A large portion of my classmates were excited to attend my ten-year high school reunion to see old girlfriends or ex-football quarterbacks to see how fat they've gotten or how hot they might still be. Not me. I was desperate to track down a shy and slightly awkward kid with big tousled hair - way before Bieber made it cool - that most of my class might have no memory of at all. And for me, I didn't want to reminisce with him about playing Magic in the cafeteria, or how he rocked the high school auditorium as Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar. I didn't want to hear about how he attended law school or what it was like cramming for the bar exam. No, I cared not a whit about any of that crap. All I wanted to talk to him about was Lord of the Rings Online.
You see, Jeff Libby is a Content Designer at Turbine, one of the coolest jobs a fantasy geek like me could ever want. My old classmate Jeff writes quests in the style of J. R. R. Tolkien for millions of adoring fans. He imagines stories about the Istari, Noldorin and the Dunedain, and can actually breathe them into life on computers around the world. His daily tasks are absolutely magical to me and I wanted to find out how he got the job, what it was like to work at Turbine, and, perhaps most importantly, which orc I needed to kill to get a job just like it.
Growing up, Jeff noticed that he thought about games much more than his peers did. "I just love talking about games. Hearing about people's experiences with games and debating the pros and cons of design decisions has always been one of my very favorite pastimes. I was always the kid in the neighborhood who wanted the group of friends to go inside and play NES, but I often didn't care if I even had a controller. I wanted everyone else to play, and to enjoy the experience as much as I did."
That quality, the love of discussing games and dissecting what makes them work, was a huge bonus when he applied to work at Turbine, but working on games wasn't Jeff's chosen career path by any stretch. After high school, he went off to college and eventually studied law before settling in the Boston area. So how did he go from a fairly pedestrian lifestyle as a soon-to-be lawyer to writing content for Lord of the Rings Online?
"As with a lot of things in life, there was a good deal of luck involved," Jeff said. "After passing the Bar and striding onto the streets of Boston in search of work, it became quickly apparent that there were hundreds of other eager young lawyers in my exact circumstances, looking for exactly the same positions." One of the only positions available to an out-of-work lawyer was at Houghton Mifflin, the American publisher of all of Tolkien's books. Jeff was already a fan of Tolkien's work (he's read Lord of the Rings every year since third grade), but he now devoured the wealth of source material found in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and all of Tolkien's notes published by his son Christopher.
"The work was fine," Jeff recalled of his time at Houghton Mifflin. "Only in hindsight can I tell that I was biding my time for something else to come along."