I was interviewed by Alice Vilaça for the radio show “Portugueses no Mundo”, which is about the experiences Portuguese people have when they’re living abroad.
If you speak Portuguese you can listen to it on their website or on the subtitled video below.
In addition, here is the transcript in English:
Alice Vilaça: Manuel Correia is 34 years old. He’s from Lisbon and is in Ireland. He arrived in Galway in January 2020 and it was here, in Ireland, that it all began – in 2013, followed by other international experiences. The two years in Ireland were followed by two in Germany, then two more in Sweden, until a return to Ireland in early 2020.
Manuel, is it predefined that these experiences are meant to only last two years?
Manuel Correia: Not at all. It’s just that I work in a very volatile industry and I don’t always have any control over what happens next.
AV: We’ll get to what happens next, this was just a bit of a tease.
2013, Ireland. What makes you leave our country and head towards Ireland, at the time?
MC: I think this needs a bit of context.
I never found a career I identified with in Portugal. I was quite lost for a while and eventually I was able to find a group of people which were also interested in making games. From then on I tried to head in that direction. It took a while but I got there.
I started at a studio in Portugal. About two years later I went to another. And at a certain point, when I started planning the next steps, I realized that there was no other worthwhile studio in the country, at least in my opinion, and I started to look for a job abroad. So when I had the job offer it wasn’t a surprise. It was because I had been sending CVs to other studios for a while.
AV: Was it at this time that you realized that Portugal is small – or at least your industry is small here – that you considered going abroad? Or was the international experience always present in your mind?
MC: It was always present. Games have always been a part of my life and I didn’t know of a single one that had been made in Portugal until fairly late. This lead me to think that it wasn’t possible to make games from Portugal. I didn’t know anyone who did this. I didn’t know of any studios in the country. It felt like a career that could only happen to other people.
That’s why I was lost, because I was looking for a career that resonated with me and I couldn’t find it.
AV: Is it fair to say that you found your path when you got this offer to come to Ireland?
MC: I believe I found my path when I was able to get into the games industry, which was still in Portugal, but I felt limited and blocked. So yes, being able to leave unblocked my path and broadened my horizons.
AV: And what a path it has been!
How was your first experience in Ireland? How was it when you got there? At the time, a different city from the one you’re at today.
MC: Oh yes, different for sure. At the time it was Dublin, now I am in Galway, but I must say it wasn’t completely new to me because I had already studied in the United Kingdom for six months in 2008 and Ireland has a lot in common with it. In fact, I’d say it only has the good parts of the UK.
AV: In any way, it was a different experience this time. You had already studied in the United Kingdom but I believe that the feeling of heading out to start a new life makes the experience quite different.
How was the experience of adapting to this new life, Manuel?
MC: It was very interesting. Naturally there were a lot of cultural changes, it was a new country, one I didn’t know yet. In fact, I moved here without ever having visited before. The whole process of finding this job was done through the phone.
And to add to the new experiences, it was also the first time I moved in with my partner! We lived in different houses in Portugal and took the chance to live together here. So there were a lot of new things at the same time.
The first encounter was already very positive. We found nice people right away. We started in a rented room in the city suburbs, in the home of a lady named Louise, and I remember that one of the first culture shocks, for us, was when she offered us tea and poured milk in it. It was something I had never seen, but it works quite well with the tea that they drink here.
AV: A different habit but sometimes you can see it in movies, when you hear someone asking if they want milk in their tea.
Before we return to Ireland and hear about the experience you’re having now, I’ve already mentioned at the start that you’ve also been in Germany and Sweden. We won’t be able to look into all these experiences in great detail but I will ask for a word, or moment, that defines each of those experiences and we’ll include Ireland.
Let’s start there. How would you resume your first experience in Ireland in a word or a moment?
MC: I’ll go with the word “Community”. Here I met a lot of people with similar goals and values to mine, so I felt very welcome. It was hard to leave and it’s a relief to find them again here, even in a different city.
