Mark Kern and the MMORPG of Life

In 1984, I was in the 10th grade at Taipei American School, a former Armed Forces school for the children of soldiers based in the Taiwan Strait. After the US pulled out of Taiwan, the school became an “International School” for the children of businessmen and other “qualified passport holding” people. I still have quite a few close friends from this era, among them the mysterious and talented Mark E. Kern. You may have heard of the last game he worked on: the record-breaking online role playing game World of Warcraft from Blizzard Entertainment.

I met Mark in the 10th grade when we were assigned to some kind of “Spirit Week” work detail. Mark remembers our first conversation being about computer games, and it went something like this:

Mark: “Hey, do you play Wizardry?” (referring to a popular computer game from the early 80s) Dave: “Yeah! It’s great! I can imitate the sound that the disk drive makes when starting up!” Mark (thrown off guard): “Really?” Dave: “Yep! CHK…CHK…CHK…CHK-CHK! CHKCHKCHKCHKCHKCHK! CHHHHHK. CHK CHHHK CHHHK-CHK, CHK-CHHHHK CHK-CHK!” Mark (oddly impressed): “Wow!”

Of course, we became good friends.

Mark was involved with student government, which at the time was undergoing a radical transformation from “transcript padding” to “student action.” The former regime had be ousted by the Student Liberation Organization, a group of motivated slackers dedicated to putting more fun back into student life. Every sanctioned student-run event got bumped up a notch: instead of having the Prom in the traditional stale location (the function room at a local club), the SLO raised the price of tickets by a factor of 20. The Prom Committee had reserved the disco at the Ritz hotel for the night. Shocked at the price and the concept, no one bought any tickets until for the last day, and the Prom was a gigantic success. Instead of bake sales, the SLO held polynesian barbecues and other theme events. Once they built a gigantic bonfire out of a stack of wood 15 feet high in the middle of the field, and sold marshmallows on sticks. The fire was so hot that people couldn’t roast their marshmallows without suffering serious burns, but oooo…the spectacle!

Mark was intimately involved with many of these groundbreaking high school events. Why have the same lame Spirit Week activities when you can get your friends together to build a Laser Tag setup out of flashlights, relays and photocells? Or set up an Indiana Jones obstacle course out gym equipment, complete with muddy pools to swing over and screaming barbarians trying to knock you down?

In hindsight, it’s not a surprise that Mark became Team Lead for World of Warcraft. He spent the past 5 years of his life hiring and leading the talent that would become the WOW team, under crushing scrutiny at one of the world’s top AAA game development studios. And they kicked ass.

Mark is always the first to say that it’s the great talent, passion, and dedication of the Blizzard team that made WOW possible. That’s true, of course, without diminishing Mark’s uncanny talent for team building. Mark recently left Blizzard to form a new company, Red 5 Studios in Southern California. This time, he’ll own a piece of the action.

Mark has also started his own blog, ThinkWild.Net, to finally speak his mind about the video game industry. In his own voice. On his own terms. As his own man.

Congrats, dude! Keep the faith, and rock on! Welcome to the Blogosphere!