Why We Fight

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Part 1 of 1, by Adam Miller

My long and rambling hobby as a modder began to spite my wife.

I had heard of Neverwinter Nights, and started to get excited as I had long loved playing with “Build Your Own Adventure” type games. I was busy writing dialog, making maps, and generally getting ready for my first module. We were at my in-law’s house and my mother-in-law asked, “What’s Adam doing?” “Something he’ll never finish,” my wife dryly replied.

From that moment, I redoubled my efforts. Even before the game was out, I had planned out every map, all the dialog, and much of the scripting. Once released, I frantically built five modules in nine months, then immediately jumped into Dreamcatcher. I was hooked.

I loved bringing characters and a story to life. Pushing the edge of what was possible with the game was maddening and wonderful. When the awards, magazine articles, and job offers poured in, I was all aglow. I watched the ratings of my earlier modules carefully, cringing at every low score. Now I was vindicated, proof that my talent and hard work was finally recognized.

As I finished Dreamcatcher and moved on to Demon, something funny happened. It became work. I spent endless hours removing the sparkly seams between tiles. I would slog through bugs, write apologetic e-mail to people who didn’t like my story, and play tech support to every player in the world. I still had fun creating the story, though the excitement had waned, especially working away without a release for a year.

People continued to play my modules, and the e-mails continued to trickle in. I got very good at writing a “glad you appreciated it” response. Still, some would come in that gave me pause.

There were a couple letters from soldiers stationed in war zones, my game being a bright moment in an otherwise dreary and tense life. I had one from a man who had lost both parents. I befriended a woman dying of cancer, who told me her husband laughed for the first time in a long while when they played together. She gave me the line “This one’s for Skippy the cabin boy!” There were others, each finding some measure of joy and control in a life that was often bleak and unfair.

I still make games because it’s fun, and love creating characters and situations that range from moving to hysterical. Most of the people who play will enjoy themselves for a few hours and move on to the next pastime. Yet I often think of the people who need games, a palliative against the madness of life. When I’m knee-deep in debugging code, I remember those few, and hope my offerings bring them some small peace.

I was lucky to be involved with Dragon Age early, attending the builder’s event up in Edmonton. Already plans are forming, my notebook filling with scribbles of maps and dialog. Last night I made my second cutscene, the player stepping out of a mirror and looking about in wonder. I felt that familiar excitement welling up, the lure of mystery and promise of adventure.

This one’s for Skippy.

Adam Miller does not work for BioWare despite their efforts to change that state of affairs but he did train for years to become a biology teacher, then fled in terror after facing his first class. Falling back on his hobby, he ended up working as a programmer and getting involved with web technology back when management through it was a fad. In his free time, he builds robots with his son, plays ninja with his daughter, and knocks off the occasional Neverwinter Nights module.