MC: Efficiency. I know this is a bit of a stereotype, but right when I started working at the studio they promised their players that there would be something new in the game every week. If you know how these games are made that sentence is enough to give you vertigo but we were able to do it, at a great cost.
MC: Innovation. I had the opportunity to work with tools which weren’t public yet. Several were secret, related to new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, and it was really, really interesting to explore what could be done with them before they were commonplace, before standards were set.
AV: Manuel, were all these relocations caused by your professional life?
MC: No doubt. They were either the result of job offers or ambitions to progress my career further.
AV: So the return to Ireland in January 2020 was also motivated by your professional activity.
MC: Exactly. I was invited by personal heroes, which I’ve long admired, so I could not refuse.
AV: Is it fair to say you currently have your dream job?
MC: I’d say so. I am working at Romero Games, which will sound familiar if you’re into games because it was founded by John Romero, the creator of DOOM.
AV: I confess it’s a whole language I’m not familiar with, but certainly those who are into games will know what you’re talking about.
Manuel, did the return to Ireland feel like coming back home?
MC: Yes, in multiple ways. As I said, it was a chance to work with friends, heroes and people who I already knew but after two countries where we didn’t speak the main language, it’s such a big relief to be somewhere where I can talk to everyone.
AV: Language is a very important factor in an experience like this. The process of adapting and integrating is so much stronger and deeper when you can speak the local language.
MC: Oh yes, absolutely.
For example, English has opened many doors for me but in Germany not everyone spoke English and there were even some proud people who did not admit they did.
No matter how hard people were to deal with, machines were so much worse. Whenever I needed to speak to automatic answering machines in a language I didn’t understand, without the chance to ask them to repeat or to speak a bit slower, it was very discouraging.
AV: In this return to Ireland and with the feeling of returning home, was there still a process of adaption? Was there some continuity to the process which you had begun back in 2013? Was it easier because you (or both of you, because this was something you’ve lived together) already had some experience moving to other countries?
MC: Yes, there was some continuity. Much of the paperwork had already been taken care of in the first time. We had the equivalent of a Social Security number. This was the easiest out of all the relocations.
AV: All that experience must have helped.
How would you define the Irish? Are they very different from the Portuguese?
MC: No, I wouldn’t say they are very different from Portuguese people because they are also very warm, kind and have a good sense of humor. The main difference for me is that they are excellent at telling stories. You can probably tell by the amount of celebrated Irish authors but it’s not just those. This is also true of people you meet in your daily life.
AV: Do you feel at home?
MC: Yes. But really, given the situation, that question is a bit of a trap. Due to the pandemic I have been at home for over a year and a half (laughs), so I very much feel at home. I feel very comfortable here.
AV: When I ask if you feel at home it’s to know if there are any aspects of the daily life there which you find hard to adapt to, so you don’t feel completely at home. Is this happening, in your case?
MC: Not really. If it had been my first time here I’m sure there would be some, but this time we knew what to expect.
AV: You were talking about the pandemic and the fact you’ve been at home for a year and a half. You could say the same is true for a big part of the population. Do you feel that is preventing you from experiencing this fully?
MC: Yes, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. In the other times, after a year and a half I felt like I knew all there was to see in the area. Here, given the health guidelines we’ve had to take it one step at a time but that only leaves us with more to see in the future. I can’t complain.
AV: How is your daily life at the moment, Manuel? Are there still any restrictions? Are things slowly going back to normal?
MC: Yes, exactly. There are still some restrictions and things seem to be getting back to normal. The pandemic started right after I got here (it wasn’t me!) so I didn’t get to see a lot of what normal life was like. It’s hard to compare.
The vaccination rates are rising, some places are reopening with some caution and some controversy, but things seem to be progressing at a good pace.
AV: Let’s look at the professional side of the experience, since it seems to be driving it. We know you work with videogames. You might have worked on some games people are playing at the moment. What do you do, exactly?
MC: I am a game designer. I create videogames and boardgames. It can be tricky to explain to those outside the industry so I’ll compare it with cinema: I am somewhere between a screenwriter and a director. I have to come up with ideas, understand how they work and describe them clearly enough so that the team can bring them to life.
