Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Ernie Lafky '81

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Game designer, avant-garde theater director

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Ernie Lafky ’81 designs casino games. His lifelong passion is experimental and avant-garde theater. And he won Catlin Gabel’s science award in his senior year for his stellar work in physics. It really does all fit together, he says.
It’s all about having a cerebral, conceptual turn of mind. Ernie relishes the challenges, social commentary, and verbal play of the fringes of the theater world as much as the intense, mathematical world of physics. In his job he draws on these proclivities and experiences, creating engaging play for the gamer and earning patents for ingenious systems he’s developed.
Ernie stumbled into avant-garde theater at Catlin Gabel, influenced by teacher Alan Greiner, and was encouraged to read writers such as Eugene Ionesco. “In college and graduate school I was up to my eyeballs in creative theater,” says Ernie. In Los Angeles he immersed himself in avant-garde theater with great artistic freedom—until he turned 30 and was tired of being broke.
As a tester in the new field of interactive multimedia CD-ROM games and programs—rife with bad stories, film, and acting—Ernie saw how he could improve them. After a spell working in theater with gay and Lesbian homeless youth, and doing Shakespeare with inner-city youth—experiences he cherishes—he realized it was time for a new career. It seemed clear that he could do well as a producer for interactive games. And he landed jobs with companies including Jim Henson and Mattel.
When a position came up at Wagerworks (now IGT) to produce and design casino games, he snagged the job. He loves video poker and Vegas, and his theater work helps him grasp how to keep a player entertained. His science background helps him communicate with engineers, so the fit is perfect.
Ernie still works in theater whenever he can. “Casino gaming is one of my hobbies, which makes my job really fun. It’s like dessert,” he says. “But avant-garde theater nourishes my spirit. It’s a perfect balance.”

“All that I do was planted as seeds at Catlin Gabel—theater, science, English, history. I draw on all of it between my job and my art. My education has been so incredibly valuable to me. You can’t put a price on it.”  

Photo at right: Ernie Lafky '81 (left) and Lisa Wymore in Remote by Sara Kraft and Ed Purver