Today is an interesting day for me to be blogging. Today, I suppose, is a bit more of a reflection on my current state of mind than my usually direct approach. So please bare with the occasional tangents and hopefully you will be entertained along the way. Try not to slit your wrists by the end of this long and depressing monologue about getting older and giving up on your dreams =).
There was a time when I coined myself as a video game developer; it’s what I wanted to be, so I faked it til I made it. Even in college and well into my first industry job it was all going according to my long sought dream. Even in childhood, before I knew that it was real people and not sorcerers who made video games, I knew that I wanted to be involved with this kind of experience.
Fast forward; through the industry jobs, the layoffs, the canceled projects, the company restructures, the new managements, the console launch typhoons, and finally the indie renaissance. I’ve had my share of experiences that I’m fairly certain everyone has endured. For such a diverse industry in the products we create, I feel like the experience that we have as creators tends to be redundant, ad nauseum. There are cycles of quality of life concerns, stagnation in the industry, stability of the workforce, answering the question of what to do with a full staff after a game is complete, and so on. We continually raise these questions because there seems to be an age restriction in the industry, causing us to repeat the same mistakes.
I’m not implying that veterans are being pushed out of the industry, though it may be an indirect reaction to the general cycle of how business gets done. As you grow older and more experienced you tend to ask for more money to compensate for the knowledge you carry in your head, as well as to enrich your life. As a veteran, you have certain efficiencies to offer a company, but you are also in a different place in your life. Myself for example am many things I was not when I started the industry. I have a child who loves to see me sitting at the dinner table with her. I have a wife who appreciates that I don’t bring my work home with me every night. I myself revel in some of the more menial responsibilities of home ownership such as landscaping or the occasional carpentry that is required. I enjoy it mostly because it is a unique experience from my everyday grind of emails, putting out fires, training younger staff, filling out schedules and financial reports, phone calls with needy clients, far too much documentation and process and procedures, researching the next direction for the company, oh yeah and coding.
I feel like my own experience has come full circle, and I am at a gaming mid-life crisis of sorts. I chose to leave the AAA industry many years ago, but I never abandoned the title of game developer. I channeled my energy into indie games, but my career as an indie had what some doctors would describe as a failure to thrive. The deeper I dove into the indie scene, the less I liked what I saw. I realized that it wasn’t much different from the AAA tier. There were your superstars, and then everyone else. There was also a sort of elitist culture that was starting to develop; or maybe it was always there and I had only begun to notice. On top of it all, I never could bring myself to agree with most of the shifting definitions of what “indie” was supposed to be. I always envisioned a separation between an “indie” game and an “independent development studio” game, but that was always met with hostility as many indies did not want to be associated with the “script kiddie” scene. Developers wanted to be taken seriously, but not too seriously out of fear of losing their indie credibility. The whole thing was a slippery slope and I wanted out. My lack of acceptance may have had something to do with my share of failures in that space; not wanting to play the game of what it takes to be a successful indie. I also underestimated the toxicity of the online community which never helps when you are grasping at straws for some validation of the last year+ of your sleepless life.
Now I still consider myself a developer, but not AAA or indie. I’m just a guy a who appreciates interactive experiences; a title that doesn’t seem very fitting for a business card but it feels more real than anything else. Am I being a bit of a hater? Maybe. I suppose I could suck it up and just accept that what I wanted from the industry is not what I am going to get. Perhaps my dreams for the future of games would have never been as profitable as where we are today, but I feel like it would have felt more like home to me than a hotel stay.
After my video game sabbatical I still don’t know what I plan to do next. I haven’t made a game or even thought to make a game in nearly two years now. Where the industry is right now has left me feeling a bit defeated and my only recourse seems to be, find greener pastures. Beyond all reason, I am still fighting that answer. My recent life has been consumed by experiences beyond the digital screen. I keep waiting to find that same excitement that I once had for games, the excitement I feel for experiences outside of games today, but can’t bring myself to enjoy them nearly as much, not when most games I play today feel more like a reminder of what I am unable to achieve. Like most relationships; the deeper your love when times are great, the deeper the cut when things turn sour, the stronger your hate when it reaches the end.
I think that, right now, I am only fighting the inevitably because I want there to be closure when the time comes for me to give up the old dreams. I know that if I hang my hat right now, my feelings would be pretty strong. I don’t want to be bitter about my history with games, both as a player and a creator. I know that part of my struggle is the fact that I can’t separate those two either; I’m unable to be one without the other. I don’t want to look at games like a bad breakup, but it’s starting to feel that way. Some people might be shocked to know that I haven’t played a single “proper” video game with my four year old kid. If given the choice, I almost always hand her a box of crayons or a deck of cards over an iPad. Mobile games have never caught my attention, my 360 is collecting dust, my backlog of Steam games is almost a running joke, and I still can’t be excited for the new generation of consoles when the 2 year old PC I am using to post this blog entry has more function and features.
With all of this said; when my time with games does come to an end, I do hope that I can look upon it with fond memories. I hope that the distaste of my own failures and struggles does not color my perception of the first time I played a JRPG, or my first experiences with the many other genres that have moved me over the years such as RTS, FPS, and even the countless side scrollers to cross my path. To this date, I can recall games like 7th Guest, Doom, and Dune II; I can recall the influence they had on me. Games like those were my reason for being a part of the industry and if my fate is to walk away then I hope that I can still do that, remembering why I spent the majority of my life completely and wholeheartedly in love with it.