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Awe of the Indies
by E McNeill on 03/11/13 05:18:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Four months ago, I went indie.

Since then, I’ve been dealing with some light anxiety about my work and my place in the game development community. To some extent, this is totally normal; after all, I bet my life savings on my ability to succeed in a perpetually overcrowded market. But my anxiety goes beyond the usual fear of failure. I usually explain it with a term coined by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, when he wrote about Pixar’s problems with “fresh meat”:

Successful organizations face two challenges when bringing in new people with fresh perspectives. One is well-known— the not-invented-here syndrome. The other— the awe-of-the-institution syndrome (an issue with young new hires)—is often overlooked…. The bigger issue for us has been getting young new hires to have the confidence to speak up…. We do not want people to assume that because we are successful, everything we do is right.

This is my problem. Before going indie, I idolized the celebrity game designers that gave the lectures and wrote the articles and invented the games that inspired me. I loved game design, and I loved their work, and I wanted to do what they were doing.

Now, I find myself handicapped by my idolatry. I compare myself to the people I admire, and I feel small. I see my bloopers next to their highlight reels and turn timid. Profiles of successful artists often seem to highlight a maniacal drive and an unquenchable spirit and an unshakable belief in their own greatness. My ego is healthy, but I lack that mania.

This causes some practical problems, especially when I actually interact with the people that I put on this pedestal. I read about the indie game scene constantly, and I know who the cool kids are. I’ve heard some people portray these successful indies as an insular cabal, always boosting their friends and keeping the little guy down, but (aside from being preposterous on the face of it) my experience shows the opposite. Instead of being insular and grudging, they’ve always been extremely kind and generous to me (Hi, Eddy!). And yet, when I interact with one of these scene celebrities, I feel like I’m an awkward kid trying to talk to my crush. I try too hard to get attention, overanalyze everything that they say, and constantly feel the need to self-denigrate. I take their opinions as gospel and discount my own. I fail to see myself as an equal collaborator, and so I can’t become one.

These comparisons also summon an urge to self-handicap. If I try to produce a magnum opus, and I fail, then what does that mean about me? At what point do I transform from “potential undiscovered genius” to “wannabe hack”? What will the tastemakers think of me? It feels safer to produce throwaway prototypes and design unambitious games, but that approach would ensure that I never discover my potential, whatever it may be.

The usual advice in this situation is to “fake it til you make it”: start acting as if you had confidence, and that confidence will become real. But I don’t want to “fake it” at all. Earnestness is too important if I aspire to be an artist.

In fact, I think my anxiety stems from a subtle realization that I’m already “faking it” too much. I care too much about what others think of me and too little about what I believe at heart. I focus too much on reputation and appearances and not enough on making a great game. I lose sight of true success and get fixated on its lesser rewards, and in doing so I drift further away from both.

I need to be more ambitious. Raise my standards. Genuinely try for greatness with each game, and learn to treat both triumph and disaster gracefully. The solution to my problem is to prove myself to myself.

I’m not saying that I need to drop everything and start on some new, massive project. I still have a lot to learn, prototyping is still useful, and I know that small projects can still be ambitious. But I want to speak and design more plainly, earnestly, and deeply. I want to refocus on making worthwhile games, regardless of short-term success or failure. Perhaps, with that, I can meet my role models as equals.


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Comments


Christian Nutt
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This seems relevant... Amanda Palmer talking about "the fraud police"

http://www.theshadowbox.net/forum/index.php?topic=18041.0

E McNeill
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Thanks, Christian. That's good stuff. Reminds me of Impostor Syndrome too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

Also worth looking at is Conan O'Brien's address about failure, which is both funny and inspiring. I was lucky enough to see it live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ELC_e2QB
QMk#t=959s (skips to the relevant part)

Willy Hwang
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Thanks, I didn't know THAT THING had a name. "Fake it till you make it" sounds like terrible advice if one going to go through the cognitive dissonance of believing in both it and The Fraud Police.

It's pretty hard in these times of global connection where you can be constantly aware of all the geniuses in the world and all of the totally awesome things they are doing.

Anyway, E, good luck!

Robert Boyd
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Everybody has to start somewhere.

My first game looked like this: http://www.angelfire.com/games/rboyd/rainbow2.html

What I'm currently working on looks like this: http://zeboyd.com/2013/02/20/penny-arcades-on-the-rain-slick-prec
ipice-of-darkness-4-news-and-screenshots-battles-monster-allies-a
nd-world-map/

E McNeill
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My first game: http://i.imgur.com/U5OUGxc.png

I can't believe I can even run it after all this time.

And my first commercially released game: http://www.auraluxgame.com/screenshots.html

Fraz Chaudhry
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@Robert:
For a first game that is absolutely awesome. The link to your current game does not work though.

Phillip Abram
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I've often felt like this. Thank you.

Eric Salmon
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Talking about meeting your idols reminded me of this:

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
― Mark Twain


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