John Romero
John Romero, co-founder of Romero Games. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

John Romero: A boy from the desert who learned about STEAM the hard way

25 Aug 2017

John Romero is a legend in the gaming industry, but his rise to prominence was by no means a walk in the park, as he recently explained at Inspirefest 2017.

2017 was the second time that veteran video game designer and programmer John Romero – who is co-owner of Romero Games along with his partner Brenda – appeared at Inspirefest to discuss his role in some of the most iconic video games of all time.

But, before Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, there was a time when the very concept of working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) was as close to Romero’s world as being an astronaut.

He described growing up in one of the poorest parts of Tucson, Arizona during the 1960s and 1970s, where “STEM was nowhere to be seen in that hot desert”.

He continued: “Access to STEM was to the privileged. I didn’t know what a chemistry set looked like, and I didn’t even know what chemistry was.”

Now and then, Romero said, we are fooling ourselves to think that STEM is something that everyone has access to in their schools or homes. What does make it accessible to the masses, however, is the simple addition of another letter to the acronym: ‘A’ for art.

STEAM is a concept that has grown legs over the past few years as the boundaries between the worlds of creativity and science dissolve, albeit it with serious effort, as we heard at Inspirefest 2016.

Art is the most important variable in STEAM equation

For Romero, art is the most accessible of all forms of creation, and should be treated as a gateway to STEM for kids who like to draw and create art.

After playing around with computers throughout his childhood, Romero said that his life changed the day his parents bought him an Apple II Plus computer.

While it taught him the skills needed to program lots of different games, it also laid the foundation for his career in the gaming industry.

For many of the cult games that Romero worked on, his creativity in the design of levels and characters is often lauded as his crowning achievement.

“Design is creativity, design is art, and art is the most important variable in the STEAM equation,” he said.

“Without a good design, the time you would spend programming is basically wasted.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Ultra Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 are on sale now!

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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