Name / Twitter handle:
Arend Stührmann / @Whispertron on twitter although I’m not that active.
What do you do now?
I studied advertising and marketing but managed to get into the games industry about six years ago. My escape through books, writing and video games resulted in me having a very good background in gaming and the creative arts which still helps me in my job. I’m a project manager, one of the people who quietly (sometimes not so quietly) keeps the projects moving. It requires me to be able to build good working relationships with a diverse group of people, keeps me on my toes and continually offers up new challenges. So in some ways my job is a form of therapy, drawing me out of myself and helping me build up a lot of self-confidence in my abilities. The self-questioning side of me is still there, but I’ve reined it in to where it is actually a tool that helps me do my job better.
Where were you born?
And whereabouts in the world do you live now?
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada
What’s your favourite game of all time?
Monkey Island 1 through 3. I’m a big adventure game fan who lives in the hope that the genre will experience a renaissance someday.
What was the last game you enjoyed and why?
Dishonored is my game of the year 2012. Amazing environment and level design that encourages exploration, tight game mechanics, an art style to die for and really clever audio design. It’s a game where time was spent getting all the little details polished up and that really sells the experience.
Please describe a little of the bullying you experienced.
My life has been spent moving around a lot. By the time I turned 18 I had lived in six countries and attended nine different schools. There was a lot of being the new kid in class and because I was definitely on the portly side with glasses I was an obvious target for the bullies to pick on. It’s difficult coming into a new social group as a child and trying to find room in the established pecking order. My bookish nature also didn’t help. I’d rather spend time reading than running around in the playground. So I experienced all the stereotypical bullying that the geek with glasses gets in school. From physical shoving around and having my stuff taken away to be thrown on top of semi-unreachable places to the psychological bullying through snide comments, cold shoulders and having people discouraged from becoming friends with me.
When did you manage the bullying?
From an early age on I hid myself away in books. Eventually that expanded to books, video games and music. My last two years of secondary school were the point where things finally turned around. I got into a school environment was a lot more positive and in which I was able to develop group of friends who were on my wavelength. My self-confidence rebuilt itself a bit and I learned to let myself be friends with people again.
What effect do you think bullying had on you?
Thanks to the various negative experiences I had some very big trust issues and became a lot more withdrawn. To this day it is still difficult for me to actually form true friendships where I trust the other person as a confidant and source of support. My self-confidence was very low as well and I constantly belittled and criticised whatever I was doing to the point where I was actually bullying myself. Schoolwork suffered as a result, much to the frustration of my teachers and parents. I didn’t want to engage with my studies at home because it was a link to the environment in which I was suffering. In school itself I didn’t apply myself because being good in class would just have painted an even bigger target on my back. To top it all off I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because I was already having a hard enough time integrating. Bullies tend to be at the top of the social food chain in school so I always felt like trying to get help would do more harm than good when I really should have tried to go to my parents or teachers for help and support.
How is your life better now?
My life, in a word, is awesome. Won’t pretend that I bound out of bed every morning with a smile on my face but once I get to work I have fun at my job, which is something not everyone can claim with total conviction. My career has taken me to some amazing places in the world and while perhaps not every title I’ve worked on has set the world on fire I am still very proud of what the teams I worked with managed to achieve. Being in a creative environment at work means that I’m motivated to be creative outside of work. In the past years I’ve become a better cook and carpenter as a result. Gaining self-confidence meant that I picked up archery as a sport, something I’d dreamed of since I was a small boy but never pursued because it would have made me stand out. I get to talk about video games, books, movies and music at work and have nobody look at me strangely. I’m definitely the ‘cool uncle’ in the family.
Did you think your life was ever going to be this good?
If there’s one thing I wish I could do it is to go back to my younger self and show them how awesome my life will become. I’m working in one of the most creative industries, surrounded by cool people and creating products which entertain thousands of people. I’ve worked with some of the most intelligent and creative people in society. I’ve met the game creator legends who were the equivalent of rock gods in my teenage pantheon. In the darker moments of my childhood I definitely didn’t think my life would work out as well as it has.
What would you like to say to a youngster thinking about getting into video games who is experiencing bullying right now?
You’re not being picked on because you are worthless, stupid, ugly or weird. You’re being picked on because the bullies see the worth in you and are jealous of it. They see something that they can never be and so they do what ignorant people so often do: Try to destroy it, grind it into dust and make it vanish. But the bullies will not hound you forever. Someday you will leave them behind and let yourself be the amazing person you are. In the meantime you shouldn’t shy away from developing your skills and talents.
Don’t think you have to study games design or programming to get into the games industry. I’ve worked on games with people who have PhD’s in Biology or who spent the first part of their adult life working as construction workers. There’s a wealth of information about what goes into making games on the web. Look it up, read it and decide where in the constellation of roles you would like to see yourself. Try making your own game using one of the free toolkits to be found. Sign up for betas and be a productive member of the beta community, contributing constructive feedback and discussion of how the game is developing. Find some like-minded souls and take part in competitions like the Global Game Jam to get some first-hand experience in making a game to a deadline.
Above all: Don’t give up. The games industry is a hard one to break into but it is also one of the most rewarding careers you can pursue.