Friday, December 9, 2011

On This Voyage Together


So I’ve never really told you how we met.

Really, let’s be honest, I’ve never really talked about the woman I’m married to at all. A lot of reasons for this, maybe some excuses, however I think as she faces another birthday like a runaway train, high time I did, no more reasons or excuses allowed.

What seems like eons ago now I secured a gig working for a fine video game development company called Radical, maybe you’ve heard of it. At the time the company had diverge their workforce into separate teams, and spun those teams in orbit around a technology team nucleus developing a proprietary engine that the various teams would both benefit from and contribute aspects too. I joined one team, second largest on site. The woman I’d eventually be betrothed to, well, she worked on the main stage, the big show; the team with the big project and bigger funding to prove it. As Ang Lee tried to turn Marvel’s Incredible Hulk into a gamma irradiated answer to Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress,  her team tried to turn a cartoon rail driving engine into a combat corridor conquest the likes of which the company had never previously seen.

I came aboard after a year out of game development, a year of film school lessons and hard knocks; twelve months of savings account draining unemployment in a country that would let me legally study, just not legally work until Radical took the bold leap and sponsored my sordid arse. During that year the game development landscape had shifted, as had my personal game playing practices. The market had shifted from PC to consoles, PS2 leading the charge, XBox making a solid foothold soon after. I left games for a year as PC games appeared to be teetering on the edge of extinction, and reentered during the veritable console renaissance of PS2, and XBox, with the so called Next Gen consoles looming on the distant horizon.

I reentered game development full of PC development philosophies and attitudes, and quickly found I had no idea what the hell was going on. Radical had a long history as a developer, largely console based, and largely sports title centric. Coming aboard onto the second largest team that intended to leverage the newly forming engine from the tech team downstairs to make a game bigger and more ambitious that Grand Theft Auto meant getting up to speed so fast liberal amounts of one part attitude two parts bullshit were required on regular basis. Not long after beginning my year off from game development I’d procured a PS2 with the sole intention of playing GTA 3 and GTA Vice City. Sure, I’d played Res Evil 2 and Wipeout and Tekken like mad with my roommates back in Eugene, but having played the top down GTA installments on PC, that IP (Intellectual Property) grabbed my scruff and needed scratching. Couple hundred hours of gameplay over the course of the following year, I entered Radical feeling certain I could, given a chance, fix everything broken or wrong with GTA for certain.

I’m explaining all of this to establish how alone and vulnerable I felt when I officially met Lindz the first time.

I had seen her around work, in the Great Room, had noted that she held power within what I considered the A Team, the Hulk team. I’d gone to the Hulk wrap party as arm candy for a Quebec weight lifter woman and seen Lindz clearly large and in charge at that event. I watched her more than I should have, enough for my diminutive, muscle bound friend to tell me Lindz’s name and ensure I wouldn’t be getting lucky with my bench pressing beauty that particular evening.

At the time I had little to no actual comprehension what that power Lindz weld with her team might actually be. Women in game development up to that point in my modest career had been administration or human resources or artists. I hadn’t met any women who produced, or designed, or programmed yet. Of course Radical changed my game development world view pretty quickly, thank goodness. At that point though I still lived in a tiny bubble as the only other designer on a project that had only just gone from being about star struck lovers on a crime streak to 50 Cent (for a month) to Tony Montana in Scarface. I felt overwhelmed, alone, and largely hell bound. Growing up half Catholic and half Presbyterian leads to a lot of melodramatic dispositions given half a chance.

So thanks to landing the Scarface license / IP, I received my first ever business trip down south to GDC (Game Developer’s Conference). A part of my duty as a representative of Radical at the conference involved stopping in at the recruiting booth to cover for the full time folks there, give them a break while talking to young hopefuls trying to get their foot across the threshold into the games industry. And so it was as I hung out at the recruiting booth talking to kids and leveraging my art background to intermittently review the occasional portfolio that I first spoke to Lindz. Actually spoke to her. What I said, or answered, because all I can remember is a crushing, roaring wall of sound, the sort that comes from stuffing your head inside of a seashell, so I have no idea who spoke first or about what, but I remember feeling like nothing I said or quipped impressed her whatsoever. Of course, she’ll tell you differently, that she made chit chat about the ladies going to the mall later, asking me if I’d like to come along. I don’t remember that, I mean, really? Those that know this monkey know full well a trip to the mall with the ladies is a bunch of bananas not to be refused. I think realistically we just probably glared at one another, circling the water bowl of complimentary Radical “More Cowbell” stickers, suspiciously mumbling vowels. Who knows?

