By way of Introduction

It happened again. As Charlie Brown used to say, in the Peanuts strip, “I can’t stand it”.
It completely drives me crazy when anyone asks:
“So, what do you do for a living?”
The question is innocuous enough, and not meant to be other than the kind associated with small talk and introductions.  Small talk shouldn’t be this hard. The person asking has probably just told me they are plumber, a teacher, an associate executive merchandising division manager. Those terms are all fairly easily digestible, and go down easy, like the weather or the traffic coming into town today. My answers always seem to shift from the shallow to the deeper end of the conversation pool in an instant.
“Oh, I am in the game industry.”
Even as I answer, I search the person’s face, trying to discern which course the conversation will take, how quickly it goes from a passing exchange of frivolous unnoticed pleasantry to an engaging and challenging mental exercise. The response usually gets one of a few different responses; either they make assumptions about what the word “game” means to them, they get sorely confused by all the possibilities it might be, or they trigger on something they think they know about games.
If it is the first case, and they make assumptions, the response is usually curt and a bit sympathetic, but even within this case, there could be a myriad of responses, albeit mostly incorrect.
“Ah, I don’t get into computers or console games much, but I do occasionally play Free Cell.”
Or maybe,
“My friends go to Vegas all the time, but I usually just play the slots”.
Or, my personal favorite,
“Well, maybe when the economy picks up, you can find real work.”
The conversation then becomes a teaching moment, a time to explain the actual characteristics of games, how the different types of “games” have appropriated the term, and how and why what I do is not associated in any way with electronic games, computer games, console games, or gambling.  It might degenerate into a discussion of why they don’t like Monopoly or how their cousin cheated against them at Risk back in seventh grade. Or it might result in a rant on how companies capitalizing on personal weakness should not earn money for helping people ruin their lives at the casinos. Any way it goes, the sweet innocence and disconnectedness of the small talk and the easy nature of pleasant interaction is solidly replaced.
If it is the second case, all of the possibilities encapsulated in the word “game” burst forth, and the true inquest begins.
“So, do you work with sports teams, casinos, or computers?”
Or maybe,
“The kinds of games I like depend on the platform. Madden’11 is pretty good. I went to Lake Havasu and won some on “Double Dolphin”.  You ever meet Steven Jobs?”
Or, my personal favorite,
“I hear the government is going to tax the internet.  How will that affect your business?”
By now,  I know you are just dying to know what it is that I actually do for a living. At this point, I would prefer instead to tell you a bit about my life. I started playing card games, board games and party games as soon as I could read enough to participate. I took up Dungeons & Dragons virtually as soon as the ink was dry on the first books. I devoured all forms of game materials, and started designing on my own right away, being a game master from the age of 11. It was small wonder that I self-published in the ‘90s and was working professionally in the industry by 2001. I currently work for the largest producer of game products within one of the sectors of the game industry. My position prevents me from identifying the category or the company. I love what I do, and I am good at it. But I digress.
Where was I? Ah, yes. Confusion. If the conversation has taken this direction, it is on a disintegrating path. It devolves into a splintering bundle of informational twigs, none of which one can find purchase, nothing substantial enough to continue on for very long, as the other person is now hopelessly dredging through their emotional history, and its endless interconnections with all the variations possible. We both end up feeling like there was something useful to be gained by continuning to talk, but there is no common ground, no uniform vocabulary, to deal with the confusion. Wherever the conversation heads, it is doomed to leave us both dissatisfied.
And, if it is the third, the direction moves away from what I do, to how they can impress me with their knowledge.
“Oh, I used to be the BEST at Warbledybitz. I liked the way the controls responded, and how I could really fnargle the bandrangle in the seventh screen.”
Or maybe,
“I won about eleven hundred dollars at Stateline last time. But before I got outta there, I ended up giving more than half of it back.
Or, my personal favorite,
“Games are boring. Nobody has time to get to the waypoint, the Raids are never like they used to be. And I already bought that cool new mount and Epic gear package on the internet”.
Once in this vein, I can’t win.. No reason to pursue it further, because they already have made their intended point on the subject.
When I think about it, I guess I will need to consider changing my answer when “it” comes up in the future.  Maybe this response will work better.
“”What do I do for a living?”  I help people have a wonderful and interactive time, in an intimate or party setting, by assisting in the creation of tools for not only the expression of competitive nature, but also of communication skill and an appreciation of the impact of random acts on strategy and tactics.”
At least that answer sounds about as credible as an “associate executive merchandising division manager”.

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