Raph Koster On His Life, and Games

Raph Koster, Designer Dragon to some and one of the key architects of Ultima Online during his time at Origin Systems, has posted a lengthy missive in which he talks mostly about his life and history, and its relationship to games and his career as a designer thereof. And right off the bat, he lets you know that it won’t be telling the typical story such essays usually convey:

I don’t have any tales of games saving me from depression.

His life, as a child, was certainly full of instability…and travel:

…uprooted at age nine, to South America, where I did not speak the language, where men with machine guns guarded the street corners, where mysterious crumbling sand temples full of buzzing bees and potsherds sat next to my elementary school. The teachers loved me again, but also said things in class like “well, the one thing I’ll say about the gringos, they work hard. Much harder than we do. Look at this kid here.” I didn’t get it, I was blowing off all the schoolwork I could. I’d rather stay home and try to master BASIC on my Atari 8-bit.

I was there six years, a gringo in a country that was fighting corruption and communists. They blew up the Pizza Hut. They blew up the Kentucky Fried Chicken. They blew up the mall where the only arcade was. I saw the cardboard and corrugated metal places where they lived. I couldn’t really blame them. Riots and bombs were kind of like the weather. I scavenged for videogame magazines at newsstands and begged my mother to pay through the nose for them. I made boardgames by the dozen, and played AD&D with my small circle of friends. When I left six years later, I was given a farewell packet of notes and letters from dozens and dozens of schoolmates, and it profoundly shocked me. These kids were my friends?

And even into his adult life, the tempo of change didn’t abate:

…I moved. Then I moved. I married, and then we moved. Then we moved. Then we moved. I became a new person every time.

I have never made a game about any of these things.

He then gets into a discussion about the unsurprisingly wide viewpoint that such life experiences have left him with, and he waxes wistfully about the raft of designers who, to his mind, are making games deeply rooted in personal experience…games of a sort that he has not made, nor attempted to make.

Because for him, it’s about something else:

I don’t have any tales of games saving me; except that it’s obvious now that games were glue, a thing that held me to other people, even if only briefly, while everything swirled.

…I think maybe it’s what I have always done, in making games. I don’t need to get personal to make glue.

Do click on through and read the whole thing. Koster keeps many things deliberately vague, in chronicling his personal story, but all in all it’s a moving piece, full of food for thought.

(Image credit: Cory Doctorow)