Meet the 57-year-old who just released his first video game

March 30, 2024
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At the age of 57, Chris Mandra has just released his first video game. This is something I find truly remarkable. For all the modern talk about portfolio careers and the death of a job-for-life, the idea of embarking on a completely new career in your sixth decade on Earth seems astonishing. At the age of 44, I sometimes daydream about starting out again, venturing into the unknown, maybe writing a travel book or doing that master’s degree I never got round to. But it doesn’t happen. There are too many forces holding me back, too much inertia from mortgages and children and the idea of having to learn everything again from scratch. What Mandra has done is nothing short of extraordinary.

Mandra cheerfully admits to knowing almost nothing about games. “I’m just not a very good gamer,” he says when we chat. “I’ve only played a handful of games.” When he was a kid, he tells me, his dad won an Atari 5200, which led to him getting pretty handy at Defender, and some of his friends had consoles. “But that was it,” he says. His wife suggested getting a PS2 in 2004 to play GTA, although mainly so they could listen to the radio stations. Most recently, in 2014, he bought a PS4 to play Destiny after he was intrigued to hear that video games had become bigger than the film industry. “I played the entire game with a hand cannon, because I didn’t know any better,” he says.

His passion is music. He has two master’s degrees from the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, one in musical composition and one in computer music. He’s released more than a dozen albums down the years, mostly psychedelic music where the shortest songs are seven minutes long. He plays in bands. During one memorable gig in 2012, the didgeridoo player collapsed on stage after suffering cardiac arrest. “Two of our fans in the audience, one was a trauma nurse and one was a guy who teaches how to do CPR, they both jumped on stage and start giving him CPR, which they do until the paramedics come and they get him to the hospital,” recalls Mandra. “Literally, and there’s no hyperbole whatsoever in what I’m about to tell you: he had CPR for 90 minutes. When they got him to the hospital, they were preparing him to be an organ donor. They went through five rounds of whatever their protocol is that ends up with the electroshock to the chest. And the doctor in charge said, ‘Listen, if this were me, I’d want you to do this one more time’. So they did it one more time, and his heart came back to life.” Three months to the day, Mandra and his band redid the show – and they called it the ‘Resurrection Show’.

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