A post called Minimum Sustainable Success by Dan Cook has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently and so I read it because people were saying it was good. And it is pretty good, especially if you’re a bit games+money minded – as I am not. It’s a hard look at how you might address and perhaps even mitigate some of the enormous risks and problems involved in getting into the making-a-living end of our beloved videogames.
In there, Dan brings up the “supportive spouse or family” category of game developers and points out that people don’t often “admit” to being in this one, with the idea being that it’s a bit embarrassing, and that it should be talked about more to add perspective to this crazy thing called “how the hell am I supposed to make the games I love and also live at the same time?”
Fortunately I have no shame, and so I’m writing this to represent one data point of the “supportive spouse” crew. Are we legion? I don’t know. I’m definitely one of us, anyway. Hi, here’s my life story (of privilege).
So, I started making games back in 2011, which now actually feels like it’s a little while ago, but this story goes back longer than that because I’ve also been a “writer” with a supportive spouse as well. Basically I have a supportive spouse: her name is Rilla. We met and fell in love and felt generally enthused about each other beginning in 2002. We started and completed PhDs, ending in 2007, and got married at the beginning of 2008, at which point we didn’t know what to do with our lives. Cue supportive spouse mode.
For a year we lived in Ottawa, Canada, where Rilla had a postdoctoral fellowship at Carleton University. We semi-shared that one, two people doing the work of two for the salary of one. It was fun, we didn’t have much money, I started writing about games. Then we both applied for one job at IT University of Copenhagen, both made the shortlist of three, and then Rilla got the job because she is quite literally a better academic than me in every way (hi potential employers!). So we moved to Copenhagen in 2009, with Rilla as the “lead husky”, earning our keep.
Meanwhile, I kept being a writer and published a book that obviously didn’t make any money. I got contract-based teaching work at the university after a little while, which did make quite good money, and so was gainfully, if only partially, employed over that period. Still, Rilla was the one making the major amount of income. This became even more true when she got a new job at the University of Malta (as an associate professor no less!) and my part time work paid rather less than it did in Copenhagen. Now we’re moving to Montréal where I will once again be part time (though less part time) at Concordia University and Rilla will be earning the big bucks as an associate professor again.
Through all of this bucks-earning and not-earning, Rilla has been utterly supportive of me spending truly vast swathes of my time making the kinds of games that I make. You know, the kinds of games that seek to make absolutely no money and succeed at that handsomely. You probably can’t eat critical success, and so thank goodness I don’t have to try. (Way back in the early postdoc days in Canada, in fact, Rila even said she’d support me if I wanted to write a novel for a few years – which was something I wanted to do at that point – it doesn’t get more supportive than that.)
So here I am today, making a weird game version of The Shining in complete financial security, with no need to charge for it (and no need to “compromise” my “vision” for financial reasons), because, at base, I am very, very lucky to be married to a frighteningly talented, motivated, and successful woman, and because we’re both rather lucky to be doing well financially in this life (which in turn is very much due to the “supportive family” element – we lived at home throughout our student lives for example).
So, in short: luck and love and being lucky in love. Can’t beat that for a videogames career plan, right? Off you go.