Nearly a third of the 2015-2016 California Legislature are first-term members. In this occasional series, The Bee introduces you to Sacramento’s newest lawmakers.
Jay Obernolte’s kids hate playing video games with him.
“I tend to ignore the goals of the game and go and figure out what the design challenges that they had in that game were and how they solved them,” said the Republican Assembly member from Big Bear Lake.
A leisure activity for most people, video games were Obernolte’s livelihood. Needing spare cash to buy a car during his high school years in Fresno, he designed and sold a computer program to accompany a physics textbook. A help-wanted posting on a bulletin board at Caltech lent Obernolte, then an undergraduate, his first experience in game development.
“I played video games, I was really passionate about them, but it never occurred to me I could actually do that as a living and get paid for it,” Obernolte said.
So profitable and time-intensive was that new endeavor that Obernolte left his graduate program in artificial intelligence at UCLA to focus full-time on what would become Farsight Studios. Obernolte’s first platinum seller was NFL ‘95, for Sega Genesis, one in a string of successful games that sustained a passion for computer science interrupted by his becoming mayor of Big Bear Lake.
“Right up until that time I was writing code every day, and I had to hang it up,” Obernolte said. “I had to take the big creative step away from the business.”
There were tough times. Long after trading the business world for public service, Obernolte said he vividly remembers – and draws motivation from – when he was unsure he could cover payroll for his employees.
“You can’t sleep. You’re up in the middle of the night worrying about what you’re going to do,” Obernolte said. “And remembering how that felt, I carry that with me because there are small business owners across California that are feeling that.”
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.
ASSEMBLYMAN JAY OBERNOLTE
Residence: Big Bear Lake
Education: M.S. Artificial Intelligence (division of Computer Science) 1997 University of California, Los Angeles; B.S. Engineering and Applied Science 1992 California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Career: Founder, FarSight Studios; Big Bear Lake City Council, 2010-2014; Mayor, Big Bear City Council, 2012-2014
Assembly committees: Arts, Entertainment, Tourism and Internet Media; Budget; Rules; Utilities and Commerce