AV: Are you fulfilled, professionally? Or is this a path in which every new project, every new game, offers a chance for higher fulfillment?
MC: (laughs) Both. At the moment I am fulfilled but it was that search that lead me from place to place. The industry is very volatile and it’s hard to control what the next project at the studio will be, and if it will be something you’ll like.
AV: Is there any project which you particularly enjoyed working on, or is the next one going to be the best one yet?
MC: That’s very hard to answer. There are two games that come to mind.
One is a game called Cookout, which is a virtual reality game about making sandwiches with your friends. There are four people around a table and they have to prepare the customer’s orders. That was very fun to make because, contrary to the trend, this is a cooperative game so you have to coordinate and work together.
The other is Multiuniversum, the first boardgame I was able to publish. That one is very important to me because all the games I had worked on until that point had been sold digitally, which makes it very easy for them to disappear without my control.
It’s a lot more fulfilling to be able to hold something I made with my hands. It’s here, it’s in my shelf. It’s mine and I can pass it on to my grandkids. To me that makes it a lot more valuable than the rest.
AV: We can hear that in your smile.
Manuel, when you were a child, if someone had told you that at 34 you would be in Ireland and working in your dream job, would you believe it?
MC: Not at all! As I said, for a long time I hadn’t even realized that games were made by people. They just appeared in stores and they were fun.
AV: Let’s explore Galway! What kind of city is it?
MC: It’s relatively small but very vibrant, it has a culture of arts and music. There are buskers on the streets, but naturally not as many at the moment. The restaurants are excellent and I can’t wait to explore more.
I’m really enjoying it here. It is close to the sea so there are always boats, seagulls and rain. But it’s not as intense as in Portugal. The raindrops seem smaller and most people don’t even own an umbrella.
AV: Since it rains more often the rain itself not as intense as here. When it rains here, it’s no joke.
Have you found a favorite spot in the city, Manuel?
MC: Yes! I think the answer is predictable but it’s a place called Dungeons & Donuts. It’s a boardgame store that also makes their own donuts. They have a large game library and room to play, so it’s a great place to try new games instead of having to buy every single one.
When things were normal I went there every weekend to play with others and it was great. I really miss it.
AV: I started the conversation by asking if the plan was to be there for two years but you said it depends on your professional activity. Is this Irish adventure meant to last?
MC: I believe so, but judging from past experiences I can’t be completely sure. The two years in each place look deliberate but they were never planned. This is always so tied up to how things are going at the studio that it’s always hard to say.
AV: What has been the biggest learning of this game, or this experience?
MC: Learning how to live with this uncertainty. We plan things as best we can and stay prepared for whatever might come next.
AV: Do you miss our country? What do you miss the most from Portugal?
MC: I miss the people, naturally family and friends but I also miss the places I used to go to most often. Train stations, Gare do Oriente, downtown. These are places I like to revisit when I go to Portugal but with the schedule so full of people to meet, I don’t always get the chance.
AV: Due to the pandemic these visits to Portugal have become more limited. Have you been able to travel during the pandemic?
MC: No. We haven’t even tried. In the current situation we wouldn’t feel safe in an airport or a plane, surrounded by so many strangers. The last time we went to Portugal was before we moved here. Mine was in October, almost two years ago.
AV: In the last year and a half, was it more difficult to be abroad? Did miss it more, did you feel like you were even further due to the current situation?
MC: Strangely, no. I’ve been talking to my family more often than I used to, in part because social isolation has also forced them to use apps to communicate, so now I can follow the conversation too! I end up being a lot more in touch compared to when they were talking to each other face to face.
AV: So you feel closer, despite the distance?
MC: I’d say so, yes.
AV: Manuel, the only thing missing is a word! What word would resume everything you lived in these years since you’ve left Portugal?
MC: Horizon. I felt very limited in Portugal and leaving broadened my horizons.
AV: We can tell! Thank you.
Manuel Correia is in Galway, Ireland. He is a Portuguese person around the world since 2013.