Harmonix's Jason Booth says, "I create amazing shit, and it changes the way people see themselves and the world around them. You can't beat that. This year we'll ship Rock Band 3 with its Pro-Guitar mode - a feature I designed and prototyped - and hopefully a million kids will learn to play guitar because of it. That's fucking awesome."
So in a way we do spend our days playing a game - but it's a brutal puzzle adventure where the rules keep changing and the variables never hold still. Those breathtaking moments don't happen every day, and they don't always happen when you need them. Sometimes you have to force your way to the end of a project, just so you can move on to the next one. It's not pretty. And it's not fun.
As Central Clancy Writer at Red Storm, Richard Dansky, says, "I have no idea why I make games. I just know that I can't not make them."
When you do get a chance to sit down and play a game that someone else made, you find that the experience is not what you thought it would be. You're dissecting the elements as you play, figuring out how they got their cloth to look like that, wondering what happens if you wander off the path. It's hard to get immersed in a game when all you see are the bits that went together to make it work. Only a real masterpiece can make you forget about dissecting the experience into its component parts.
Game devs think back wistfully to those days before they became a creator and could dive headlong into truly just playing a videogame. They talk about games that came out before they took their first computer class like those days are gone forever. They know, even if they change careers, that they will still know how the magic tricks are done. They've seen things they can't unsee.
When their own videogames hit the market and the game developer ventures out to visit their baby on the shelf in its pretty packaging, more often than not they're met with - not recognition or congratulations from fans - but criticism, snide remarks and disdain. The press is fickle. The public is just brutal. Message boards are a minefield.
Sure, you celebrate the launching of your latest game quietly with friends and fellow developers, but it's short-lived. It's not the decadent lifestyle that we game creators are imagined to lead. Instead, when we get together, we huddle in groups, commiserating with each other about this terrible ailment we've been mutually afflicted with. This need to make games.
We don't do it because it's fun. We do it because we can't not do it. It's how we're programmed. With all the ups and downs, all the frustrations and triumphs, the life of a game developer is haunted by that misunderstanding we see in the eyes of our friends and family who assume we spend all day having fun. I'm sorry. You're wrong. Making games is not fun.
Though there are some days when it's positively exhilarating.
Wendy Despain is such a geek she stopped this article when it reached 1337 words. She's a game writer and designer working on a contract basis with developers all over the world. She finds they're all similarly afflicted with this drive to express themselves in an interactive way.