I’ve participated in a couple of game jams with moderate success, but ever since I started working daily on my own long-term game project I’ve found it impossible, Whenever I start to participate in a game jam, a few things happen: One, I am overwhelmed with ideas for whatever I decide to work on, ideas way beyond a scope achievable within the time span of most game jams. Two, I am completely at a loss for what aspect of the project to work on first, how to approach the project, and what needs to be done to make it a reality. Three, I immediately start wishing I was working on my normal game, a project which is important to me and is familiar.
I’m starting to realize, by way of these disastrous participations, just how much of my identity is currently wrapped up entirely in the process of creating my game. To some extent it has to be this way, but it’s worth thinking more than a bit about what’s going to happen to me when I complete this project. I get depressed after I finish creating almost anything: Each individual piece I write here, each piece of music or piece of art I create, I get sad afterwards both because, frequently, I don’t feel my work gets much recognition (a common problem for the struggling artist), and simply because I no longer have that project to work on. I’ve lost a chunk of my daily schedule, a piece of the routine that lets me be myself.
It gets worse the bigger the project was. For a piece I worked on for a day or two, I barely feel it. For a piece I worked on a week or two, it’s uncomfortable for a few days, I get sad and irritable, but I adjust after a bit. For a piece I worked on for a year or two… what will happen?
I’ve been working on EverEnding for more than two years already, and it will probably be another two years or so before I finish this ‘six-month project’ (ah, optimism). Finishing a piece like this, I can’t help but think, may ultimately feel like a friend or coworker dying, leaving a ragged hole in the life I’ve lived.
In some pragmatic ways my difficulties with game jams and other side projects, along with my difficulties with living a social and intellectual life external to my game, make a lot of sense: I only have so much attention to pay, and a game is a demanding thing. If I want it to ever be finished, then to some degree I have to cut myself off, to become something of a monk. But, in the long term, if I want to be someone who makes games, not just someone who once made a game, I need to expand myself beyond this, to ensure that my artistic capacity survives its first large creation.
I won’t give up on Game Jams, or on leading a life that has rewards beyond the distant artistic creation I’ve been dedicated to, but I can’t just hop from here to there. I need to build a bridge, to understand how I can take on side projects in a way that makes sense for my creation methods, learn how to be sociable without letting that interaction override my work hours, learn how to consume art for its own benefit without specifically using it as metaphorical nutrition for my game. I need to draw an outline between myself and my work, because as things stand even when I’m being lazy I am being defined by the work I’m not doing as surely as I’m defined by the work I am doing when I’m being virtuous. Being defined solely by work and not-work, by good work and bad work, will leave me in black and white, even if I dream in color.