Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fear and Self-Loathing in Indie Game Development | An Optimistic Depression

It happens to most of us from time to time and it's the worst feeling in the world. We're working along in our own beautiful and completely flawless world when, suddenly, something happens. Something bad. It could be a negative comment on your blog, getting stuck on a piece of code or game mechanic.. or just be a change in your external environment. And then, BAM, full blown depression.

You start questioning your project, your team member's motivations, your own skills and worth. And all that motivation and excitement you felt just 15 minutes ago is filled with complete dread. This thing you thought you loved is now something you hate and want to get away from.

And it's all a (y = -1x + b) from there.

I've been through it. I'm going through it right now. It sucks.


There are two things I suggest that you keep in mind. (And I try, myself, to keep in mind)

"Depression is normal and natural."

Yes, yes. Depression makes it feel like you're in a hole that you'll never get out of. But there was, at some point, a time when you really enjoyed working on this project [1]. Use your depression as a time to self-reflect. What is it that you don't currently like about what you're doing? Is there a mechanic that you've spent forever trying to implement that you're not even sure will be fun? Are your capabilities hitting their limit in relation to your goals? Persistent contentedness is great, but it doesn't force you to sit down and reflect on yourself, your project, and your processes.

Also, when you're depressed, you want to get away from things you can fail at and you just want to sit around and do things unrelated to the cause of your depression. In my experience, doing something tangentially related helps. If reflecting on your project is too close to that kernel of depression, try experiencing something outside of that kernel. Reading, weed pulling, talking with friends, getting out. Getting away from the thing you're depressed about gives you perspective.

"Depression is typically short-lived."

Especially the depression that arises from working in isolation, pouring your self into some creative medium that you want people to enjoy. It's very easy to find yourself staring at the trees and completely missing the forest. If you spent a whole day trying to get a pixel moving around in a particular manner, you are going to see the whole game through the lens of that moving pixel and not the game as it is perceived as a whole.

I have a couple of techniques that I use that tend to help me out. They don't all work all the time, but usually one will.

  1. Change your state
    • Go to the grocery store/gas station/park. Say some words to people like "Hey, how's it going" or "Nice day, isn't it?" 
    • Buy a random thing at the store and consume it (this works especially well if that thing is caffeine based)
  2. Play your game on a different medium than you normally do
    • I spend about 16 hours on my laptop a day. So, 99% of the time, I'm viewing my game in the same tiny box. Try hooking your laptop up to your TV and playing the full-screen version of your game there. If possible, throw it down on a tablet and see what it feels like there. Get your game somewhere else than you're typically used to it being. 
    • Sometimes I'll steal a meeting room at work and play around with my game on the 60" monitors we have. Sometimes folks will walk by and want to give it a try.
  3. Get random people to play your game
    • JUST WATCH THEM. If they have questions, answer them.
    • Watch HOW they play
    • Watch WHAT they fail at
    • Watch WHAT they succeed at
    • Watch WHAT things they do that surprise you

I hope that something here helps someone who's going through a indie game-induced depression. It's never a good time, but if you're able to embrace and integrate it, it will make it less hard (not easier!) to get through.

[1] If there wasn't, then it's possible that you're working on a project that you actually hate. It's best to change the project (if possible) to something you don't hate.. or leave the project entirely.

1 comment:

EDDnorris said...

I really liked this. It was well written and you put the page together great.

Thanks for making it, Quitting my job and working on the game full time has been scary and depressing but more amazing than anything and I can't wait to get the game done.

Making a game on your own can be a lot like building a cabin in the middle of the woods. You have to live in it, the locals (birds and deer) don't really know anything about building a cabin and no one really wants come over and talk about the cabin without getting paid.

Depression happens, but sometimes it leads to people really caring about things and that can lead to really excellent results; or not.

*Hat Tip*
Good day, good sir.