It has been nearly a year since I left school. I have not looked back once. I do not consider myself an indie game developer nor do I want to be one. I simply make things, and it is all within the spirit of this post and decision.
Whether or not you personally know me, I’d like to explain why it is I left school to make indie games. It’s important that people look hard at their life to see what’s working and what’s not working. Through this understanding and self-reflection, a lot of options open up. I strongly believe that people need to pursue their passion and chase after their dreams. Choosing to leave school is me pursuing my passion and chasing my dream. My name is Brett Chalupa, and until last week, I attended Champlain College in Burlington, VT. I was a week into my fourth semester of school, and I decided to withdraw from school. This came as a shock to some and to others it seemed a long time coming. The time I spent at Champlain College was not ill spent. I met some of my best friends, found a few of my personal mentors, and worked with some amazing people. I got to see what it’s like to be a part of higher education, work for a man who’s run his own business for over ten years, and work for a company that is growing rapidly. I could not be more grateful for the opportunities I was given while in Burlington.
However, I decided to leave school because it’s what felt right in my heart. Before I came to Champlain College, I told my parents that I want to make games on my own and have complete creative freedom. I wanted to do something with a small amount of control and be able to contribute to all of the facets of game development. I told them that after I graduate I want work for a respectable studio for a few years to get my foot in the door. That way I would know people in the industry, see what it takes to make a game from start to finish, and be able to have the time to save up money to start my own studio. It was a plan that I really believed in for a while. I knew it was something that was possible, but that it would take some time to get to that point.
As the course of two years passed, my own personal belief of higher education, the Bachelor’s Degree, and what my plan was shifted. This shift was due to a couple of things, but mostly due to the experiences I had outside of the classroom. While working on games in my free time and working part time doing software development, I saw some major flaws in the education system. I thought I would just get by, tough it out, and get it over with.
For over a year now, I had openly discussed with a few people, who are close to me, about leaving school. It was once that shift of perspective happened, that I realized a college education isn’t necessary to be successful. For some reason, from a young age, it was instilled in me that you needed a college education to succeed. In middle school and high school, the focus was always on college. The focus was on SAT scores, college ranking, AP credits, and statistics about people with and without college degrees. I believed that I needed to go to college to make good money and that making a lot of money was what determined if a person is successful. It was what we were taught in school, I didn’t even see the other side of things.
What middle schools and high schools need to stress upon is being happy. They need to advocate young people finding out what they are passionate about. What’s important isn’t SAT scores or a students GPA; what’s important is that they are actively pursuing what they are passionate about, growing as a person, and learning how to enjoy their life. You can have perfect SAT scores, a perfect GPA, make six figures, and spend your life doing something you hate for 33% of it. Why in the world would anyone want to do that? Well, there are some reasons, like supporting a family and being able to live comfortably. However, as a young person, it’s important to see that what should drive a person down a career path is motivation and passion. If you’re unsure of what you’re motivated to do and what you’re passionaate about, then go out and try new things. Do not become a lawyer because you want to make a lot of money, become a lawyer because you want to help people and better understand the justice system.
I have been lucky enough to know what I want to do for years. What I wanted to do shifted when I understood that I have the ability to make games now. I do not need to work at a studio for a few years to make games. I do not need a Bachelor’s Degree to make games. What I need to make games is time and passion. Not everyone can say that, some people need a Bachelor’s Degree to even be considered for a job (or a masters or doctorate degree). Some career paths require people to pass specific tests. Making creative, consumable media requires no formal education. Formal education can help make someone better in each respective trade, but it is not required. The power of the internet is that it’s so easy to share things. There is an audience out there who are thrilled to see what people have to share. I know that I am one of those people. I love seeing what local bands can produce, what indie games developers can make, and what amateur films people produce. It’s insanely inspirational and enjoyable.
The explosion of resources and information on the internet also made creating digital media much more accessible. Anyone can go online and find the tools they need to make games, for free. A person can go and download FlashDevelop and Flixel and have a playable game in a few hours. There’s tons of tutorials and documentation available for most technologies. This gives people the opportunity to learn on their own. They can experiment, try things out, and attempt to break tools. It’s through this process that people learn the most. It’s a trial and error system. Effective education in creative media is no longer the archaic structure of lectures and assignments. The most effective way, for me at least, is to go and try something on my own. If a professor lectures for ninety minutes on how buffering works, I may understand it at the end or I may not. If I sit down and dive into how buffering works, write the code, and see it happen, I will damn sure understand how buffering works.
I could no longer justify the cost of college when I felt it was an environment that was slowing me down. I believe an effective education environment needs to help teach people how to teach themselves, how to explore, how to open their minds, and how to do things on their own. I knew I wanted to make indie games, I knew what it took to make games, and I knew what steps I needed to take to get the point of where I felt confident in my ability to make games.
I took the steps forward in the year and a half in Burlington, VT. I started to work more on my projects outside of school, took on jobs that required me to learn an entirely new skill set, and continued to push myself. During the year and a half in Burlington, the most fun I had was working on my game projects outside of school. I specifically remember laying in bed after working on a project for ten hours straight and not being able to sleep. I simply rolled out of bed and went back to working on the game for another ten hours. It’s that feeling of excitement that makes me happy. When the snowball just keeps rolling and growing. All of the pieces fall together and nothing is more exciting in life for me. I didn’t have the time in the year and a half at Champlain to work more on games. I spent my time going to class, doing my homework, and working a lot of hours at a variety of jobs. It felt like everything in my life was keeping me from doing what made me happy.
It then hit me, last week, that what I need to do is start making games now. The reasoning behind this lies in the fact that college does not go away. If making indie games fails for me and I don’t have what it takes to support myself, then I will be able to go back to school and get that piece of paper if I need to. School will always be an option, but it is not the only option. I know that if I am willing to work hard, I will succeed. It is that simple.
Leaving Burlington meant leaving close friends, a job, a mentor, and higher-education behind. I am so happy for all of the great experiences I had in Burlington, VT. There are a lot of great things going on there, and I know I will be back at some point in my life. A week later, I don’t have any doubt in the decision I’ve made. I will miss you all, and thank you for the support everyone has given me.