Train geeks and game geeks are all geeks

In April, my contract came to an end at Sony Cambridge and they very kindly offered me a permanent role. I was also offered a job back in Derby (my home city) for the same money … but not in games.

So I took the sensible, adult option and picked the one that didn’t involve selling the house and uprooting the whole family. I returned to Derby, and started a “normal” job. I find myself in the rail industry – or what’s left of it in this country, anyway.

It has proved an interesting culture change.

You see, I always believed that I’d never find anywhere more geeky than the games industry. It’s a very niche, focused industry; requiring a very niche, focused mindset. But on entering the rail industry I discover that the labyrinthine corridors of Nerd-Valhalla are less explored than I had hitherto suspected: for the last thirteen years, it seems, I’ve just been hanging around in the foyer.

When you step into the abyss, be careful the abyss doesn't give you a woolly hat, Thermos flask and notepad.

Despite all my efforts, I’m worried that this new sphere of existence is beginning to change me. I’ve been in this job for about ten months.

I can now identify and interpret most types of signalling. I know all about Tripcock Testers and Bogie Vent Plungers. I am qualified to drive trains on the London Underground (which will make me useful when all the strikes kick off during the Olympics). Every time a news item about Bombardier appears on TV and they show shots of the factory, I can identify which train they’re working on and for which rail network it is intended. My wife – who in her teens had a trainspotter for a boyfriend – is sitting in the corner, rocking gently and crying.

In rail, most of the incomprehensible terminology can be traced back to the steam era. The technology used on the track today could be done much better if we had an infinite amount of cash and opportunity to start again – but as things stand, it mostly feels like the 1940s with a fresh lick of paint. Besides, I think it’s an English-identity thing – to have a decent rail network is to deny our British-ness. If we rebuilt our rail network properly, where would we be? France, that’s where!

I find myself comparing my old career with this one. As I learn to filter out the strange language, I realise that train geeks are just as focused and weird as game geeks. The only difference between making trains and games is this: about a hundred and fifty years of history.

Compared to rail, the games industry has only been around for five minutes. It’s newborn. So what will the games industry be like in a hundred years? Will we still use words like “sprite”, “bitmap”, “D-pad” or “Artificial Intelligence”, even if such concepts have evolved beyond recognition?

A notable difference is the gender balance. There are even less women in the rail industry than in games. As a consequence, “banter” in the rail industry seems rather thin on the ground. The nearest thing to suggestive chat I hear at work at the moment is conversations about buffers, or train coupling. “Fwoar! Look at the buffers on that! I’d shunt that into a siding any day!” does not mean what you think it does. They’re just talking about trains.

I have missed the games industry immensely. I have enjoyed parts of my job over the last ten months, but on the whole working in rail doesn’t really compare well against blowing-up planets and rescuing princesses. Thanks to a well-timed call from a recruiter a month ago (who managed to ring me when I was having a really rotten day at work) I am now having interviews back in games, and have met some truly awesome people that I’d love to work with.

Hopefully I’ll have some good news soon, and I’ll be able to do some Al Pacino impressions where I pretend I was dragged back into games against my will.

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