The World Behind the Curtains

I have not Googled my books in years, but after watching Oprah's speech at the Golden Globes, I decided to see if anyone still cared about the work I did. I chanced upon an interview with The Minds Behind the Games author Patrick Hickey Jr. who mentioned my first book Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play. He was asked to compare his book with mine.

RetroGaming Books: Compared to Gamers at Work by Morgan Ramsay, what makes Minds Behind the Games different?

Hickey: I love Ramsay's book. But it's all pioneers in the industry. There are no "bad" games featured. Or cult games. And zero indie titles. My book takes pieces of every single genre, has developers from all over the world and several female developers. I don't think there is one featured in GAW. All lend their voice to the discussion.

If you're like me and in your 30s, this book touches on nearly every stage of your life, your childhood with the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System, to today with the PlayStation 4. Several of the games featured in my book have large communities of gamers that love and hate them but don't know why. Some of the games featured in my book you may not know, but you’ll run to after reading.

So, ultimately, my book is different from Gamers at Work because it doesn't just give you interviews with people you already know and respect; it introduces you to developers you should know and tells you why you should respect what they did for this industry.

I disagree with his assessment of the differences; he has some facts wrong. There are women represented. There are indie developers. There are cult games. There are "bad" games. There is genre and platform diversity. There are unknown and controversial figures.

But I think this question was a trap. Hickey was asked to compare apples and oranges.

If I were asked to compare my books with any other book of interviews with game developers, I would say they are incomparable. Gamers at Work and Online Game Pioneers at Work are not about games; they are about the business of games. It is an important distinction, a distinction which my editor was not quick to embrace. (He changed his tune when we hit #1 in Business History and the Top 20 Most Popular Authors in Business/Finance on Amazon.)

Game scholars and journalists like Hickey and John Szczepaniak, author of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, write about games as art and entertainment. They are interested in the creativity, the decisions behind art, design, and sound, and the atoms that make games fun or not fun. This interest is an essential component of the study and appreciation of games. But like most writings about things, the focus is rarely upon the people who made those things.

And so writing about the making of games did not interest me. I know how games are made. I have made games. I have been an artist. I have been a graphic designer. I have been a musician for most of my life, too. The creative process is intriguing to observers. The listener hears a guitar solo and thinks the player a genius while the writer means to capture that genius in a bottle.

But there is no mystery to the creative process that compels me to investigate it. The creative process is as messy or as practical as the creator. The pianist sets his fingers on the keys, and somehow, eventually, individual sounds combine into a pleasing melody. A game designer fractionally adjusts some values to stem complaints about balance, in much the same way Michelangelo pretended to chisel David for the benefit of a critic.

Ask any artist to explain his art. I doubt the answers would yield any great insights.

"No one can talk about music. Even musicians can't talk about music. [Charles] Mingus' autobiography is all about how to make love to a woman. That's how he talked about music. Listen to musicians talk about their latest albums, their symphonies, their scores. It means nothing. That's why The Beatles just made jokes. Music just is."

Murray Gold, five-time BAFTA nominated composer

In my books, I instead took the view of games as MacGuffins, as mere moments in true-life human stories that motivated heroes to action. I was interested in the men and women who brought games into being. I wanted to know about the organizations they founded, the empires they built, the enemies they thwarted, the obstacles they surmounted, the doors that opened, their successes and failures, the fortunes they amassed, and how their lives were changed.

We pay so much attention to the stage we forget the world behind the curtains. But it is that world creators must survive, blindly grasping for pure dumb luck. And so I hoped my books would serve as a map, illuminating a few well-traveled roads, readers can use to navigate their own paths through the wilderness. That is why I sign my books "for your future endeavors."