The shortcomings of being a perfectionist (why loving what you do is a blessing and a curse)
I have become pretty good at inviting failure into my life. I wouldn’t say I am accustomed to it, I don’t think anyone ever really becomes adjusted to it but failure and I at this point tolerate each other and see the benefits in each others friendship.
Perfectionist. It’s not a word I like to use as the term is so amorphously represented it could mean different thing to anyone that uses it. I’ve seen the term thrown around to mean someone that spent way too long on a task and never releases it, I see it mean someone that consistently works but never produces anything tangible. My belief is to explain my use of it in the following term related to game development: My love for what I do allows me to realise what is good and what isn’t but doesn’t necessarily let me produce said good body of work. Ira Glass said it best in the following clip:
This process is true and has been for a long time for me. It has been going on for a good 5-6 years. I feel like I got out of it multiple times to be thrown back into it and realise that maybe I don’t have that taste yet.
This is a short coming I see all the time in the indie and large industries. A lot of large companies make shitty games, most of the games are shit. You can pretty it up, have smooth animations, clean graphics and efficient code but at its core the game sucks. The thing drawing you back into it isn’t the simple gameplay loop its generally just some flashy crap that gave you a good dopamine hit. The usual argument I hear is “well I like it, I don’t have to think to much”. I get it, I played World of Warcraft in it’s prime for years and spent more time than I care to admit playing it. At its core though the game is not fun, it is not rewarding, it is a treadmill of never ending progress and simply a skinner box to tax on peoples psychology. I argue that this is a bad thing but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, the sense of reward it gives, the community and lore aspects. There is a lot to love but deep down I know it is an immoral, boring, repetitive game.
Indie games have started taking the same approach. A lot of indie games are cookie cutter simulations of other games that exist. I understand its hard to be unique but a lot of these games seem to be trying to captialise on a presupposed niche to earn money. This ideology of “I worked hard on my game therefore it should make money” is bullshit. The entertainment industry owes you nothing, your ideas are worth nothing, but there is something liberating in that. It is hard to separate the industry as the monetary and creative side. It makes sense given how much investment there is. All these jobs, all these people with different ideas, their families the company profits, there is a lot at risk.
We all got into the games industry because we want to make something cool. The irony of which is we all work for less salary than in alternative fields making shit games with shit politics and shit management working ourselves to the bone to produce a piece of shit that we then push on people and say here, enjoy. This wasn’t made with love, it wasn’t made with thought, it was made with calculations on how to get you to play and how to keep you playing.
The reason for typing the above out is the problem I have with the love of what I do. Working in the industry you realise how a lot of these companies are exactly this and indie companies are becoming this. Some of these games sell and become the figureheads for groups to rally behind and say “I want to make a game like that” without clear intent on if the success was the game mechanics or just cleverly marketed lies to convince you this is worth your time.
Loving what you do makes you realise how bastardised the rest of the landscape has become. There are notable examples not like this but as a whole we don’t develop games in that manner. Working out how to not fall into that trap is difficult. We’ve spent so long being convinced that games should be played one way and are instead played a different one. It’s hard to unlearn all of this.
Each prototype I make I start with intent, sometimes it’s a story I want to tell, a mechanic I find interesting, or even just an idea I convince myself could be the one. After working on close to 40 prototypes and releasing some really shit games I still feel a bit lost. I lose my love for an idea and wonder where the rose tinted glasses went. It is hard when talking to others that say “what have you worked on” only for me to point at a half completed code base and assets I made myself. I spend my entire life pursuing this, every night after work, all weekend, I give up a lot for this. And that is okay, it is what I want, it is what I enjoy. At times it becomes difficult to point to years worth of work as clumped heaps of code and rotting assets and see value in it, see that it feels like the same failures are on repeat.
Pursuit of self. I think ultimately the goal is to pursue the desired self in that moment. I look back and adjust my view and see 40 game ideas I liked at the time and possibly could like in the future, each one a stepping stone to my current knowledge, understanding and ability to reconcile my focus on what is a creative representation of self. If you do not find love in what it is you are after than those 40 prototypes will be far emptier to you than me. To me they are a thought process that lives on in other ideas, a learning experience on patience and a non judgmental look at what is considered tangible progress.
This mentality does not work in the games industry. I moved into the games industry to pursue this. For the most part this won’t work. No one cares. And they don’t have to, it isn’t their concern but they will drag you down in the process and send your creativity away. After a while you forgot why you ever worked in this industry, the status of “progress” becomes a measurement of credibility rather than tangibility of thought process.
After putting my current game The Brothers Ayer on hold I started to ponder if I have grown. If I just wasted another month working 10 hours a day on something to be added to the pile. If my girlfriend, family or friends have to hear that I did not finish something again and was giving up for the 40th time. That all my development woes and frustration, documents of work were all for nothing.
The argument I have is, it wasn’t. That the process was enjoyable, the idea was explored and the failure was a learning experience. I understand from the outside looking in, it can be “just finish the damn game” but it is a waste of time for me to finish something I don’t believe in. I haven’t found an idea worth pursuing into a whole game yet, and that is okay. I am going to lower my scope more to see if the loop is fun, approach it in a game jam fashion and see what comes from it. I had said I would do this a few times before and for the most part I have, sometimes I get carried away and really see what it could be to realise that it isn’t fun anymore or the prototype scope was too big. Either way the process of actually being productive and doing work is one a lot of people do not have either way, so to that end I am grateful that I have an aptitude for it.