Welcome to Growing Up Geek, a feature where we take a look back at our youth, and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have the founder of OUYA, Julie Uhrman!
Growing up, I was your typical tomboy. My twin sister and I were incredibly competitive and wanted to do everything the boys did. That meant joining the city's YMCA and playing basketball with 60 boys from kindergarten through the third grade. When we got older, our mother would drop us off in Westwood Village at the Westwood Arcade (now, sadly, closed) to play Galaga, Centipede and Dragon's Lair. Going to the arcade, I now realize, was a big part of my life. I can remember three times I took dates there, well into my 20s, as something fun we could do together. Guess who always won?
But, what I remember most fondly was being on my computer and dialing up my local BBS (Bulletin Board System). I can still remember the sound my computer made when it dialed and connected... first, at 2,400 baud, and then at a lightning-fast 9,600 baud. My sister and I would be on it for hours talking to other gamers and, our favorite pastime, downloading what we thought were "free" games (you see, mom paid the phone bills). Our favorite game was -- wait for it –- Kings of the Beach. It was a beach volleyball game starring Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos. Growing up in Los Angeles, we watched them play all summer, so of course we wanted to be them virtually too. From there, I graduated to games like Civilization and Flight Simulator. I liked to challenge myself.
I went from playing games to wanting to make games. I took typing, then learned all about computers in summer school. I learned to code in Pascal -- in fact, I vividly remember randomly building an application to book airplane tickets. But that didn't last long. Loving sports, I didn't like being inside all the time.
I talk about gaming because I feel it defined my childhood and now my professional life. I loved all things tech. I was the first one in my college with a StarTAC mobile phone. I bribed my mom to get it for me if I promised to only use it for "emergencies." Clearly, that didn't happen. I was also the first one in my circle of friends and family to know what T-9 was (pre-dates MMS). I had ringtones and truetones and even downloaded games from the Get It Now store. In fact, I still refer to AT&T as Cingular (does that date me?).
I always wanted to be part of the next big thing, and that hasn't changed. I find that I've gone back to my roots, doing something that I love and loving what I do: gaming! Although, this time, I'm not trying to make them; rather, I'm trying to bring the most inventive and innovative games to the TV for everyone to enjoy. The idea that I am now enabling the creative medium that I have loved the most throughout my life is truly hard to grasp, but it explains a lot. It explains why I built OUYA (a new kind of game console for the TV) to be open to all creators. I want kids, young adults, families and gamers to discover games the same way I did –- my updated version of dialing up a BBS, downloading games and trying them for free. This is OUYA.
Great ideas are powerful and there is nothing more compelling than seeing your creation on the most valued and enjoyed screen in all our lives: the TV. Yes, we have established AAA publishers on OUYA, but we also have many first-time developers and even an 8-year-old boy, Noah, who created a published game called Astronaut Rescue. If I was able to bring my creativity to the TV as a kid when I felt I was most creative, who knows what I would have developed. And that's why OUYA is so rewarding. With OUYA, today we won't be thinking about what-if's; today we will know!
Now, in my late thirties, I look back on my geekdom and I have to say I'm pretty proud of being a part of so many "beginnings"; from playing and making games to carrying a brick of a phone that played Maroon 5's "This Love" every time it rang. Now, I'm not only enabling creators by giving them the freedom to build what they want for the most desirable platform in our lives, I'm also passing the torch to my 5-year-old daughter, Elle, and my two-and-half-year-old son Charlie who screams for OUYA every night. Together, on the couch, we discover and try new games, getting caught up in the fun all over again.