Life Balance: Family, Work, Play

Sometimes my coworkers make fun of me for how little time I spend playing games, specifically MMOs. Or, they’ll jest when they notice that I show up early in the morning (around 8:00 AM, which is like dawn to a game developer), then head out after I’ve been at work for a mere 9 hours (including an hour of lunch). “This guy isn’t very dedicated to his craft!” Nobody has ever said that to me, but I’m sure someone’s thought it.

What those people don’t realize is that it’s intentional, and I think it’s healthy. It’s a balance I’ve created between my family life with my wife, my work life at 38 Studios, and my play (video games being one of several activities). In my world, my family comes first, work comes next, and my entertainment comes last.

A lot of people assume that someone dedicated to their work will spend double-digit hours there every day, working through lunch and taking no breaks. That’s certainly a sign that such a person is dedicated to work, but it doesn’t mean they lead a balanced life or that someone who doesn’t do that isn’t dedicated to their job.

The truth is, I love my job. I get to wake up every weekday and take on new, intellectually stimulating challenges as a game designer at 38 Studios. I get to work closely with people of every discipline, socializing with them while we work, playing ping pong, or getting in a game of ultimate frisbee at lunch (hooray I can play again after many months of wrist problems!). I get to be creative and solve problems. I get to be on time, bust my ass, and make it not suck (that’s for you, Curt).

But work comes second for me. I love my wife, Deanna, even more than I love my work. So, I’ve made a very intentional, conscious effort to ensure that she stays first. No, I don’t wake up early by nature; I’d rather sleep until noon. But, my wife gets home early (she’s a special education teacher), and I want to spend as much time with her as possible. So, I come in as early as I can, and I leave work as early as I can as well.

That said, I’m not imbalanced toward my wife. I take providing for my family very seriously, and think of working hard as part of the family equation. I bust my ass and work very efficiently while at the office in part because I really care about Copernicus and in part because I want to ensure that I can provide for my family in the future.

Finally, we come to play. It’s the last thing on my list, but it’s a necessary one. My play consists of hockey (when my wrist is fully healed), reading, watching TV/movies, listening to music, video games (duh!), and a random assortment of other activities. I get a little bit of playtime every day by myself. It’s usually video games or reading a book on the average day, but all play helps me to achieve balance in my daily life.

All work and no play makes Ryan a dull boy. All play and no work makes Ryan a dull boy. Without a balance of all three things in my life–Family, Work, and Play–I eventually start to notice that imbalance and its side effects.

Note that I also worked pretty hard on this even when I wasn’t married, and even when my wife was still in school in Colorado and I was in San Diego. Back then, “Family” was good friends. My family in San Diego consisted of people like Marlon, aka BBQ, and other good friends I hung out with. I did work a little too hard sometimes (or play a little hard, as the case may have been), but it lead me down the right path to find the proper balance of Life, Work, and Play.

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12 Responses to "Life Balance: Family, Work, Play"

  1. CaesarsGhost

    you truly need all 3… without those 2 things, you forget what you’re doing one of them for.

  2. Real Life (wife, kids) is a hard adjustment, I believe it is even harder for us MMO players from the early 00s. We were used to 1am as being early to go to bed. I have had to readjust numerous times, but I wouldn’t take any of it back at all. Its just life. Great post.

  3. chuck

    I chose Computer Science as a career path originally because I wanted to develop games. That changed when I had the opportunity to visit with some developers from Origin Systems (before the EA buyout). Crazy hours and death marches were not for me. Little did I know that this wasn’t limited to the game industry, and soon fell into that trap anyways. I’ve since grown wiser, and found a place that allows me to have priorities like yours (and now live vicariously by reading game developers’ blogs like yours, so keep it up :D). I salute you for putting your family first, and glad to hear that there are places in the game industry that allow it.

  4. /agree (Says the guy posting at just pat 4 AM and about to go to bed.)

    When I was at 3DO, I saw people getting awards for basically ignoring their family to ship another stupid Army Men game. It was beyond belief that someone would miss the birth of their kid to meet an internal milestone and get a stupid button labeling them a “star performer”. One whole team actually chipped in together to buy a couch for their area so they could take turns sleeping on it to not have to go home.

    All these years later, I can just imagine them looking back on that work with some amount of regret. 3DO doesn’t even exist as a company anymore, so all that work has little lasting value. Was missing your kid’s birth or not going home for a month worth it now?

    My better half doesn’t want kids, but I’ve not been eager to have kids given how demanding a career can be. Even if you work with wonderful people, there can still be that bit of hard feelings over someone “not putting in the hours needed” and preferring to go home and spend time with family, as Ryan says. It’s one of the big things that I think has to change about the industry if we’re really want to be taken seriously.

    I hope the future allows you to keep those priorities, Ryan.

  5. I do the same sort of thing. I never get any complaints on what I deliver, I do what I have to, I do it well and I deliver it well before the deadlines and often end up helping others on the team… despite having similar hours to you (in fact, I think they’re about the same).

    I had the joys of having a dad that was a workaholic and at some point, it’s almost like he forgot how to have fun. It was get up to work, come home and either work on the laptop or think about work things. He’s excelled at his job, but missed out on his family. It’s not something I want to fall into.

    I’ve come close, but stepped back and looked at what I was missing out on; my first child was still a baby (not even a year old) and I was leaving early in the morning when he wasn’t awake and coming home so late he was already asleep. Weekends were a little better, but I still worked on them.

    Now? I work about the same hours you do, sometimes I’ll put in a little extra to wrap something up or help up, then go home (I use public transportation so I get about an hour of reading or listening to music there), spend some time with the wife/kids up until about 9ish when they’re all in bed (wife included) then I’ll play games or read a book. I do sometimes get on earlier, but that’s usually when the kids are otherwise occupied (playing together, playing a game, watching a movie or playing with a friend).

    Heh, I’ve actually just started playing WoW with my oldest (nearly 6 years old). It’s a lot of fun. :)

  6. JuJutsu

    Nice post. I’m hopeful that your view of how to lead life gets carried over into the content of your work. I’d love to see a sequal post sometime in the future where you point out some features of Copernicus that are ‘real-life friendly’ in a way that you personally appreciate.

  7. I have always wanted to do what you do for a living, but I also put my family first so thought I couldn’t possibly have a job on the game development field. Am I mistaken? What are the real odds of finding a job that understands how important my family is?

    If you look at my blog you can see I went on a rant about this recently.

    Great post!

  8. Absolutely agree. I work in the web industry and even that is demanding enough and I went through a period of doing very long hours. I eventually came out realising it just wasn’t anyway to live and now I’m trying to get a better balance between work, family and play.

    You have to put your ‘life’ and your family first. There is no second try :smile:

  9. While it’s not common to work somewhere that is as family-friendly as 38 Studios, it’s becoming less rare within the industry.

  10. [...] recently read an article on Nerfbat entitled Life Balance: Family, Work, Play. In case you don’t know, Nerfbat is a blog by Ryan Shwayder, a game designer who used to work [...]

  11. I’m trying to be a successful writer, but writing is such a hard profession.

    If I could dream, I’d dream of writing a winning book or two, and enjoying the residual income, while still writing articles maybe a few hours a week, and playing MMO’s the rest :mrgreen:

  12. Defect 9

    Now if only siestas were mandatory in the states. have lunch, take a nap, return refreshed.

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