Imagine you were introduced to someone and you asked them what they did for a living. And then imagine how you would respond when they told you that they invented games! We never think that someone has to invent games before we purchase and play games, and that is the subject of Jeffrey Breslow’s biography/memoir “A Game Makers Life.” This is a wonderful book that describes the authors life as a game designer at Marvin Glass Associates (MGA), as well as some of the inner workings that go into the creation of those games. It is an eye opening book which captures your attention from the very first page, because on that first page Mr. Breslow comes face to face with a sociopath who worked at the company, who brought two handguns to work and killed numerous partners and co-workers as well as injuring many others. The author survived only because he had to step out of the room take a telephone call from Alabama!
Then we go back Breslow’s childhood and see a young boy who has an extreme desire to succeed and who is a bit of a tinkerer. Eventually he makes it to college, finds a mentor at the University of Illinois and a few years after graduation lands his dream job as a toy/game designer. MGA is a fortress in the middle of Chicago with no windows and very tight control on all aspects of game development. And Mr. Breslow loves it! He developed some games which are iconic and which MGA then sells to the game and toy companies and that will eventually end up on your TV screen and in your house. I liked to follow along with Breslow’s career by going to YouTube and watching old commercials for the toys he designed. The first big hit was called “Buckets of Fun”, then there was “Ants in your Pants”, and then takes us through development of the sound and memory game Simon as well as many other games that he as well as his co-workers at MGA develop. MGA is a huge development factory for the creation of new games, employing over 75 people who work in different areas of that facility and where they invent more than 700 annual prototypes for games, dolls and toys that kids will desire.
This is a fascinating look at an industry that we know a little about and which obviously is hidden because of trade secrets, and Breslow worked in this environment for over 35 years, and where he became the managing partner after Marvin Glass’s death. He tells of the highs and lows of the industry, the ones that got away, the hits and the misses, and all in all it is a wonderful look at the toy industry.
However we will have to examine what happened that day in 1976 when an employee become so possessed with some irrational ideas that he takes two handguns into work and shoots many of his co-workers. And there is behind the scenes humanitarian work that Breslow has done in helping Refusnik Jews who were unable to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Finally we follow him after retirement as he moves into the field of sculpture.
This is a story about a very creative man who’s had a fairy tale life, and is willing to let us take a peek behind that creative process. It’s a wonderful fast moving book that can be an inspiration to all of us.