I had heard the name time and time again since my design teacher Erik Svedäng won the Independent Games Festival Grand Prize named after McNally. As I now prepare to enter the competition myself with Residue, I grew curious about what kind of brilliant designer would deserve to have a prize like that named after him. Turned out he wasn't a designer at all.
Seumas McNally was the lead programmer of IGF's 2000 Grand Prize winner Tread Marks. Already at the age of 21 he had become one to watch in the american games industry, with three commercial titles under his belt already while also becoming known for always giving back to the community and spending time helping other developers on their way. And yet winning the IGF Grand Prize was to be his biggest achievement. Soon after the victory, McNally succumbed to a long battle with cancer and left the world.
Reading about memories and anecdotes by the people who knew him and worked with him inspires me as much as it makes me sad. On his memorial page on developer community site gamedev.net, countless colleagues lament the passing of not only a talented programmer, but a good man. A voice on the internet who was always kindly listening to the programming problems of strangers even though he had his own potentially (and ultimately) IGF-winning project going on. A man who could live on our planet for 21 short years and yet be remember as a "mentor". This implies that his greatest strength was not as a programmer, but as a teacher.
If I may take a moment to theorize about someone I never even knew, this is exactly what made him a good programmer and a good developer. If there is one thing I imagine that this industry needs, it's some more good men. The other day, Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander wrote a fantastic article on unhappiness in the games industry, describing a place of destructive ambition and egotism where coworkers are not seen as allies but as rivals who might steal that job or promotion you want. And a management which couldn't care less. Especially the comments of artist Joel Payne paint a grim picture - shocking, even.
This hurts mostly because I recognize it. Isn't this the way we do things already at University? Especially us designers, probably because the job openings are especially scarce for us. We keep our secrets close, we pick our friends wisely. I believe that my generation is improving the situation, and I view the weekly design workshops (Designverkstaden, which will resume this fall) as a sign of this. Personally I'm not the worst, but I'm hardly innocent. But I now realize that this culture of rivalry is not one that will die down or even improve when we leave school. This is why we must keep fighting it. For me personally, I know that I will either find a way to escape this culture and create a less cynical space, or give up entirely on the games industry.
This is a creative industry. Our main concern should be managing a creative environment where gifted artists (in the wider sense of the word) can work their magic freely and make the most of their talents. This is how other creative industries work, but we can never achieve that unless we trust each other and work together. We need to realize that we are here to make the world a better place, not to take credit for it.
For the moment I consider Seumas McNally to be the saint of that battle. Let's fight the good fight, people!