Life is unpredictable ! As more and more Games imitate real life, the unpredictability also becomes an integral part of Game Mechanics. How do you engage players by crafting a dynamic, real life experience through Games? The answer lies in Mathematics!
Our next pathbreaker, Abhirup Mukerjee, Game Mathematician, works with Artists, Musicians, Game Designers and Game Economists who need to sync with each other to make every single game work.
Abhirup talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the satisfaction of figuring out new Game Mechanics by calculating some tricky probability problems in the Math sheet.
For students, while Game Design deals with a creative thought process, mechanics of the game require an analytical and mathematical thought process !
Abhirup, tell us about your background.
I was born and brought up in Calcutta, West Bengal, the cultural capital of the country. I think that is a huge reason for my love for sports, music and numbers. Growing up I dedicated most of my life towards cricket as I played for a couple of 2nd division clubs at quite a young age. An injury in my spinal cord halted my cricketing career and I had to take a break from sports for a couple of years. I cleared my 4th year in painting the same year I suffered the injury. This gave me a life outside of cricket, and that is when I started focusing a bit more on mathematics.
What did you study?
The introduction of calculus and combinatorics during senior secondary years brought out a huge change in my visionary world, and that is when I was quite sure I would be studying either Mathematics, Statistics or Economics. That period was really confusing and after a few bad decisions (which I thought were right when i took them), I took up Statistics as my major in Asutosh College, University of Calcutta. It turned out that I was wrong, and a few of my views changed after slowly getting into the subject. After going through the Masters syllabus I really didn’t want to pursue Statistics as a major as I wanted a an application of it into something different. I did my Masters in Computational Finance from the Institute of Mathematics and Applications, Bhubaneswar. It was after getting into Stochastic Processes and into Bayesian Statistics in college that I realized that I wanted to get back to Mathematics, and not into core finance.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
In 2016, I got introduced to the book “The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic” by Richard Epstein. Although I was aware about how probability and gambling walked hand in hand, I got fascinated with the early stories of Cardano and how much I could relate to the incidents with real life scenarios. The most important thing that I learnt in Statistics was pattern, and how a pattern, an event always almost followed a Normal Distribution in our daily lives and that changed my view about life and how numbers could speak if you could look deeper into it.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get your first break?
The summer of 2017 had to be my biggest break. During our summer break, I had to travel to Delhi for two reasons. One was a project at ISI, Delhi, indulging in a Time Series model to calculate the Premier League standings for the 2018 season and the other a fellowship under Yes Foundation. The earlier one was under a professor who I’d known from ISI, Kolkata when he delivered a series of lectures on Time Series during my Bachelor years at Presidency University, Calcutta. I got the later one after a series of rounds which I was not familiar with, being an introvert didn’t help either, so I was not sure whether the fellowship could actually help me. Being a huge European soccer fan, I never imagined that the fellowship would turn out to be more significant in those couple of months than the project itself. I worked with Learning Links Foundation and NITI Aayog to develop a Statistical Model which would help rural developmental bodies in identifying talented children and allot more resources for them. I got the ‘Best Fellow’ award from Yes Foundation for the same. I think at this phase, I jumped from being an introvert to a low level ambivert. That helped a lot and I started interacting with a lot of people from different backgrounds, cultures, and families. It was then when I realized that life is definitely beyond just a career.
Where do you work now?
I joined Scientific Games(the inventors of lottery) after completing my Masters, and within a few months I realized I made the right choice. The gaming Industry has opened up a plethora of resources that i can indulge in, as I’m engrossed in learning more about Game Designing, creating Math models and gaining insights on a regular basis. As gambling is illegal in India, it was difficult in the initial stages to cope up with casino games, but once you’re into it, there is no looking back, as each and everyday you’re bound to learn new things in different horizons. I recently joined Zynga (the makers of Farmville, Zynga Poker, Words with friends, etc) and this will be another step for me towards perceiving the social gaming domain in the upcoming months. The greatest thing about my job is I get to work with Artists, Musicians, Game Designers, Game Economists and Mathematicians who need to sync with each other to make every single game work. Even to this day, there have been nights when I have forgotten the time just to figure out new mechanics in calculating some tricky probability problems in the Math sheet, and when I do find a solution, nothing can beat that level of satisfaction.
How does your work benefit society?
To give you an example, as we always know the house always wins, but the question is by how much? Central Limit Theorem always puts a number that ranges within 3-20% depending on the game you’re playing. It is our job to calculate those values to make the house the winners, and a chunk of those proceedings aid the governing bodies.
The revenue of the Gaming industry is more than double the revenue of Hollywood, this is just to give you an idea of how big the industry happens to be. During the 2008 recession, a major part of the proceeds of the government in North America and Europe came from casinos and gaming platforms, and that helped several economies of the world to get back on track. That being said, gaming teaches you a lot of real life aspects about winning and losing, and most importantly, irrespective of age, it always spreads happiness.
Advice to students based on your experience
Growing up in a country like India, it is often difficult to focus on that one thing that you like to do most. So it is very important for us to figure out what we love and admire at a younger age, and try to devote a little more time towards it. More often than not, our talents are being wasted due to peer pressure, parents, and negligence, because more than 2/3rd of our population lives in the rural areas and there’s no proper guidance for those children. Those numbers spike the chart due to less literacy amongst women in the rural areas. But there is a lot of scope for us to work and bring a change that we seek instead of using social media as a platform to downgrade our society or our government. It is high time we take responsibilities as individuals to make the society not just literate, but educate them as well. The rest will follow. Just like that, COVID-19 changed the world in a lot of ways that we could never imagine. So, always prepare for change and prepare yourself for the worst, so that you can make that pronounced comeback.
I would love to grow as a professional in this industry in the coming years, and get into Game Designing. I’ve also started my own foundation along with a friend, i.e. ‘The Misti Foundation’, where the focus is mostly to educate children with financial limitations. My target for the next few years would be to give more time to that project. Also, as I mentioned that I love sports, I have been writing for Sports-nova, mostly covering European Soccer and I wish to contribute more time and dedication towards the same. Time is becoming the biggest constraint at this time of life, and trying to figure out the best way to optimize it would be the biggest challenge in the coming years. I would also love to work at the grass root level to help improve the condition of our athletes at some point in my life. Well, as we all know change is the only constant in this era, I can say these are my priorities for the next few years. Let’s see where life takes me from here. Cheers!