There are jumbles of emotions that sometimes tumble all together over themselves like children at an orphanage eager to drink of your serotonin soup. They attempt to one-up each other to get visibility in front of prospective parents, indicating that they are the one who deserves attention. They sit at the ready, prepared to undercut each other the first sign they can in order to get out of the building they are stuck in, so that their lives can get a little bit easier.
This past weekend was PAX East, a gigantic convention and expo for video game players, developers, and journalists alike. It differentiates itself from other conventions by being “for the player” mostly, by having many playable games and developers right there to interact with fans. For the developers, they get valuable face to face interaction with their fans and random people to try out their creations and offer direct feedback.
I have been a video game enthusiast since early childhood, and I have been attempting to develop games since I was a preteen. It’s the one hobby, even moreso than writing, that I always come back to with verve.
I say “attempting” to develop games because even though I have been at it for about 22 years now, I’ve barely finished any. And I have never finished a long-term game. It is a daunting thing, creating a video game. You are the parent of the world: mother and father. The rules are unwritten and the format is nearly as open. To me, video games comprise the entire spectrum of creative expression. You not only write the story of the world, you must determine its rules. You need to be visually representative in a way that reflects the story and those rules. You need to include sounds and music that enhance the portrayal and interaction. You have an active relationship with your admirer. You have to anticipate the mindset of strangers to continue the relationship. You must learn to speak the language of the machine to display your creation before you can even begin laying pen to paper, so to speak. And to me, all of this must be done with excellence.
As I have grown older, I realized that making games is something that I want to have a part of in my life on a serious level. I moved up to Boston to be surrounded by other game developers and creative individuals because I was tired of just reading about them and viewing them from the sidelines. Fun fact: Notch, the creator of Minecraft, created an account on a popular indie game development forum (where everyone learns the ropes) just a month before I did. He stuck with it and changed the face of development as we know it and earned a cool $1.78 billion by selling to Microsoft, and I was perforated throughout the years by depression, poverty, social activities, and bad habits and vices which stuttered and stifled my creative output. His is one story of course, and very much the exception to the rule, but I only use his example because it is the most visible. I know of many more stories very similar, although not to that scale, where people stuck with their craft and are now reaping the success and satisfaction from it. I have followed the game industry at a close level for almost as long as I have been attempting to developing them.
So upon visiting PAX East, I was confronted not only with games that I knew what it took to make, but the developers themselves that I have followed – for years in some cases – and watched their careers and lives take off while I continued to languish in obscurity and false starts. From my obsessive observation of the pastime, however, I have amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of the players, games, and history. I found this out when discussing various topics with a well-regarded veteran of the business side of games, and I could go toe-to-toe with him on every topic brought up. This made me feel reassured of my worth probably more than anything I have felt in the last 10 years. I felt in command.
At one point, though, I reached out to a developer that is subculturally famous to ask if I could go to the party that was happening later that night and got no response. I then got open-invited to another get-together, only to show up to an empty bar 30 minutes after I got a “yeah we’re still here” reply.
The entire experience was both demoralizing and invigorating all at once. I didn’t get to hang out, but I was ALMOST close enough to get there. I didn’t have a game to show, but I have the tools and knowledge to create it. I know that if I had just stuck with game development consistently as long as I have been trying, I would be included as an exhibitor instead of a patron. I would have been at those parties. I would have been talking shop with my peers. If there was a solid string of effort put forth, a creation of all artistic disciplines would form before my eyes and eventually, I would find value in one of them.
Right now I have a great solid job, a nice apartment with a fellow hobby game developer, reduced expenses, am getting healthier from walking everywhere, am sleeping better (for the most part), and I am included in a local scene that is brimming with like-minded individuals. I have the least amount of excuses not to try now than I ever have.
After the convention, I tweeted about how much work I have to do and how next year, I’m “definitely going to be there as an exhibitor”. I lauded the value of effort and told myself that all it takes is persistence. I was upset at the rejection but held back in sending disappointed messages and pleas for pity to those I tried to party with. I wrote myself a mental letter quoting particular lines that I remembered from speeches about never giving up and laid platitude upon platitude in my mind. I gave myself a pity party and thrust excuses at myself for not having worked hard enough.
The orphans of my emotions fighting between hope for a possible amazing future and despair of a fated one of stagnation were instantly sidestepped by the third orphan, the one who has been at the orphanage the longest, who realized that I tweeted the exact same messages the year before, when I attended my first convention. That orphan prompted me to delete my tropey tweets. That kid is sick of waiting for parents that may never show up. That kid doesn’t want to try and appeal to the orphanage to make his hell tolerable. That kid has been patiently collecting bits and pieces from the other orphans to be self sufficient. That kid is tired of dreaming and tired of fearing. That kid is about to turn 18 and is ready to leave on his own terms and build his own future, bruises and scars and all.