The profession one chooses is hardly an accident, but influenced by a large part by people that you’ve been around during your childhood and your teenage years.
In my case as a game designer, my grandad has no small part in it.
You see, he taught me a lot of things.
He taught me, for example, that the obvious solution might not always solve the true source of the problem.
Because, you see, that old guy complaining about his eyesight1 might not actually need new glasses that he can’t afford anyway, but a proper, much cheaper, desk lamp, so that he can read at night.
My grandad also taught me that you can always fix things – even when they are not broken in the first place.
Because, you see, that gadget, it might be okay, but not really great. It could be much more useful if it were combined with another gadget, or be driven by an additional sensor.
So he would pry open the box and rewire it and fix it until it worked the way he wanted it to work, like that automated drip system that would water the plants of their vacation home even when my grandparents were not up there. (He was, as they would call it today, a maker, even before that name and that movement were born.)
He taught me that the real magic might be in how something works, not in how it looks on the surface.
Because, you see, he had this model train set, and it was a stark minimalistic, all-white affair, with a landscape that was merely hinted at.2 The really interesting part, however, was the fact that it ran automated – first off a cassette tape, that contained both train station sounds he recorded at the Bern mainstation and synchronised electromagnetic signals that would drive a steering console, and later by a Basic program running on an old laptop. (And like all great programs, there were always bugs to fix and new features to implement.)
My grandad taught me to be curious and willing to learn new things wherever I went.
Because, you see, not only did he have a subscription to “Spektrum der Wissenschaft” and read it with delight and loved to discuss any developments in science, he also gifted me a subscription when he realised I liked to read it, too, whenever I visited my grandparents.
It was not just magazines, though. He had a way with people. He could start a conversation with about anybody, and he would be genuinely interested in them and what they did.
He would pick up new methods and technologies for his projects from tradesmen that worked at his house.
He would look up new ideas and theories on the internet after discussions with friends and families, after they told him about their studies or research, and write them e-mails asking for more details or their papers to study. He learned a lot just by listening to other people. (I might not yet really be good at talking with people right now, so there is still a lot to learn from him.)
He taught me not to be afraid of new technology.
Because, you see, he was the first one to let me play with this new thing called a computer. He showed me that big beige box with the large screen, and it would come alive with a whirr and a flurry of beeps. And he would show me how to draw onto that black screen — because, you see, it was still running DOS at the time — and I would put light blue glowing shapes onto that pitch black screen, and when printed out they would turn into black shapes on white sheets of paper.
Several years later, he would give me that same IBM PS/1, for the time before I could afford my own computer, and by then it would run Windows 3.1, and have an external CD-ROM drive, and I would have Myst and Riven and get lost in those worlds, just like I would get lost in the worlds of the books I read, and it would have Corel Draw, and I would put shapes on the screen again, and they had colours and gradients and drop shadows this time.
And even later still, I would start out on that journey to become a game designer, and I would not be afraid of computers, but see them as tools to create new worlds to get lost in.
Four weeks ago, my grandad passed away.
And somehow, he also taught me that that this is okay, that this is part of life.
And I think that as long as he remains in the memory of all people whose life he touched, his family, his friends, his patients, his colleagues, everyone along his way, he will live on.