Dave Mervik

Current employer: Tarsier Studios

Current job title: Senior Narrative Designer

Current location: Malmö, Sweden

“The course taught me that there are all sorts of cool things lurking under the surface, as long as you’ve got eyes to see it. When I was a student, it was my job to find it, but now I get to be the one that puts it there for others to find.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

It began in total panic. From the beginning, all I knew was that I loved studying literature. A job was the last thing on my mind until the last few months of my degree. I started work as a Games Tester in Manchester and, through a series of fantastic stumbles, ended up as a Narrative Designer in Sweden. I’m probably not a very good role model if you’re trying to promote preparation!

How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?

I always wanted to be a writer, but I spent most of my time producing awful Plath and Larkin knock-offs; expressing them rather than myself, and doing a terrible job of it to boot. The degree taught me to look for my own voice and how to express it as best I could. It’s not an easy or finite process, but I’m lucky to be able to spend my work time on it, as well as my free time.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

It’s been almost constantly changing; I honestly never knew what was coming next, and it’s only looking back that I can see some strange order to the whole thing – which I guess you could call a path! Somewhere in the middle of the last 16 years I wound up working in marketing, and that’s when I knew I’d definitely taken a wrong turn somewhere. Luckily for me, and the world of marketing, I found my way back to games.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

Moving to Sweden has to be one of the most psychologically taxing things I’ve ever done. My wife’s Swedish, so I had a head start in understanding the language and culture, but nothing really prepares you for the alienation you feel in a new country. It took a good while before I wasn’t pining for the safety of what I already knew; but, if you can hold on, those types of experiences are often the most worthwhile.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

Standing in front of a group of journalists to talk about one of our games. I’d been terrified of public speaking for as long as I could remember, so not curling up into the foetal position and weeping felt like a successful first go. Since then, it’s grown a little bit easier, a little bit more fun, and has actually become another part of my job. Just a few years back, I never would’ve predicted that.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

I think I’d wait a few extra years before going to university. There’s a tendency to go as soon as possible, but that doesn’t suit everyone. Looking back, I didn’t apply myself anywhere near as much as I would now, and some of my opinions were… younger. I regret that I didn’t take full advantage of what was on offer at the time, but things have worked out pretty well, so maybe I shouldn’t have done anything differently.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

An understanding of games is essential. Game storytelling is still evolving, and too often games are approached like movies. For me, the best game stories are felt rather than told. Some of my most memorable experiences have come when the designers had the confidence to know their story would come through unheralded, and that I would feel the consequences of my actions without clunky dialogue. Games like Shadow of the Colossus and Papers Please are perfect examples.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

My studies weren’t directly related to the career I ended up in, but it’s the people I met – both tutors and fellow students - who pushed me to always keep thinking and not take myself too seriously. All those ideas you love and protect can become a rut if you don’t challenge them, and that’s when your work becomes dull. “Kill your darlings” is probably the phrase I hear most at Tarsier. It’s a healthy mentality, figuratively speaking!

What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?

The course taught me that there are all sorts of cool things lurking under the surface, as long as you’ve got eyes to see it. When I was a student, it was my job to find it, but now I get to be the one that puts it there for others to find. It’s devastating when they don’t, but great when they do!

Would you recommend undertaking a course with the University, and why?

It was easily one of the most formative experiences of my life, and something I dearly miss. It’s rare that you get to be surrounded by so many smart, creative people in one place, so you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity if it comes along. I very nearly did!

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

I should warn your students that I’ve not set a very good example. I always knew that this is where I wanted to end up, but I’ve no idea how I actually managed it. Having some sort of plan for achieving your ambitions would be a great way to start out, but in the absence of that, knowing what you love and doggedly pursuing it can be a good substitute!

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