Cliff Bleszinski gets personal at PAX East about family, friends and his career

He is best known as the creative force behind Epic Games' Gears of War third-person shooters, but he left the company last October after 20 years to "chart the next stage of his career."

During this period of transistion, Cliff Bleszinski admits he's been doing a lot of talking.

"So welcome," he said as he began his PAX East keynote. "I'm that guy who's unemployed and talks a lot of crap on the internet, apparently."

Amid jokes, opinions and a bit of self-effacement, the former Epic Games design director took to the stage with "Storytime with Cliff Bleszinski," a series of stories about himself, video games and how the two have been inseparable for as long as they've been together.

"It's time to get personal," he said.

Bleszinski began chronologically, working his way through his early fascination with arcade games, his teenage love affair with Nintendo and how he met his wife through gaming.

He said he fell in love with conventions when he and his friend Ralph went to the Nintendo World Championships, which he described as "a mini-version of PAX." He made it to the finals.

"Needless to say, I choked," he said.

Regardless of the outcome, on that day, he said he tasted the glitter of video game conventions, the thrill of competition and the agony of defeat. The skills he learned from that experience helped years later when he demoed Gears of War for others.

He spoke of the difficult, awkward teenage years and of a bully who stuck gum in his hair for no reason. On the last day of school in seventh grade, someone shook up a can of Coke and poured it over him. He broke down. He lost it on front of everyone. He asked the bus driver to stop the bus.

"Hey look! Nintendo Boy's running away to his Nintendo!" someone yelled as he escaped.

"This was a rough time for me," he said. But as always, it was video games that he ran to.

In a touching segment, he recounted the story of when he was playing Blaster Master and his brother entered the room.

"Dad's had a heart attack," his brother said. "We have to go to the hospital."

His father passed away. In the wake of that tragedy, his mom moved the family to California. In the middle of high school, he had to start over. As video games had always done, the SNES he bought during his junior year eased his transition.

That, above all, is what he loves about video games. In the best and roughest times, they remain a constant.

"When I look out here and see of all your smiling faces, I realize that games aren't just experiences or services, they're almost, really, a religion. And by this comment I don't mean to insult religion," he said before poking a little fun at the "Reddit atheism army."

"For me, my personal religion is pretty much technology and games. I worship the pixel. I believe that technology has set us free, and video games in our culture are a wonderful, playful unifying force."

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