by the flash and panache they can't see her burden.
The question becomes -- now what? Well, the sky's the limit:
- Go back to streaming, both for myself and for charities like Extra Life (I hope to participate this year!)
- Finish the final editing pass of my novel and publish it
- Write a bunch of cheesy, partially dirty romance novels I've always wanted to try writing... and publish them, much to my mother's chagrin
- Take the time I need to make sure I'm caring for myself so that I can take care of the people important to me -- my family
- Write for sites like The Mighty and others supporting causes I care about
- Travel as much as possible
- Focus on learning more about the subjects that interest me -- including going back to school, should the opportunity ever arise
- Develop my own game
- Pick back up with needlepoint and crochet as my joints allow and reopen my Etsy store
- Keep exploring to find out what else I might want to do next
And that's just off the top of my head! I have the opportunity to do the things I love and experiment a little bit. I was always happiest working for myself. Of course, there are risks, but they've been weighed out and accounted for very carefully, so I'm doing it.
My official last day at Blizzard is June 30th. I've encountered so many amazing people and I'm glad I got the chance to be here, but I'm thrilled to be looking to the horizon for my next adventure.