In 2000, only a few years after graduating from Pratt, the video game designer Christopher Barrett was hired by the game studio Bungie—and has been there ever since. First serving as the art director for Halo, then co-creator of Destiny, and most recently as the game director for Marathon, Barrett’s creative vision and work ethic has helped redefine Bungie into one of gaming’s leading companies. (Recently, during the time Barrett was on the board of directors, the company was acquired by Sony in a major deal.) Throughout his career, Barrett has applied the hands-on, problem-solving approach to design he developed and honed as a student at Pratt, and has become a mentor within and beyond Bungie, helping aspiring game designers forge the industry’s future.

A person made up of green, blue, and red lines of code lying prostrate.
Still from Marathon. Courtesy of Bungie

Who were your influences at Pratt?

Surprisingly, some of my biggest influences were my fellow students. I was lucky enough to meet some extremely talented and driven friends who constantly pushed one another and shared experiences. Our friendship continues to this day. 

My biggest influence from a faculty perspective was my Illustration professor, David Passalacqua. One of the things that I feel was unique to Pratt and his teaching was a focus on problem-solving over technique. Technique or craft is a tool; as an illustrator or commercial designer, the most important thing is solving a problem in the best, most economical way, using any means in your toolkit. He taught me to explore many styles, many ways of approaching problems, and really embracing the joy and freedom of creativity within a set of constraints.

A focus on adaptability and problem-solving directly contributed to my ability to tackle (or attempt to tackle) anything thrown at me in my career. Whether it was learning 3D modeling, creating UI designs, building an environment, or new challenges like game design or joining the board of directors—if you are excited to grow and absorb, and have a healthy amount of fear, with a solid foundation of fundamentals, taste, and adaptability—you can take a decent swing at whatever creative challenge you face.

I have had many opportunities to learn from peers, professors, and industry veterans. Over the last five years or so, I’ve been able to provide mentorship to coworkers and individuals interested in my field. Last year, I met with Pratt students who were interested in gaming as a career.

A large pointed object destroying a moon in front of a planet.
Still from Marathon. Courtesy of Bungie

What advice would you give fellow mentors on how to support emerging talent in game design?

Never underestimate the power and influence you have as someone who has been in an industry and succeeded. 

I often think of myself as just another person struggling to do their job every day like anyone else. But literally 30 minutes with a new employee, or words of encouragement, a monthly sync, or offering your time—especially to individuals who might be early in their career or facing unique challenges (like being a woman or person of color in the gaming industry)—can make a world of difference [to them], and maybe to the industry as a whole someday.

A person in a protective suit and helmet holding a gun running past a blue background.
Still from Marathon. Courtesy of Bungie

What advice do you have for up-and-coming game designers in the industry?

As a senior, I had a portfolio review with a gaming company, and I was overzealous—I was excited about the potential of games. The company apparently complained to Pratt career services because I was “arrogant and disrespectful.” I don’t second guess how I felt, but I could have handled it better. Hey, I was a kid, and I really did believe in what the future of games held and how I could be part of it.

Interestingly enough, that company went out of business and I’ve done OK enough <grin>.

You have to believe you are better than people give you credit for. But always be humble to others and yourself. Know that you have way more to learn, always. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

A man in a black shirt sitting in a black lounge chair.
Christopher Barrett ’97
Read more mentorship stories from the Spring 2024 special section.