Particles, Colors, Music.

Cipher Prime makes games in Philly.

What do you do?

It’s Philly Tech Week here, which means lots of events, meetings, and conferences. Many business cards exchanged, many more names told and quickly forgotten because let’s face it, we’re all terrible at names. But more often than not, every new conversation starts with the same four words:

What do you do?

And as someone who makes games for a living, it’s actually kind of hard to answer. Gaming is a young medium, and as you talk to people outside the industry, you realise we have nothing close to the vocabulary needed to describe what we do.

What do I mean? Well, lets look at some other media.

Words: what do you do?
I’m a writer. A poet. A story-teller. A blogger. Author. Editor. Copywriter. Wordsmith.

I write poems. Novels, novellas. Magazine articles. Blogs. Epics. Tall tales and short stories. (I tweet.) Because I know, in my hands, the word is worth a thousand pictures.

Pictures: what do you do?
I’m an artist. Illustrator. Painter. Graphic Designer.

I do fine art, and illustrations. Character design and visual identity. Realism, surrealism; cubism and modernism. I paint “ism” on a wall and dare you to tell me it’s not art.

Sounds: what do you do?
I’m a composer. Singer, song-writer. Performer. Instrumentalist. Musician.

I write songs, and albums. Concertos and scores. Sometimes a jingle; sometimes a ditty. I jam for hours with no clear goal in sight, and come out with rhythms that make you remember when we were naked and free under the ink-black sky.

Video: what do you do?
I’m a film-maker. Director. Auteur, if you’ll allow it. And yes, an editor,

I shoot videos, movies, TV shows. Documentaries and exposés. Vignettes, here and there. I’ve been known to vlog. I show you a window to the past or a glimpse of the future, take you to faraway lands real and imagined — and you don’t even have to lift a finger.

Games: what do you do?
I make games.


Which of course is bullshit. We refer to Cipher Prime’s games as “Arthouse Games”, which needs still more clarification as “Think about the movies at Sundance, but instead of movies it’s games.” Trying to explain the differences between Flower and Mortal Kombat X can be frustrating, because we have to rely on the vocabulary of other media.  Mortal Kombat X is your Hollywood blockbuster; Flower is a collection of poems. But at the end of the day, they are both still considered “games”, in a way that an action movie and a book of poetry would never be called the same thing.

I’m genuinely curious about this. I wonder, in a decade, what words we’ll use to describe the experiences we make. And maybe that’s our responsibility, to start creating and using those new words.

But I need some new words *today*. So let’s try this again.

Games: what do you do?
I’m a game maker. Yes, an author. Yes, an artist. Programmer, maybe, but logician certainly. I’m an emotional manipulator. A rule-maker; a rule-breaker.

I make games. I distill dreams; I create universes. Playgrounds, sandboxes, and toy chests. Experiences. I reject your reality and substitute my own.

At the end of my GDC talk, I remarked that I create illusions for a living. The more I think about that, the more I realise it is an absolute truth. We use arcane languages to interact with hidden worlds using forces we can hardly explain to extract an emotional response from our audience. And we’ve done it for so long it’s become mundane to us, but really — have you ever tried to explain what you did at work today to someone outside the games industry?

So what do we do?

We are — all of us — magicians.