I hear about indie game developers running into a lack of understanding from their social surroundings a lot. So much, actually, that I wanted to write a post about it to try and help people understand better not just what we do, but how to be respectful towards what we do.
I get it. You don't understand what we do. That's cool. We don't get a lot of things you do, either, like why don't you just put your keys in the same place every time so you don't lose them? It's the human condition, to not fully understand what drives another. But please, because you care about us, try?
Yes, I know that for most people being behind their computer in a non-office setting (and even in an office setting) means checking Facebook, looking at pictures of cats, or spending lots of time looking at YouTube. And yes, we do all those things on our computer, too! But that doesn't mean because we're at a computer, we're "not doing anything". This is a common thing I hear in my own life and from fellow devs. Picture the following.
Your friend has been training for the marathon since December. It's the end of April and the date finally approaches! She can finally get out there and show the world what she can do, it's the culmination of months of training and work. You know she'll be going to the start of the line with hundreds of other runners, and there'll be crowds there to see them and cheer them on! But you wanted to go to an amusement park that weekend on a whim, and you pressure her to come with you, telling her "you can go running some other time!"
Ridiculous right? Here's that same story again, but for indie gamedevs:
Your friend has been training for Ludum Dare since December. It's the end of April and the date finally approaches! She can finally get out there and show the world what she can do, it's the culmination of months of training and work. You know she'll be sitting down at her computer like hundreds of other gamedevs, and there'll be crowds online to watch their streams and cheer them on! But you wanted to go to an amusement park that weekend on a whim, and you pressure her to come with you, telling her "you can make a game some other time!"
That last one actually happens. Because your friend is "just sitting there", so what's the big deal. Just because an intense competitive event happens at one's computer, not outside of one's own home, doesn't make it less of a big deal. Especially for that person. It's a commitment, more to yourself than anyone else - sure, but you wouldn't ask your marathon running friend to ditch something she's committed to doing on a whim, right? Why would you do that to your gamedev friend?
Okay so you've accepted that your friend or loved one is actually doing hard work when they're sitting there. You can see the gibberish strings of code on their screens, or you see them doing art or building levels. Yep. Definitely working.
Hey! What's that? Now you're just on Twitter chatting with people! And posting on Reddit and some other forum! What the hell, you said you were working, are you just blowing me off!?
The answer (unless the gamedev in question lacks assertiveness) is probably no. There's a lot more to developing a game than just coding, doing art, making sound/music and creating levels. Sure, those are all things a game needs to actually be a game. But just having a game isn't enough because then nobody knows about it. Here's a quick list of things involved with making a game which may not look like work but probably are:
So yes, just because they're on Reddit doesn't mean they're not working. It might mean that. Just ask, don't assume.
Yes, your friend decided on his own that he had to get his game out by Friday, come heaven or hell. Nobody's putting a gun to his head. There won't be any sanctions from a boss or manager if he doesn't. So what's the big deal, right? Just step away from the goddamn computer and go have some fun!
Except there might be sanctions. He probably told his game's followers the game would be out. Maybe he just hit critical mass and he really needs to get a patch out to solve a critical issue in his game before thousands encounter a game-breaking bug and walk away from his product. Maybe there are journalists expecting to be able to write a story.
Or maybe there's none of that, no pleasantly logical and reassuring reason for why this deadline is so important to him. Maybe the deadline is just important to him to prove to himself that he can finish what he started, that he can set goals and meet them, that he can drive himself to get his game out, as scheduled, on time.
Because let's face it; most indie games that get started don't get finished, just like any other creative work done in a non-office setting. Having an axe blade hanging overhead that'll get dropped if you don't do as you're instructed and losing your home because you won't be able to pay your mortgage is a great motivator. Not a very pleasant one, admittedly, but it works. If you're working for yourself, there is no boss to berate you. The axe head is still there if you're a fulltime independent developer, but even then it sneaks up on you.
Setting goals and meeting deadlines for yourself is one of the most important things a game developer can do to keep themselves on task and motivated so they'll actually finish their game. It's not something silly and frivolous, it's something that requires pretty intense discipline, structure and motivation, and you have to find all of those things within yourself.
In short, deadlines aren't less worth keeping because they're self-imposed, but the opposite. It's so much more important to stick to your own deadlines because they're self-imposed and they're so easy to break without immediate repercussions.
We get that this stuff can be hard for you. You don't know what we're doing, might as well be black voodoo magic, so you can never tell. The best thing to do is to communicate about it. If you need more time, talk about it, don't spring plans on someone and expect them to cancel their own. If you're not sure if we're working, ask.
Just don't scoff and disrespect something your loved one is so obviously passionate about. It's important to them, and it can be isolating enough doing this type of thing in a non-office setting without peers to surround yourself with. When your social environment clearly doesn't understand and makes no effort to respect what you do, it only causes further isolation which can lead to worse things like depression.
Make an effort. That's all I'm asking.