Every humanities major has heard the ubiquitous phrase, “you’re going to end up becoming a barista after you graduate,” from adults who insist on decrying the wastefulness of non-STEM disciplines. This perspective, which is as erroneous as it is condescending, diminishes the value of disciplines like English, journalism, and history that significantly benefit our society by helping us think deeply about the world in order to answer life’s most pressing questions. To debunk this myth, The Babson Center invited Cole Wehrle and Jeremy Gable, lovers of stories and literature, to share the career experiences and endeavors that have transformed them into successful game creators.
Wehrle and Gable took different routes to arrive at similar destinations. Now the founder of Wehrlegig games, Wehrle began his career by interning in radio stations, dabbling in social work, attending graduate school, and working at Tabletop publishing. As Wehrle navigated these vastly different fields, he realized something unexpected: all the skills he’d acquired as a journalism and English major helped him succeed tremendously in various career fields. “…Even basic stuff, like being able to write an email, but also just being able to acquaint yourself with a body of scholarship, develop some kind of expertise, find commonalities between different bodies of thought—all that stuff helped me,” Wehrle said.
Gable, who creates theater-inspired video games, forged his path through determination and resourcefulness. Growing up in a small town in Idaho didn’t provide many opportunities for Gable to explore his desire to become a playwright. He moved to Southern California to pursue screenwriting and discovered a small theater company with highly skilled actors, directors, and writers. It was among this group of talented theater-wizzes that Gable learned about all the intricacies and complexities of playwriting. He said, “That ended up being my biggest education: going into the small space and doing weird little work with these people night after night. It became more of a writing education for me than anything—[figuring] out how to make an interesting night of theater with pretty bare bones.” Due to his unique path to playwriting, Gable is adept at creating inexpensive and accessible theater productions and games.
As popular as board and video games are, rarely, if ever, do we consider the process of creating captivating storylines, plots, and missions. Without enthralling stories crafted by knowledgeable writers armed with mastery of the English language and creative writing, games wouldn’t be as impactful and revered as they are today. Creating stories for gameplay “is so different from writing traditional narratives,” Wehrle said. Writers often have to evaluate how extensive their world-building should be, whether or not to use gender-specific pronouns, and other essential factors. “You can’t infringe upon [players’] creativity and imagination. The types of narratives that I tend to work on can be open spaces for all kinds of little narratives within that, as opposed to presenting a pre-written story,” Wehrle added.
Gable’s ability to transform plays into video games also requires commendable skill. Plays often take their time setting the scene, introducing characters, establishing dynamics, etc. However, video games are meant to hook the audience from the get-go. The difference between these two mediums is one that Gable has learned to work with. “Theatre feels like a bit of a theme park, like once you get on, you can’t get off—like you can’t walk out of the play…whereas with games, you can just hop off immediately. One of the challenges I realized when I first started writing for games was figuring out how to engage players right away and keep them engaged while I’m planting all these seeds and trying to make the plot happen in a way that I definitely can’t do with theater.”
A recurring theme that unites Wehrle and Gable’s experiences is the interdisciplinary nature of their work. Some believe that STEM and humanities are mutually exclusive and should not be interpolated. On the contrary, both Wehrle and Gable continuously utilize STEM in different ways, whether to understand the mathematical aspects of running a business in Wehrle’s case or self-learning coding to single-handedly create a game from scratch in Gable’s case. The intersection of these two worlds displays the necessity of every area of study, including the ones deemed less challenging.
Ultimately, we thrive and flourish when we commit ourselves to pursuing our passions, just like Wehrle and Gable have. “I’ve always felt very well served by my English degree. The great power and promise of the humanities is that it can be applied broadly. That also makes it scary because you don’t leave with a degree knowing precisely what you’re going to do. Luckily, you are as well equipped as anyone to figure that out,” Wehrle remarked.
So the next time you feel weighed down by a snarky comment about being a barista, remember that “if you can imagine yourself as a barista, then you can imagine other versions of yourself as well,” Wehrle said. “Pursue the passion,” Gable added.