Rachael Wright-Munn (ChaelCodes) talks about her love of programming games (games with programming elements in them, not how to make games!), starting her streaming career with regex crosswords, and how streaming games and open source every week led her to a voice acting role in one of her favorite programming games.

Recorded at RubyConf 2023 in San Diego.

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Photo from the Recording Room


Jeremy: Because in your professional life, you do software development work. So I wonder, what is it about being in a game format where you’re like, I’m in it. I can do it more. And this time, I’m not even being paid. I’m just doing it for fun.

Rachael: I think for me, software development in general is a very joyful experience. I love it. It’s a very human thing. If you think about it like math, language, all these things are human concepts and we built upon that in order to build software in our programs and then on top of that, like the entire purpose of everything that we’re building is for humans, right? Like they don’t have rats running programs, you know what I mean? So when I think about human expression and when I think about programming, these two concepts are really closely linked for me and I do see it as joyful, But there are a lot of things that don’t spark joy in our development processes, right? Like lengthy test suites, or this exhausting back and forth, or sometimes the designs, and I just, I don’t know how to describe it, but sometimes you’re dealing with ugly code, sometimes you’re dealing with code smells, and in your professional developer life, sometimes you have to put up with that in order to ship features. But when you’re working in a programming game, It’s just about the experience. And also there is a correct solution, not necessarily a correct solution, but like there’s at least one correct solution. You know for a fact that there’s, that it’s a solvable problem.

And for me, that’s really fun. But also the environment and the story and the world building is fun as well, right? So one of my favorite ones, we mentioned Shenzhen, but Zachtronics also has Exapunks. And that one’s really fun because you have been infected by a disease. And like a rogue AI is the only one that can provide you with the medicine you need to prevent it. And what this disease is doing is it is converting parts of your body into like mechanical components, like wires and everything. So what you have to do as an engineer is you have to write the code to keep your body running. Like at one point, you were literally programming your heart to beat. I don’t have problems like that in my day job. In my day job, it’s like, hey, can we like charge our customers more? Like, can we put some banners on these pages? Like, I’m not hacking anybody’s hearts to keep them alive.

Jeremy: The stakes are a little more interesting. Yeah, yeah.

Rachael: Yeah, and in general, I’m a gamer. So like having the opportunity to mix two of my passions is really fun.

Jeremy: That’s awesome. Yeah, because that makes sense where you were saying that there’s a lot of things in professional work where it’s you do it because you have to do it. Whereas if it’s in the context of a game, they can go like, OK, we can take the fun problem solving part. We can bring in the stories. And you don’t have to worry about how we’re going to wrangle up issue tickets.

Rachael: Yeah, there are no Jira tickets in programming games.

Jeremy: Yeah. So it sounds like maybe the streaming and podcasting or recording videos, talks, that part you enjoy, but it’s the I’m responsible for planning this event for all these people to, you know. That’s the part where you’re like, OK, maybe not for me.

Rachael: Yeah, kind of. I describe myself as like a content creator because I like to just like dabble and make things, right? Like I like to think about like, what is the best possible way to craft this tweet or this post or like to sit there and be like, okay, how can I structure this blog post to really communicate what I want people to understand? When it comes to my streams, what I actually do is I start with the hero’s journey as a concept. So every single stream, we start with an issue in the normal world, right? And then what we do is we get drawn into the chaos realm as we’re like debugging and trying to build things and going Back and forth and there’s code flying everywhere and the tests are red and then they’re green and then they’re red and then they’re green and then finally at the end we come back to the normal world as we create this PR and, Submit it and either merge it or wait for maintainer feedback. And for me that Story arc is really key and I like I’m a little bit of an artist. I like the artistry of it. I like the artistry of the code, and I like the artistry of creating the content. I think I’ve had guests on the show before, and sometimes it’s hard to explain to them, like, no, no, no, this is a code show. We can write code, and that’s great, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s not just about the end product. It’s about bringing people along with us on the journey.

And sometimes it’s been three hours, and I’m not doing a great job of bringing people along on the journey so like you know I’m tooting my own horn a little bit here but like that is important to me.


Check out the full podcast at Software Sessions!


The full transcript is available at Software Sessions!