Post-Partum

As mentioned in the previous post, I spent the last month working on a side project. For most of this time, this project was really the only thing on my plate: Every day, I had one thing to do, and that was to work on my game jam game. This, it turns out, sucks: For some reasons I knew but forgot about, and for some reasons which I only discovered over the course of the month.

I have a lot of work habits I’ve acquired over the years, mostly to enforce some degree of work-life balance in a life that doesn’t have a lot of hard time or space boundaries. I don’t have an office to go to, I don’t have many obligations, I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything at any particular time – so, in that context, it’s very easy to be constantly stressed out about what I ought to be doing. All existence becomes subservient to the work I could be doing, and whenever I’m not actively working I feel like I’m fucking up – and all this stress leaves me too tired to actually put in work, creating a feedback loop. And so on, and so forth, which is why I try now to dedicate blocks of my day to different things, and to set some hard barriers about when I’m allowed to work, so that I’m not constantly ashamed of everything I’m not doing instead of excited about what I am doing.

That’s why, though I am satisfied with the result, I think my approach to this game jam sucked. But enough about that.

The roughest part was the week leading up to and out of the game jam deadline, when I still couldn’t really abandon the project but it also didn’t really feel complete, and I had no real feedback for how it was being received. Time spent on minor tweaks, on fixing pressing issues, on debugging and testing – this is always a huge part of game development, but it’s tremendously demoralizing. Not only is the work itself stressful and often tedious, but there’s a huge difference between the experience of producing something which could turn out to be anything and the process of improving something by increasingly narrow degrees when you already know exactly what it is. There is no more discovery, only maintenance. There is no more creation, only refinement. The process itself isn’t terrible except for there is an accompanying sense of loss, a sense of potential removed and never to be rediscovered – a sense that everything you’ve made is egregiously outweighed by everything you haven’t, a sense of a backlash as the infinite possibilities of an idea collapse into the singular reality of whatever you’ve made of it, no matter what it happens to be.

I’m over it. I’m feeling good now. It was a pretty lousy week, though, and I have to think about what it’s going to be like when I finish a bigger project. What’s it going to be like when I finish EverEnding? What’s it going to be like to part ways with something I’ve spent so much time with, with something that’s defined my life? Will it not feel a bit like murder as much as birth to reduce the manifold potential in my imagination down to a singular product, a piece which can be experienced, a game which can be bought and sold?

I wonder for how many artists this has become a trap. I wonder how many set themselves projects that can never be completed simply to avoid the post-partum pains of crystallizing infinite potential into finite creation. I wonder if this might not be part of why my game jam project was a meditation on being caught between the future and the past, of the person you were yesterday and the person you might be tomorrow. I can see a future where I’m caught up in a ceaseless present, groundhog day over and over, pushing a stone up a hill so it can roll down, and I think I must make plans to avoid it.

How do you work with an eye towards completion? How can you take joy in the process but still steer towards a goal, and not trip over it when you get there? Perhaps the loss of completion is something you just have to get used to, in the way you get used to your other little tragedies and lost loves, through pain.

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