Thanks to the I Need Diverse Games scholarship, I was able to get a summit + conferences pass to GDC (That’s a step below everything. The only thing I didn’t get was VR stuff, which, tbh didn’t upset me). Because of this, I was able to start attending GDC on Monday, while Adan and Trevor explored downtown a bit. We still walked to the Moscone Center together almost everyday, so there was no sense of anxiety in a new city.
I decided to take a slow approach to my experience at GDC because I fully expected it to be overwhelming. Before going to San Francisco, I went through the GDC website and added things I was interested in to my schedule. When I decided to print a hard copy to help me filter through, the list was about 20 pages long. Needless to say, I’m glad I narrowed it down.
I did this because I have learned to combat FOMO (fear of missing out), by learning the very hard lesson of implementing self-care. It’s something I am a huge advocate for because I know that in creative industries, burnout is something that ails us all. I’m 27 years old (28 in April), and while I know I’m not “old” by any means, I am past the point where I feel comfortable risking my health and safety for the sake of a “great opportunity”. I graduated with my bachelors, two years ago now (I am offended by this passage of time) and have been learning to take care of myself while still making the work I care about. I am learning when it’s appropriate to work hard and work smart, and it is one of the hardest lessons young professional are faced with.
I have experienced some setbacks and while, I’m not rolling in cash, I am fortunate and privileged in my financial and living situation. Like many of my peers however, who have not done our best to take care of ourselves, small setbacks feel like massive failures. Every time I don’t finish a self-started project I deride myself internally and find it almost impossible to lift myself back up. I started thinking, if this is how I treat myself when small issues arise, how on earth will I treat myself when actual problem arise in my professional environment that requires a stable leader who knows how to recover?
I’ve led small projects in the past, some failed, some succeeded, but I’ve never learned how to recover from them after the fact. This was one reason I chose my first and only talk for Monday at GDC.
The Failure Workshop
Failure Workshop was part of the Indie Games Summit at GDC on Monday. The speakers were Hugh Monahan (Stellar Jockeys) and Tanya X. Short (Kitfox Games). The discussion in this talk focused on unhealthy and potentially very toxic non-solutions and responses to failure.
Monahan started by bringing up the fact that so far the conversation around failure tends to ignore how much it actually sucks. There seem to be a lot of unhelpful solutions which primarily revolve around the notion of “just don’t do it.” He discussed people’s tendency to accidentally make situations worse than they need to be, which I frequently find myself guilty of.
Some ideas that Monahan shared that I think would help alleviate the hurt caused by failure, are fairly pragmatic. It’s hard to be practical when working on a project you care about, but if we try to keep realistic expectations of ourselves, the easier it is to pick ourselves up from failure. He talked about the fact that disparity between our expectations and reality is normal but there is a way close that gap.
He stressed that we shouldn't have to to lower our expectations necessarily but identify the difference between aspiration and expectation. It's totally fine to aspire to do a lot and reach for certain level of success, but then we can set our expectations more realistically and estimate what we can actually get done. From that point, if we fall short of our expectations, it’s not as wide of a gap to bridge.
He also talked about the importance, specifically when working on a game, of not pouring all your energy into the launch because if you are unable to meet your expectations, you are left with no energy to cope. When we pace out our energy in a project, we can avoid burnout and dangerous levels of disappointment.
Tanya X. Short of Kitfox Games talked about their “Moon Hunters” mistake. Their struggle was launching too early. She talk about how typically the problem a studio might have is taking too long to launch, but she had the opposite problem of launching before they were ready to.
Her story was even more about the attitude we take toward our projects. Knowing to pace ourselves and really be thoughtful of our timeline. She talked about warning signs she saw in herself that would have led to push a launch before the game was ready. These included things like, wanting to prove people wrong when they would talk about considering pushing the launch date back (because it’s totally normal to do), becoming too proud of her production skills (perhaps taking it personally when people recommend taking your time), getting paranoid about competition, in this games case specifically; undervaluing the online multiplayer aspect and more.
Short emphasized the idea that failure is part of craftsmanship. The importance of this falls in the simple notion of learning from our mistakes. The more we fail the more opportunity there is to grow and learn. When we learn through failure, our skills and perspective get sharper and we learn efficiency. We are forced to refine our skills when we fail.
Both speakers addressed attitudes we take while working on our projects. As someone who has not yet worked in games, but who has spent many years working as an illustrator, I can see how all of their advice is easily applicable to other creative work. Thes biggest takeaways from this talk are about being kinder to ourselves when taking on huge projects. Learning to differentiate between aspirations and expectations, and know to pace yourself. If things are going well, you don’t need to rush, keep on the track your going and everything should be fine. Trust yourself, and don’t let external influences throw you off.
I want to extend a Thank You to the GDC Indie Summit, those who organized it and participated in it, as well as to Hugh Monahan of Stellar Jockeys and Tanya X. Short of Kitfox games for speaking at the Failure Workshop.
You can view the full video of “Failure Workshop” here.
Part 3 of this blog series will go up on Monday April 23th, 2018.