The Importance of Community – 11/2/12

Published on Friday, November 2nd, 2012

The Importance of Community

Guest blog by Jonathon Myers, Narrative Designer for Game of Thrones Ascent by Disruptor Beam

Jonathon Myers at the 2012 Boston Festival of Indie Games

Due to recent events — the closing of 38 Studios and Zynga Boston, layoffs at Turbine, and the impossible-to-miss purchase of LucasArts by Disney — the prospect of working in the games industry must be scary to those considering it as a career. It may appear unstable, which is partially true… Our dependency on technology means massive disruptions on a semi-regular basis. People speculate: Are MMO’s dead? Is the Facebook game audience shrinking? Should everyone drop everything and invest in mobile? What’s going on with that OUYA thing anyway? I won’t pretend to know the answers. What I do know is that in the midst of all disruption and change, a member of the game development industry can look to one thing that ties it all together: community.

We have an incredible game development community here in Massachusetts. For the sake of reference, I’m listing many of my favorite meetups below. I’m sure there are many more. Game development or tech innovation events take place a couple times a week most weeks out of the year. If you have a T-pass, you have access to a network and the local exchange of larger ideas. At a time when most headlines would lead one to believe that opportunities are sparse, attending these events will show you that there is a strong community looking out for each other with jobs and opportunities shared as announcements. Participating in a conversation and exchanging cards at these events is often a great way to find employment and sometimes better than anonymously emailing an HR department. At these events you can also obtain knowledge of industry trends the same as you would from studying a trade publication. Panels gather to showcase industry talent as they discuss relevant topics and current events. Local companies will share their findings and offer up postmortem lectures so that others can learn from both their mistakes and successes. Game development meetups in Boston function like a migratory agora.

I’m very proud to be a part of the Boston game development community and I speak up about this all the time to narrative design peers at the typical annual conferences. When I first decided to put my creative skills to use in making games, I met one person to start out. It was Darius Kazemi, the head of Boston Postmortem at the time. It turns out that Darius was a great person to meet. He learned my name and my interests as a writer and introduced me to people. As I began to attend Boston Postmortem more often, people would come up to me and ask, “Hey, you’re the one interested in narrative, right? Darius said I should talk to you!” I also met Scott MacMillan, who founded an independent game developer movement in this area with other devs like Ichiro Lambe and Eitan Glinert. Ditto with Alex Schwartz and Elliott Mitchell, founders of the Boston Unity Group. I could keep going with this in an attempt to map out more of the scene with which I’m the most familiar, but I think you get my point. By investing time and effort in community events, I quickly learned about the industry I wanted to join from the people in the trenches. I listened to advice and found mentors. I witnessed as the people I came to know tried new things. I observed trends and met co-collaborators at game jams for side projects in order to try out new things. Most importantly, I quickly became part of a large-scale exchange of ideas. I blinked my eyes and everything had changed. I was suddenly one of the people working on projects, building products, and taking the time out to share my experiences at a meetup.

It is very true that circles rise together. The people that you know now will be growing and moving into different positions year after year. If you establish relationships, give to each other, and put time into your community, it will come back to you later. Not only will community participation help you to grow your career, but you’ll also find that a grounded community will be there for you when a disruption occurs or a company goes under. Which will happen. It always happens. But the community remains, tying it all together.

Recent news and the subsequent reaction of this community to those events has brought back to my mind a poem titled Desiderata. It was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927. Here’s the part that keeps coming to mind:

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Game Developer Meetups in Metro-Boston:

Boston Game Jams http://bostongamejams.com/

Boston Indies http://www.bostonindies.com

Boston Unity Group http://www.meetup.com/B-U-G-Boston-Unity-Group/

Indie Game Collective http://www.indiegamecollective.org/

International Game Developers Association (IGDA – Boston)  www.bostonpostmortem.org

New England Games SIG http://negamessig.com/

Women in Games Boston http://wigboston.wordpress.com/

And, of course, MassDiGI http://www.massdigi.org

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