Today the press release went out announcing that I was selected to receive the Online Game Legend Award at the GDC Online Choice Awards. This award is voted on by fellow developers, and it’s basically a lifetime achievement award.
The Online Game Legend Award recognizes the career and achievements of one particular creator who has made an indelible impact on the craft of online game development.
This rather leaves one thinking, “Well, now what?”
(Warning: introspection ahead…)
I feel deeply ambivalent about it. As I write this, I am just 40 years old. (I will be 41 by the time they actually hand me the physical award, though). In theory, I have quite a lot more years ahead of me in my career than I do behind me. The previous winners are Dr Richard Bartle, and John Taylor & Kelton Flinn. I would have expected that people like Randy Farmer & Chip Morningstar, or Mark Jacobs, or Gordon Walton, or Jessica Mulligan, or other pioneers would have gotten the nod before me…
I am also keenly aware that this award is likely being given as much for things I have written as for games I have made. And that feels odd. I don’t, after all, have that long a list of game credits — particularly not ones that I actually got my hands dirty on, as opposed to sitting in some management role at a fair distance.
It doesn’t help that the last really big, ambitious, passion project thing I tried to do, Metaplace, didn’t really click. Oh, it was a success, in the end, in terms of technology and in terms of financial rewards, but it didn’t do what I had been dreaming of for ten years. It didn’t even do what those few users who passionately believed in it had hoped.
Instead, the players pretty much see one game in ’97, one game in ’03, and maybe, if they noticed, a webby thing they dismissed, in 2007. There’s certainly plenty of folks who would be happy to tell you that I haven’t made an MMO in ten years. Or that I have “sold out.”
And then I can’t help but think of all the things that people don’t know I did, because they have never seen the light of day. The tech that allowed for worlds dynamic enough that rivers flowed, you could push through snow banks, and water the earth to have plants grow. The dozen or more puzzle games — in working prototype! — that sit entangled in various legal ownership questions. The (let me count now…) four or five full worlds’ worth of lore, stories, and high level design that cost me several years worth of working time, that all belong to cancelled projects: the city that was the ur-city at the heart of all stories, ruled by an ancient heptarchy; the planet made of sentient crystal where the colonists’ collective unconscious began to manifest as creatures and powers and new selves; the cartoon world full of aliens with unpronounceable names that was an homage to cheesy raygun-and-rockets space opera… The board games I have never gotten around to releasing in any way. The game design theory I have not finished writing down for lack of time and because of contractual obligations. I have an awful lot of stuff on the shelf, and who knows how much of it will ever be seen by players and colleagues.
Oh, but there are the novels I haven’t written. The fantasy and science fiction stories that sit on my hard drive. The 250+ songs I have composed and never perform. The poet I might have been. The unused art supplies that litter my shelves. The things that I have not done because of what I have done; and how often I would rather have done what I did not. It is odd to get this award when you don’t really feel that productive.
I’m not kidding myself; after all, my ego is quite healthy. I knew this would happen, someday. There’s plenty of folks out there who will be happy to tell you about my arrogance, just search any MMO forum!
I just didn’t expect it… yet.
And really, it arrives at a time when I am in need of validation. So I feel grateful, and honored, and flattered, and humbled. And discombobulated, and pensive.
I keep catching myself thinking that it must be a hoax or practical joke, and then some other email arrives and I have to realize all over again that it is real…
(For those keeping count, this is the second of the three things that I will be doing at GDC Online this year: accepting this award on stage).