I never realized it when I was growing up that the topic of old jobs was such a common conversation topic. It seems that the older I get, the more we all talk about our old jobs. Sometimes it is to vent about what was wrong with them while other times it is lamenting over the loss of a good one. And in my nearly 30 years of being of employable age here in Texas, I have had my fair share of jobs, standing at 11 total, to pick from when the conversations turn to old jobs, old bosses, old co-workers, etc. But no matter the conversation, there is always one job that will stand out for me as being my all-time favorite job.
As a young adult, I was given the opportunity to work for Midway Home Entertainment, a video game company that made some of the most iconic games for arcades and home consoles alike. Don't believe me? Look up Midway's production history and I guarantee you will find games that you not only know but likely loved to play at some point (if you are a gamer that is). But I will save some trouble and list a few that a lot people are bound to recognize.
- NBA Jams
- NFL Blitz
- San Fransisco Rush
- Mortal Kombat
Those first three probably only stood out to a few who were fans of those games but Mortal Kombat is a name known even to non-gamers, thanks in part to the movies of the same name that were based on the game that have released over the years.
Now, when I worked there, I was not doing anything fancy like programming, 3-D motion capture, or anything like that. I was not involved in the day-to-day development of games. My job was even better than that.
I worked in the support department!
You might be wondering how working in support was better than being a game designer/developer, and I will tell you.
First off, as a support person, I did not have to deal with all of the crazy deadlines, meetings, and stress that the development teams had to deal with. Their jobs were to create games and to create them within a budget and a deadline. It was a very fast-paced and stressful job, as most developers in that industry will attest. However, my job in support meant that my job was to simply play games so that I could walk customers who would call us through whatever they were stuck on. The dev teams worked long and hard hours to make games whereas I worked a straight 40 playing games and telling others how to do the same.
Secondly, dev teams were focused only on one game at a time usually. Their mission in life was to complete a game for one or more platforms. I was much less focused. My desk had on it a gaming PC and every current console available on the market so I could play games on any platform as needed or desired. I would play games that were customers frequently called in about or games that I simply wanted to play.
Third, my job was far less stressful. I sat around literally playing video games all day long and answering a few phones about them. Sure, I may not have gotten paid as much as those on the dev team but I'm pretty sure I was having a lot more fun.
But there were also a lot of things about the job that still stand out for me when reminiscing about old jobs and favorite jobs. Things like our break room that was lined with arcade cabinets that we could play for free (and often did). The different times someone from the front office would bring us unreleased games to play and provide feedback on about whether we thought it had promise or how it stacked up to similar games. The many different times they would send us out to buy games from other companies to play and compare with our games. The annual trips to California to attend the E3 events.
The list of cool things I was able to do at that job could go on, but another aspect of the job that really makes it my all-time favorite job was the people.
From our receptionist to our accounting department, I don't think there was a single person I met while working there that I didn't like. They were all genuinely nice people. I remember hanging out in one of the marketing guys' office one day playing a football game from a competitor on the Sega Dreamcast right around launch for that console. He was learning about the game so he could market our game against it and wanted to see how it played 1v1 so that's how we spent the morning, me whooping his butt in virtual football. I remember sitting in the support area with the other techs having tournaments for different games and all of us laughing and having a good time. I remember the pranks we pulled on each other, not because we disliked one another but because we were all friends and friends prank each other.
And just like the list of cool things, the list of my fond memories of the people at Midway continue on.
Sadly, I will admit, I was young and failed to recognize the many things at the time that truly made the company and the people special. Things like when at a Christmas party I won a drawing but the person calling the names knew how much I wanted the newly released XBox console so she gave me that prize instead of the one I was supposed to have won. I didn't find out until days later that she had made the switch on my prize but even then I did not know how to express my gratitude.
But I will say that through that job I was able to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Since the day the office we worked at closed roughly 20 years ago, I have managed to keep in contact with many of the people that I worked with on a daily basis. My time at Midway was short, only about 3 years give or take a few months, but those three years were some of the fondest of my life and I took away from that experience a set of memories and friends that I will always hold dear.
And of course it doesn't hurt that when kids start talking video games to me and I mention I use to work at Midway and got paid to play video games I become the target of their envy. I don't think I've met many people from my generation or any of the generations after mine that haven't looked at me and my co-workers with a sense of awe and jealousy once they learned of our gaming past. It is one thing to be an old gamer but it is another to be an old man who got paid to play games in the days before e-sports and the Internet.
But like all good things, the job came to an end. There was a variety of factors that I have assumed were involved, though none are confirmed, that led to our local office being closed in the early 2000's. Like many companies do, Midway was restructuring and reorganizing. During that time, it was decided to take many of the services our office provided and relocate them to some of the larger areas like Chicago (home office) and San Diego (development). Most of the staff in our office was let go, me included, while a select few stayed which ultimately brought an end to my time with Midway.
Yet, even in the shuttering of our office, Midway gave me a parting gift that helped showcase to me its commitment to the people. It was announced early in the year (February/March time frame if I remember correctly) that our office would be shuttered on June 30th of that year. They gave us nearly 4 months notice of the closing but beyond that, for those of us who stayed until the end, we would get 6 months of severance pay and the company brought in specialists to help us build new resumes, work on interview skills, and even job placement assistance. Nothing sucks worse than losing a job you love but seeing the people behind that job do so much to help its people recover from the loss in such a way was a level of kindness and commitment that I've not seen done anywhere else.
Luckily, I found a new job quickly and started to work two weeks after the office closed. I took that first week off for the 4th of July and started my new job the week following. Since then there have been no jobs in my history that has come close to being held in such fondness. Sure, I love my current job and the salary I get paid now is leaps and bounds better than what I made at Midway but I don't think there will ever be another job for me that will have the same kind of appeal and happy memories as that one.
I will forever look back at the nights sitting at the office after hours playing video games with my friends until 4am as some of my favorite memories, even if it did make my wife understandably angry. I will never forget the trips to Cali for the E3 expo and my co-worker shouting down at the Olson twins as they entered and them shooting him a go-to-hell look that cracked the rest of us up. Nor will I forget the time at E3 when a bum came up to our group walking down the sidewalk asking for a cigarette only to have one of our group end up bumming a smoke off the bum who asked us for one.
Not a day goes by that something doesn't remind me of my time and the people I worked with at Midway. Some jobs are but fleeting memories that only are recalled as facts or frustrations but for those short few years I worked at Midway Home Entertainment will forever by recalled with fondness. I know I was lucky to have worked there and to have made the memories I did. Not many people can say they've had similar jobs or experiences and for that I am truly grateful.
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