A few months later Radical had a Town Hall. Now something you should understand about the video game industry is that there is a definite penchant for beer, or drinking in general, in the industry. Not irresponsible drinking, there are taxi vouchers always. Beer is the typical crowd pleaser, and every company I’ve worked for or have pals at has sponsored some sort of weekly, biweekly, monthly, and / or annual event that would make many a Brew Master nod appreciatively.  EA called them Beer & Cakes. Next Level called them Beer & Tapas or something like that. Slant Six Games calles them Beer O’Clocks. Radical had them monthly, and called them Town Halls.

At Town Halls I quickly figured out that the best policy to ensure continued employment entailed never, ever talking to a woman after enjoying a tasty brown pop. Beer plus my acute degree of social inadequacy equates to HR complaints, so after a plastic cup brimming with complimentary Sun God or Black Raven Brew, I zipped lip and found some manly types to skulk around lest I risk blurting out something inappropriate to piss off the fairer gender in the workplace.

So of course, always one to break every rule I set for myself, I find myself after a Town Hall sitting down in the vacant seat next to Lindz’s desk on fine Friday evening, with two pints in hand fully intended for my own consumption though I did clue in enough to offer one to her for the hoped for refusal before consuming both myself. Call it liquid courage, call it foolhardy adventure, call it wuzzy if it helps you smile; what I know is that I sat in that chair like a suspect in a police station asking her questions about her game of WOW (World of Warcraft) as she played with her fellow A Team associates as though I had genuine Inquisitive Designer Must Know and Understand curiosity as a less that subtle pretense to asking her out on a date.

And somehow, instead of annoyance, I got explanations about the mechanics, about inter kingdom travel on flying ships, about familiars, inventory systems, the WOW answer to EBay, and a date on the following Friday. At the Locus on Main, a place I’d never heard of. And a place where she arrived wearing a hoodie with the hood up as though for fear of being recognized and I arrived feeling vaguely proud of myself for stopping home to brush my teeth before trudging up the hill along Main to the venue of the evening.

We talked a lot that night, perhaps screening, perhaps investigation, perhaps realizing mutual curiosity. Perhaps appreciating same.

We dated, we grew closer, and somewhere in there I realized I needed to grow up. We took some time off, I got some things out of my system. I realized I both needed to grow up and really, really missed being around Lindz. 

And there is more to Lindz than simply her. With her comes her family and friends, and over the years they’ve become dear to me as well. She grew up an only child with another only child, a product of her parent’s best friends, Alex. Alex eventually married David, the man who’d be best man when I eventually married Lindz; as much because he chose to smile at me at a gas station on Main and 2nd during the time Lindz and I were split up as anything, and there are a lot of things, I look up to the guy. What an honor to get to be his best man when he married Alex, get to make a speech that remains one of the most rehearsed pieces of prose I’ve ever attempted only to still have it evolve and become that much greater on the day.

With Lindz comes her parents, her wonderful parents, her Mom with all the stories of Newfoundland, and her Dad with a presence of a mountain on the horizon at dawn, with all his stories to tell, and the gold cufflinks he’s entrusted me with until he needs them again. And their friends, Alex’s parents, Peggy and Dave, and all our holiday traditions that Peggy calls the Turkey Club, when we all take station at a long table for Thanksgiving (the Canadian version in October) and Christmas (the Canadian version is still in December).

With Lindz comes her surrogate sisters, all five of them, some closer than others but all noteworthy and frankly intimidating. Closest to roost the real sisters Kim and Nichole, a wealth of shared history, various misadventures, and their children who our son Otis will effectively know as cousins. That is a very beautiful thing.

Most of all though, with Lindz comes Lindz. Her mutual affinity for Halloween, her stunning  culinary skills and curiosities, her amazing ability to work as a high powered manager by day and still wrangle a toddler and a household by night. Her bright eyes and creased grin. Her loyalty, belief, and patience. Her knowledge of Canadian literature, introducing me to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Stewart McLean’s Vinyl Café. For building traditions and planning trips and believing I could ever me more of a person, partner, and parental influence than I would have ever believed possible.

And I’m married to her. Holy bucket of chicken, how did she ever let that happen?

Happy Birthday, Lindz. I’m glad we’re on this journey together. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, and gaze with unabashed wonderment at the sprawling mystery of what adventures dwell ahead. 

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