Yesterday, I learned that the first game studio I ever worked for shut down.
Admittedly, I’ve been paying little attention to Telltale’s output over the last several years. I stopped buying their games around the time their incredibly mediocre Back to the Future adaptation came out, though I did once get to present a trophy to some of my former co-workers when their critically acclaimed zombie game won awards at GDC.
But back in 2006, as a young computer science student with
an obsession with a special interest in point-and-click adventure games from the nineties, working for Telltale, the new studio where the people who used to work on adventure games at LucasArts all went, was kind of a dream job. So, I cold-emailed asking for an internship, showing off a game I made for fun back in high school, and they were impressed enough with my enthusiasm that they actually hired me.
I still remain rather fond of that time in my life, living away from my family for the first time all the way out in California, learning to make games among smart people I admired and actually getting paid to do it. I sometimes miss the idealistic kid I was back then, and often wonder where they went.
I know the answer, of course. I grew up. I learned that getting paid to make games meant having your passion used as a means to justify your exploitation, that if you truly loved games, you were supposed to stay late at the office every day and not have other interests or social obligations. I learned that the reason there weren’t a lot of people like me working in games was because anyone who didn’t perform a particularly toxic variant of straight cis white maleness got pushed out. That all the so-called “diversity initiatives” in games meant nothing except maybe as a way to figure out how to sell games to middle-aged housewives in addition to adolescent boys.
And it wasn’t Telltale that abused me enough to push me out of game industry work for good, but they did abuse a friend of mine, who came in just as eager and passionate as I had been and left severely depressed and blacklisted from the industry.
It’s true that I’ve managed to bounce back, finding alternative employment in game-adjacent digital media fields, in independent and contract work, and now, in academia. But everything feels so precarious in a way it didn’t used to back when I was so much younger and the world seemed full of possibility. I’m more aware than ever that this possibility space is shrinking at an increasingly alarming rate. Getting a job is no longer a dream so much as a way to buy time.
I hope it goes without saying, but I wish for those affected by Telltale’s closing, as well as anyone else who’s lost their job recently, to recover and bounce back as well.
As for myself, I’m holding out hope for unionization as a way to make working conditions in games better for everyone. And hey, if it means I might be able to work at a game studio again someday, all the better.