PAX East opened up this year with a story of Cliff Bleszinski’s life told by none other than the man himself. Cliffy B. talked about his love affair with games, being a ninja, a story of romance, making his father proud, and even bullying.
Bleszinski told of his life as a child growing up. Living in New England as a kid, young Cliffy would find snakes and frogs under rocks in his backyard and keep them as pets without his parents’ knowledge. He attributed that thrill to video games when he discovered they joy they brought him. Throughout school he would wait outside his friend’s house—sometimes in the pouring rain—until he’d come home so they could spend the rest of the day playing NES together. Cliff beat tons of games, good and bad, and he loved them all.
Part of the magic for him was going to arcades. Afternoons were spent with a pocket full of quarters playing every game there was to experience. Although arcades are quickly dying off as the gaming industry is changing, nothing takes Cliff back to the glory days of using tokens to game in a dark room with strangers than the smell of bad mall pizza.
When Bleszinski wasn’t gaming, he was pretending to be a ninja with his friends, and whoever didn’t do that as a child was never really a kid. Cliff even went so far as to steal a canister of gasoline from a neighbor in the middle of the night, pour it on the road, and set it alight. He learned a valuable lesson days later when he was eventually found out, and he’s been walking the straight edge ever since.
Cliff found the real love of his life through his gaming habit. His wife, Lauren Berggren, worked for id when he worked for Epic, and an affectionate rivalry was born. The two quickly fell and love and were married. Cliff lives the dream: not only does he make games for a living (well, he used to, at least), but he’s married to a dedicated gamer as well. If that’s not a recipe for a successful relationship, I don’t know what is.
Growing up, Bleszinski’s father never really saw a promising future in Cliff’s love of video games. His parents wanted a different future for their child, something I’m sure many can relate to. Cliff says that, had he lived, his father probably would have wanted him to become an engineer or something. Fortunately for us, Cliff decided to follow his passion. Bleszinski lost his dad to a heart attack far too early in life, but with where he is now, Cliff believes his father is looking down on him, proud of what he’s done.
One subject Cliff touched on was bullying. Cliff was verbally abused by several kids growing up in middle school. Everyone knew he was a gamer, and that wasn’t nearly as socially acceptable back then as it is today. As a result, Bleszinski became the punchline of many cruel jokes. But he says, if given the opportunity, he wouldn’t change the past because the garbage he went through growing up shaped him into the success he is today and gave him that extra hunger to succeed.
Cliff’s speech was nothing if not entertaining and inspiring. Storytime was Cliffy B. was an excellent was for PAX patrons to begin their weekend and celebrate the fact that we can all enjoy this wonderful hobby together.