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The Struggles of being a video game developer

It is hard to find balance between life and work for any young woman that is trying to build her career and be a professional. We tend to put family, relationships, friendships, and even our health on hold to go the extra mile to have a better future. My dream was to become a video game developer. I want to share the struggles I encountered while reaching this goal to show you that no academic achievement or job promotion is worth more than you or the ones you love. Let me tell you my story.

Growing up as a minority (Puerto Rican and proud!) and a female, I have always had the notion that I need to work twice as hard as my peers to prove my worth. Add on to that…I’m an amputee. I’m not missing limbs, but I’m missing extremities in my hands and feet due to a bacterial infection that complicated drastically when I was three years old. It’s noticeable if you look. That made me stick out like a sore thumb growing up. Lots of bullying turned into low self-esteem and depression. But, I pushed through the negativity, grew some tough skin, and became resilient to adversity. I graduated high school in the top of my class, I went on to college and earned my bachelor’s. A few months after, I was stepping into graduate school.

The Road To Becoming A Video Game Developer

I couldn’t see myself working a nine to five desk job after receiving my BA in information technology.  I knew I had creative drive and an undeniable love for video games. I was also well aware of the huge gender gap in STEM fields and in the video games industry. So I thought to myself, “Why don’t I enter the industry and try to change it from within?” That’s why I chose to study game design in graduate school.

The hardest three years of my life were spent learning how to analyze, dissect, and create games. Countless hours were spent learning how to program, use game engines, understand animations, and project management.

As a video game developer, you are constantly thinking about all these things and how they will work in unison. Overworking in this industry is the norm. Many all nighters were pulled during this period. And it wasn’t even because I procrastinated! It was because there was so much to do in such a small window of time.

Hardships of Developing a video game

This rigorous lifestyle took its toll on my body a year and a half into the program. I finished the fall semester of 2014 with flying colors, but the day after the semester ended, my heart fried. The heart is like a mini computer with many electrical circuits. I got a short circuit. Beating at 180 beats per minute, blood pressure through the roof. I started to sweat profusely, my hands were shaking uncontrollably and I could barely breath. As I mustered up the strength to call 911, my boyfriend was watching it all transpire over Skype. I thought I was going to die.

overworked employee speaks on working in the video game industry

It took two months for doctors to figure out what was going on with me. The issue was resolved with a pacemaker, implanted on February 4, 2015. Five days later, I was back in school, because I didn’t want to rack up anymore absences. I even prototyped a project in my hospital bed, talk about workaholism.

What I remember most about that time period was the effect my circumstances had on my creativity. I had no fire in me. I was encouraged by several people to drop out of my program and focus on my health. But when you invest thousands of dollars in your education and up to your eyeballs in student loans, that’s not an option. My frustration and fear of death came out in my projects. I made things personal because my feelings were very raw.

During that time, I made two games: You Only Live Once and A Few Minutes in an MRI.

You Only Live Once was a card game prototype I made over a week. A few weeks after, I made my second personal game, A Few Minutes in an MRI. It was a point and click 2D game that mirrored my experience in an MRI. For those of you who haven’t had one, it’s a scary and uncomfortable experience. In my case, they were looking for clots in my brain. I had to keep my head still and hear very loud noises for about twenty-five minutes. When you are in the machine, you are alone. You get in your head and you start thinking about worst-case scenarios. You start thinking about life and death, regrets, worries, family, friends, you name it. I wanted to create an experience that would allow someone to go through my thoughts. 

female game developers can make a great impact in the gaming industry

I used these games to cope with what I was going through. But I knew that if I made a year-long thesis project that was as deep, it would hurt me mentally and emotionally. I made the decision to focus on a game that still had a deep meaning, but one that I could detach myself from. Thus The Sound of Separation was born.

This game is about a family relationship, overcoming hurt, and having a future that was greatly determined by your actions. Creating this project took a lot of strength and discipline and I was determined to complete it by keeping a healthy lifestyle. I ate and slept well and if a circumstance arose that required my attention, I attended to it. The last thing I wanted to do was to stress my heart and mind out, figuratively and literally speaking. The Sound of Separation was the pinnacle of my self-healing. I matured and grew with the project and let go of negativity to make room for a better designer and a better me. Games are truly powerful.

women in video game development created this while in school for video game development

Sitting here, a month after my graduation with a smile on my face and a master’s in my academic achievements. I am pride that I not only worked very hard, but I also made time for those I love. I kept in mind that I, Elaine Gomez, was just as important as everything going on in my life. I taught myself that it was okay to take breaks and have me time. If I couldn’t crack a problem by midnight, I would leave it to the next day. I started to call my grandparents every other week and my parents once a week. I learned to make sure that my friendships were healthy. I went out of my way to show my significant other that they were loved and appreciated, even though I was very busy.

In short, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything. Nothing is impossible. Just make sure that in your journey, you don’t leave behind those you love and that you take care of yourself. Never be afraid to ask for help, never hesitate to let things go. You don’t need to be in control all the time. Love yourself just the way you are loved by those around you.

Elaine Gomez, Guest Contributor Elaine Gomez Female Video Game Developer

Elaine is Currently a Game Designer & Adjunct Professor at Rutgers University 

Check out Alexandra Orlando's home page where she explores gaming diversity and other topics such as esports and gaming charactersemgomez.com

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