Meet Joe Watson: Instructional Designer

A bit about me (the road to Totem)

First Class Honours in Games Technology BSc, certified CompTIA A+ IT Technician, third in the Voice Your View 2011 National Games Design Competition, indie developer and now a happy employee at Totem Learning – these are all accomplishments of mine, but say precious little about the journey along the way. Let’s backtrack a bit.

The early years were awkward, as they are for most, but I would probably describe my own experience as Kafkaesque. To add to that, I hadn’t really much of a plan beyond focusing on my grades and keeping my options open. I had some preferences toward English, Business Studies and IT related subjects though remained largely undecided about my lot.

University forced my hand and the revelation that I could tap into a lot of my existing skills and apply them to games development seems absurdly obvious in retrospect – I could potentially make a living out of a lifelong passion and using skills I was already proficient in.

Epiphany might have been a more suitable descriptor.

Before long, I was surrounded by people that had the same sort of history with games and the same ambitions with them going forward. University itself was incredibly refreshing, being a place where you can (mostly) rely on others being as motivated and intellectually engaged as yourself.

You see, I’m not really the sort of person that is happy to just ‘get by’. I want to be a part of great things, to challenge myself and change. Others may be happy being static entities, but I cannot say that I would – in fact, I’d probably say that the concept is so alien as to be incomprehensible to me.

My job at Totem

My role at Totem is an Instructional Designer. That is to say, everything you can expect of a Games Designer, but with a pointed focus on education theory and the practical application thereof, so that a demographic of learners can be identified along with how to most effectively enlighten them through our interactive, digital medium of games.

The reality of the matter is that – aside from the breadth of work actually involved in creating game concepts and designing the systems involved – my deep understanding of each project’s core makeup and my background in other aspects of games development, namely programming and 3D modelling, lends itself to a great deal of tangential responsibilities and roles.

I am frequently involved in liaising with clients and partners, but may at any point working on a pitch document for another project, tweaking elements of a game’s source code, facilitating translation or voice acting, animating 3D models, performing some guerrilla graphic design, writing narrative and dialogue for characters, or even composing a blog entry to add a little extra content to our web presence! Honestly, these are just a snapshot of the myriad of duties I may need to action on any given day.

There is no hyperbole involved when I say this is one of the most demanding and subsequently rewarding positions I’ve held. I am always learning, always moving, always improving. Always hungry too, but that’s (probably) unrelated.

What inspires me

Inspiration is a difficult concept for me to approach in writing. I am not so much driven or inspired as one might normally be, so much as I incorporate the essence of my obsession. It becomes a part of me and I am all the more alive for it.

This used to be videogames. Only a select few mind, but those special ones instilled in my as yet undeveloped psyche a myriad of real human experiences and emotions. As my reading level began to outstrip my materials, so did my maturity among my peers. You can only internalize so much without it having a profound effect on you.

Just as videogames were a portal inwards, they also enabled me to peer out again as well. The majority of my early relationships with people were superficial at best, but finding others online and through the medium of games created friendships that I am happy to enjoy even to this day. There is something truly special about sharing a passion.

That is likely the root of it all: I hope to be able to help create works that others can derive the same emotional and intellectual energy from. If that means I get introduced to a few new, awesome faces in the pursuit of that, all the better.

My hobbies/ interests

I am an avid consumer of games across a broad spectrum of media, so I also find myself on familiar terms with a good deal of boardgames and collectible card games. There are some genuinely unique mechanics and concepts that they can manifest, but I also appreciate the purity of having systems unburdened by the constraints of digital implementation. We simply will a thing into existence and it hangs in the ether as metaphysical law – at once real and not, sacred to the players.

Naturally, I also dabble in creating my own worlds and playful constructs. I have a plethora of my own projects that I tinker with when the mood strikes me and I ensure that I continue running a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons campaign as my history with pen-and-paper demands.

My favourite author is H.P. Lovecraft and a great deal of my time is spent contemplating the seemingly infinite, tasty mysteries of oriental cuisine and cake: in the preparation of, certainly, but the consumption is where it is at. You have my word on this.

There is also a curious list I maintain wherein I record all my completed exploits, perhaps as some form of closure. Here is the latest obituary as of writing:

My favourite game of all time

Planescape: Torment remains my favourite game to this day. You may have heard of this cult-classic elsewhere, but allow me to elaborate if you haven’t - this is an isometric fantasy RPG with a setting far removed from the usual Tolkien-esque inspirations, an existence that is literally shaped by the philosophical inclinations of its denizens and whom must grapple with this fact every day.

This isn’t a story about saving the world either. There is no apocalypse, no damsel in distress. This is the story about you, the protagonist, unravelling mysteries very deep and personal, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for yourself and the companions you will become invested in. Don’t mistake me, there is an almighty reckoning to be had, but one that resonates introspectively and whose reward is an impromptu sojourn into existentialism. An outro sequence and rolling credits will be the least of your worries.

More than anything, this is a narrative that transcends to feels raw and human. You will find almost universal praise for the writing and I would encourage anyone that feels the slightest tinge of interest to check it out. A caveat exists however, in that this specific genre of game has not aged well along the modern standards of usability or graphical fidelity, and while mods exist to alleviate, they do not entirely remove what must seem like arcane obfuscation. Even so, I know that the curious gamers of the future will unearth this gem and wonder of the golden age it surely must have been conceived in.