Fourteen years ago I had one of the coolest, funnest, hectic-est jobs in my life: Demo God for Microsoft Research’s Virtual Worlds Group. I worked with coders, artists, writers, interns, and musicians to put together and run demos to show off our amazing Virtual Reality platform. I love to collaborate and the VWGers were a passionate, talented group to play with. At its best my job was exhilarating.
Demos are fickle beasts. Software in development is notorious for breaking when you demo it to anybody with clout. I remember frantically sprinting to my office to recompile a tearful intern’s project for an internal mass demo. I got it working and she was able to demo the work she’d spent months creating.
I had a blast in the Virtual World’s Group. Management politics was a mess but the geek troops made an amazing Virtual Worlds platform way ahead of its time.
Before becoming Demo God I was co-leader of VWG world-building tools with Kevin Goldsmith. We had lots of laughs and did good work.
Fourteen years ago – October 17th, 1997 – I sat at my desk trying to code. I’d done no work the previous day although I’d tried hard. My epilepsy pre-seizure symptoms had been bothering me for days and on the 17th I had to admit that my Brainrot was back. I couldn’t work. Every time I forced myself to code the symptoms got worse. I was sad and afraid.
My MSFT office door.
At age 25 (1977), while student teaching for my Elementary Ed certification at the UofMN, I had some strange, nasty spells and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. While teaching my first 5th grade class I took Phenobarbital for a year, which controlled my seizures. I hated the drug – I called its effects “living in a baggie” - and when my symptoms abated I got off Pheno with my neurologist’s permission.
In 1988, while working on my biggest game to date for Activision – called Future Cop at the time – Brainrot hit hard. For 3 1/2 years (88-91) I was extremely sick and on massive doses of various numbing anti-seizure meds as we tried to find one that worked. By 1991 I was a candidate for brain surgery. Luckily the symptoms started to abate. Although I still had infrequent seizures and tons of pre-seizure symptoms I threw myself into completing the game, now called “Free D.C.!” Due to time pressure from company investors (release by Xmas or die!) the game was released before it was finished — the only one of my three games that wasn’t a hit.
In ‘93, through an insane sequence of events, I was hired as a programmer by Microsoft (not too likely with only a degree in El Ed.) I had 5 good years at MSFT although none of the projects I worked on made it to market.
Every time Brainrot hit me I’ve been neck-deep in highly collaborative, exciting work: Elementary Ed teacher training and big collaborative software projects. I love to collaborate with passionate people but it’s kryptonite to me.
Fourteen years ago today I sat at my desk with a head full of sparks, unable to code. For the next months we tried to find tasks I could do for VWG but I was too sick to work. From 1997-2003 I had frequent seizures (I don’t black out but am incapacitated by them.) By the time my neurologist found effective anti-seizure meds (Lamictal and Keppra) my seizures had caused brain damage which resulted in my Central Pain Syndrome and cognitive losses.
Since 1997 I’ve tried, when well enough, to work. I had a brief clear spell in 2007 and coded a very playable version of ChipWits (Margaret did a great job creating the art) but was too sick to polish it to my satisfaction for commercial release. In the last few years I completed Channel Zilch and now Angry Robot is giving it a good long look.
For 18 of my 59 years I’ve wrestled with brainrot. I hate the pain and the years lost but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.