When my son, Ben, was four years old, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mama, God made me to build.”
I had no idea how true that statement would be.
We, too, saw Ben’s proclivity to build, so, for Christmases and birthdays, we always got him building toys: Legos, K’nex, Rokenbok…you name it, we bought it. When Ben was six, our neighbor had a garage sale and was selling her collection of 3D puzzles. Ben bought every one she had (for 50 cents each) and disappeared for days building them. No one else in the family had a clue what enticed him about hundred of pieces of monochromatic foam pieces. All we knew was that WE sure as heck couldn’t do it.
We foresaw contractor, car designer, or architect.
What we did not foresee was 3D artist for one of the largest gaming companies in the world.
Today, the Washington Post published a story about Ben and his work on Valve’s Pipeline internship project last summer.
Okay, maybe the story was about the estimated 2.5 billion dollar video game company, Valve, and its unique use of community in the shaping and developing of their products.
But a tiny part was about Ben.
Whenever people find out that Ben has a ‘job’ working for Valve, they are always curious how he got started, so, because the Post wrote about
him Valve, I thought I would share more deets of his story here.
In 2008, my husband, Ian, lost his casket sales job in Colorado (darned people wouldn’t die) and we moved to Kansas to sit out the recession. Having no income, money was tight, so we were unable to put any of our children in any activities (except for Scouts). Gone were the days of show choir, music lessons, and basketball. We planned on sitting tight for one year and then moving back to God’s country ASAP, or, in our case, ASAIGAJ (As Soon As Ian Got A Job), whichever came first.
Here we were, eight people in a 1700 square foot house, and, since we home schooled, together 24 hours a day. Ian and I thought we could prevent complete bedlam if we could use this time ‘off’ to pursue our individual passions, mine being writing and his being music. After 20 years of talking about it, unemployment gave us the chance to finally chase these dreams. It also gave us the opportunity to fight like MMA combatants, but I digress.
With all this free time, the kids had two choices: Die of boredom, or do something.
Each of them, out of sheer survival instinct, chose the latter.
Ben learned 3D art.
When our house sold, we still didn’t put them into activities. We were only going to be here one year, remember? Why get them attached to the place? We couldn’t do much, but we tried our best to provide the basic tools for their various pursuits. Em got some recording software. Aus got a camera and Ian’s old computer. Anna got a microphone. Elenia got paper. Coop got, well, nothing.
And they got busy. Without the distraction of, well, a life, what else can you do? The boys started their own film-making company and made ‘James Bond’ movies in the basement. Em wrote a bunch of songs and compiled them in a CD. Anna put songs on YouTube. Lano wrote story after story and started drawing her own illustrations. Coop learned to follow the visual directions for his Lego Turbo Tank Clone Carrier.
Boredom is a great teacher.
Ben’s initial submissions to Valve were pitiful. Later, he heard that it wasn’t until about his fifth submission that the Valve team started paying attention. Soon after, he got word that they were going to ship one of his ‘sets.’ A set consists of weapons and articles of clothing based on a theme. His was a Russian theme called the Tomislav.
He was excited, but kept working on other sets. Soon after, he got word that, because he had built one of his items based on an already used shell, it would not go into game. That item was a hat, the item most contributors make the most amount of money on. It was a painful setback, but he understood his mistake and determined not to do it again.
The rest is history. Ben has visited Valve three times and each time is treated with respect. This isn’t some sales gimmick. Valve values their contributors…even when they are 14 years old and don’t yet have facial hair.
As parents, we are thankful for the opportunity the Steam workshop gave to a young teenager who needed something other than surfing the web and letting his brain turn to jelly. Although I personally don’t like video games, I am not opposed to my child participating in the creative side of the business. It’s hard to quantify the value learning new software, reading tomes like ‘CS for Dummies,’ and creating something from scratch has for a child. I know, for Ben, it has been life changing. Being taken seriously, even when you are a child, and given a high mark to shoot for not only makes a child aim high, but makes me wonder how far our children could go if we stopped treating them like imbeciles and like the creative geniuses they are…or can be.
God, indeed, made Ben to build. He just had different ideas than Ben’s mama did.
I’ve long believed that boredom is a great catalyst for creativity. Ben’s story proves it. He’s just an ordinary kid with an ordinary life and ordinary parents who was presented with an extraordinary opportunity.
Thank you, God. And thank you, Valve.
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