My mother tells me that the first time I expressed future plans, I said I wanted to be a teacher. I don’t remember that. The first thing I remember wanting to be was an astronaut… specifically, a pilot. Much as I like learning the results of scientific experiments, I don’t much like to do them. Scientific experimentation is a tedious process. But being a girl with terrible eyesight, my chances of being allowed to take that career path were slim to none. I considered acting, but don’t have the passion to commit to strings of fruitless auditioning, working odd jobs on the side until I get lucky.
In high school, however, I locked my sights on a target about which I was — and still am — very passionate. Video games. I wanted to be a video game programmer. I learned some programming in high school, went off to college to get my degree in computer science, and started reading industry publications.
That last part is what dampened my enthusiasm. Not my enthusiasm for games, not my love of game design, not my desire to make games. No, just my enthusiasm for joining the video game industry. What I was reading synched up with things I’d noticed about the games I was playing to strongly indicate that commercial video games were going the way of commercial films. As costs to make them rose, funding to create them had to come from somewhere, and the people who could afford to fund the games wanted to make a profit and didn’t really care about revolutionizing gaming. On top of that, this was about the time that the scandal about how EA was treating its employees came out, illuminating a darker side of the industry.
Practicality overrode passion, and I decided to flop my major and my minor around, getting my degree in Japanese instead of computer science. That led to this conversation, over and over again:
Someone: What’s your major?
Me: Japanese Studies.
Someone: Really? Well, that’s cool. What are you going to do with that?
Me: Good question.
Not having a solid plan may very well have contributed to my taking eight years to get a four-year degree and racking up ludicrous amounts of student loan debt. After swapping my major out for my minor, I then switched minors an additional three times and took a bunch of classes having nothing to do with any of the minors I went through. It was great, and I learned a lot, but in the end I still didn’t have any clue what I would do later.
And so I bet on the JET Program. I made it and now I’m teaching English in Japan. My job tenure has a hard maximum of five years, and I came here not sure if I would bother returning to the States when I was finished or stay here and find another job teaching English.
I enjoy my job, but it’s not something I want to do forever. Having talked to other JETs and JET alumni about finding work in Japan after JET, I’ve heard that finding work as anything other than an English teacher when all you’ve been doing is teaching English is practically impossible. The opportunities here are limited.
Furthermore, since my father’s death last year, I’ve actually had some interest in finding a significant other… and if I were to decide to marry a Japanese guy, there would be expectations from his side of the family to produce heirs. Much as I love kids, I don’t want to have any. I’m perfectly happy being Aunt Lena to dozens of other people’s kids.
So, much as I love Japan… I’ll be going home when my work here is done. Which brings me back to picking a career.
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and research over the past few months. And no matter the angle from which I approach the problem, I keep coming up with the same answer.
I want to make games.
So that’s what I’m going to do.