Volume #1 Issue 5 December 1987
Many years ago the CEO at Atari referred to the company’s game designers as "high-strung prima donnas". The comment was not meant to be derogatory, but the designers responded with a T-shirt that proclaimed, "I’m just another high-strung prima donna from Atari." Perhaps the CEO was right.
I have known many game designers; they encompass a broad range of personalities. Yet all these disparate people share one common trait: they all sport towering egos. Each one is absolutely certain that his own talents are the purest, truest, most brilliant talents of any game designer in the world. I myself am given to introducing other game designers as, "...the second best game designer in the world."
Why is egotism so rampant among game designers? Is it perhaps the self-indulgence of a pampered elite? I think not. Consider, for example, my own case. Was Chris Crawford spoiled by too much press attention? The fawning masses, the rivers of adulatory prose, the screaming nubile nymphs (OK, so I exaggerate a little!) have all these things gone to my head to make me the hopeless egomaniac I now am? No, a thousand times no! Chris Crawford is too big a man to be spoiled by such trivial things! I was already spoiled long before any of this happened to me. Mine is a mature egomania refined and developed since the day I emerged from the womb and took a bow.
I think that egotism lives in game designers because of a selection effect. Game designers without healthy egos will never achieve as much as their better-endowed colleagues. The egomaniac sets higher goals for himself than he can reasonably expect to achieve. This may sound idiotic, but in a poorly defined field such as game design, it is the stuff of creativity. A civil engineer doesn’t get too experimental with the bridges she designs, because it is easy to reliably calculate what will and what won’t work. But we don’t know as much about computer games. We don’t know where the limits are. So we need these foolhardy egomaniacs who blindly plunge into the darkness, boldly going where no one in his right mind has gone before.
The egomaniac has another gigantic advantage over the more emotionally balanced person. In the darkest hours of a project, when the problems seem overwhelming and there is no rational basis for hope, a reasonable person would start casting about for ways to scale down or even abandon the project. But the egomaniac lies face down in the mud of his own failure and then draws himself up, proclaiming, "I am ze magnificent Crawford! I weel find ze way!" Egotism, of course, takes a back seat to reality, and sometimes he fails; but when he succeeds, it seems like magic to the rest of the world.
There are, of course, liabilities created by egotism. There is the deadly difference between pre-project egotism and post-project egotism. The former serves to inspire the designer to greater heights of achievement. The latter convinces him that he has already scaled those heights. Post-project egotism blinds the designer to the flaws in his work and robs him of the ability to learn and improve.
Then there are the embarrassing consequences of an ego that is foisted on other people. It is one thing to smile inwardly in secret appreciation of your untouchable superiority; it is another thing entirely to tell it to other people. The mature, genteel egomaniac keeps to himself the untold story of his towering intelligence and blinding creativity.
So don’t feel embarrassed by that ego of yours. Go ahead -- stand on the craggy mountaintop, lightning bolts playing about you, head held high as the furious wind hurls rain in your face. Laugh scornfully at the elements that doubt your greatness. Shout lustily into the tempest, "I am ze greatest game designer in all ze universe!"
Then crawl back into your cave and get back to work.