I can't remember when I first learned chess and scrabble; feels like I have always known how to play; at high school, I discovered bridge, Dungeons and Dragons, and Diplomacy; but chess, bridge and role-playing games were about all I played until well after I left university.
My first introduction to the one true faith came about after I attended a play-by-mail convention, and found a flier for a board games convention called FurryCon; this would have been around 1992, I think. With the encouragement of my then girlfriend, I signed up for the convention, and every event they listed... then phoned rounmd all my friends trying to find anyone who knew how to play Magic: the Gathering. The convention itself was great; the folks were friendly, and the games were amazing. The first German games I played were Bausack and Tal der Koenige, and I was completely hooked.
Over the next year or so, my girlfriend and I raided games shops and charity shops for every game in sight with very little discrimination, and by the next FurryCon, my house was bulging at the seams, so I took along 50 or so games for the bring and buy sale. That led to a thriving trade in used boardgames on the internet; though to be honest, it could only be considered profitable if you didn't consider the time I spent counting components and wrapping parcels.
I also started writing reviews for Games, Games, Games magazine, and got something of a reputation since I seem to like abstracts more than most... sign of a misspent youth! You'll find a number of the reviews here: http://www.scat.demon.co.uk/reviews.html though it's a little embarrassing to re-read them after all this time.
I started designing games waaay back at school, and have dabbled ever since. Recently, my friendship with Cameron Browne has spurred me to make some of my games fit for public consumption; and the spate of games design competitions here on BGG has also been a big boost. Nothing like a deadline to stir the creative juices!
When designing games, I'm usually looking for a specific feeling when I play. Hard to describe; but I know I have reached my design goals when the game play experience matches that initial feeling. My game designs are usually strongly themed, in the sense that there is an internal coherence - If I'm doing my job well, then the games won't require you to do anything which would contradict the theme, and the moves you make should advance the narrative. (That goes for the abstracts as well - though the theme may be somewhat subtler!)