How Video Games Can Help Kids Choose Future Careers
A personal story from an IT veteran
Last week, I was watching the Netflix documentary series on video games: High Score.
The series interviewed many people, including the company executives, game designers, and even game players. They talked about how video games changed their careers or personal lives. And some of their stories resonated with me very much.
I am a middle-aged guy who has been working in IT all my life. Video games were the exact reasons I chose to study computers in college and work in IT.
This article is my story on video games.
The first contact
I took my first computer course in grade six. And it happened almost by accident.
It was the summer holiday. And my mother was looking at summer courses for me to take. My first choice at the time was tennis but all the courses were full. She found a computer course being offered at a school nearby my house.
Back then, computers were not very popular, and kids generally were not interested in them. But my mother knew I love playing video games, so she thought I might be interested in computers. I accepted her suggestion like most kids did with their parents.
And the result was — she couldn’t be more right.
After going to the first few classes of the computer course, I was totally sold. Because I was so amazed at what a computer can do. And more importantly, I was inspired by what I can make the computer do. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about working skills like computer programming, or careers like a software engineer.
All I was thinking about was: The computer was fun because I could play games and create my own games on it.
I knew I had to convince my parents to buy me a computer, but the reasons could not be about games. Because I had learned my hard lessons asking for the Nintendo game system since the fourth grade.
Life in heaven
So before the computer course ended, I kept telling my mother how much I could do with the computer. For instance, creating computer programs, or learning to type, etc.
Thus, just going to class once a week wasn’t enough, I needed more access to a computer — I need to buy a home computer.
And this time, unlike the previous experience on Nintendo, my plan worked. My parents bought me a computer — an Apple IIe — right after the course without any hesitation.
And for the rest of that summer holiday, I was like in heaven.
I would get up early to play games on my computer before having breakfast. If I had no other course to go on that day, I would even play some more afterward. It was just a fantastic summer!
But I had my own rules. Playing games was only limited to mornings, and afternoons were all dedicated to creating games.
Manual game download
Learning to create games at the time was not as easy as people would think nowadays.
Back then, there was no internet, no websites, no YouTube videos for learning to do anything. So other than books in the library, the only learning materials and tools I had, were the TV and the VCR (videocassette recorder). I watched several TV programs on creating computer games. And lucky for me, I found a great program that helped me a lot.
The whole purpose of that TV program was to teach people to create one single game. It divided the game into several parts, each episode explained different parts. And what’s special about that program was, it actually showed the source codes of the game in each episode on screen.
So I used the VCR to record all episodes of the program. I rewatched each episode and hand-copied the source codes from the TV to a piece of paper. The copy operation involved so much fast forward and pause on the VCR, that I almost broke the machine that summer. In total, it took me more than 12 hours to copy down all the codes.
I hurried to input all those source codes into my computer. And I couldn't wait to see the game — which I had been watching on TV for weeks — running on my computer.
I had so much hope that the game would work right off the bat.
The accidental programmer
But it didn’t.
The game had a lot of problems when running the first time. I was definitely shocked and disappointed. But I didn’t give it up.
For the next two weeks, I went over the game’s source codes line by line. Using the books from the library, I taught myself all the commands and logic the game was using. So that I could fix the game and make it work.
And finally, the game worked and the feeling was amazing — which I can still remember vividly even by today.
It was hard work for a sixth-grader, but I had learned so much and got a glimpse of what computer programming (or software engineering) was about. After that summer, I had made several other games on my own in secondary school.
By the time I needed to choose a major in university, my parents narrowed it down to two choices: Mechanical or Computer Engineering. To me, it was a no-brainer because I already had computer engineering in my mind long ago.
Back to present
And for creating games these days, it can’t get any easier. All I need is a web browser. With all the online tutorials and sample codes, I can create a decent game from scratch in 30 minutes.
Video games made me interested in computers and eventually set my career in the IT industry.
In retrospect, sometimes I’d think about what would happen if I had not taken the computer course in the sixth grade. Would I become a mechanical engineer? Or would I have gone into some other industries like Finance or Writing?
Well, I wouldn’t know. Because I’ve been working with computers all my life. It’d be difficult for me to imagine otherwise.