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A Conversation With a Homeless Game Developer

Every morning for the last five months, the smell of mochas and espressos straight from the filter greeted him, as well as the blip of connectivity that ensured a productive day. The footsteps of caffeine-starved commuters, chatty baristas, and clinking mugs made conversation difficult at best, even without the added absence of his earphones on the table. The ache of his stomach reminded him the reason behind their vacancy.

Jeffrey Winn is homeless. He has been since Autumn of 2016, two weeks into the development of his first video game, Roll a Ball.

“I slept in my car second guessing my decision every night.”

It was initially difficult for Winn to adjust to life without a home, especially in Florida, once described by the Huffington Post as the ‘most dangerous State for homeless people.’ But, he managed to survive for a time, on bulk bags of animal crackers and water. “I still had a car at that point, so at least I had shelter. I still had some funds in my bank account, but it was a matter of finding wi-fi, free wi-fi, to build the game.” It’s this necessity that led him to his local Starbucks.

“I knew Starbucks always had clean bathrooms, so I went. That’s when it hit me. I’d seen people in there with their laptops, just hanging out. Hell, if they could do it, why not me?”

One of the Starbucks where Jeffrey worked on Roll a Ball.

With a new place for him to work, Winn soldiered on through the development of Roll a Ball. “I worked feverishly. Once I got comfortable with going into the same Starbucks on a daily basis, I would be there usually from the time they opened till the time they closed. This allowed me to focus more.”

But despite this focus, he started to run into some problems that intensified his self-doubt. “I started to have some major bugs in my game. A few days would go by and I couldn’t figure them out. I felt severely defeated at times.

“I slept in my car second guessing my decision every night. Not only was it embarrassing and humiliating, but it was solitude in a city of life. People all around me, going on with their lives. And here I am, alone, stuck in a rut of homelessness.”

It wasn’t long before he lost this shelter. So, as many would in his position, Winn turned to faith. “I asked God for help many times. I had spent a few days going over the game, looking everywhere for the problem. I had just come back inside from smoking a cigarette, and there it was. I honestly do believe in God, and I honestly do believe he showed me the problem.”

Winn feels that the bare-bones simplicity of Roll a Ball is what makes it as fun as it is. “Yes, it’s a very simple game. And that’s what I wanted. For people to play it while they’re in the bank, or at the doctor’s office, or waiting for a movie to start. I always found myself in these situations, playing Candy Crush, or something similar. Quick and simple.”

“If that’s what it would take for me to accomplish something… in a heartbeat.”

Looking back on the past five months, Winn feels conflicted about the experience. “If I felt and know what I do now, of course, I would definitely try to keep a roof over my head. But, it happened. I let it happen. I welcomed it. As for my focus, yeah, it helped me an incredible amount. Would I do it again? If that’s what it would take for me to accomplish something… in a heartbeat.”

Roll a Ball being played

Those close to Winn have high hopes for him, most notably his eldest daughter. “He’s protective, he’s funny, he’s outgoing. there’s nothing I can do to help him, but I also feel happy because of how he’s dealing with it. He Keeps me updated. I get worried though because sometimes I don’t know if he’s ok or not. But It shows that I love him. Because he’s been through so much and yet he can still accomplish things. That shows me that he’s such a good person and he can do anything.”

Roll a Ball is currently out on the Google Play Store, and Winn has managed to find a temporary place to stay until May; a house owned by his daughters’ mother. He’s still struggling to find a job, but he remains optimistic about his future.

Published in Features


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