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Hurt my feelings. Go on, do it.
by Mark Kilborn on 06/04/10 12:29:00 am   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.


I had a conversation this afternoon with a good friend and colleague in the video game industry, and he said something that bothered me a bit: "I'm sorry, and this may sting, but... you were known as a nice guy, a bit of a pushover." He was referring to my behavior at a previous employer. How dare he? A pushover?

Honestly, he was right. Completely and totally accurate. I WAS a pushover, and it played a role in the end of my employment with said company. What bothered me, however, was the fact he felt compelled to apologise before he said this to me.

I've known him for a few years now, I trust him, and I know that when he criticizes he has good intentions. He means to help me, not hurt me. But I do the same thing. I often find myself making apologies before I dish out a dose of honest criticism. It's a bad habit, and one I need to break.

We work in a creative business. We make games, but we do have to make money. At the end of a project we have mouths to feed and bills to pay, so the project needs to be the best it can be and find an audience.

In order to be successful we need to hold ourselves to a high standard, but we must also hold each other to high standards. In order to be held to a high standard, we must learn to separate our feelings from our business and our creativity. As Thomas Wayne said, "We fall down so we can learn how to pick ourselves up again." Yes, I just quoted a comic book. My wife is cringing. Sorry dear :).

In order to better ourselves, we have to check our ego at the door and learn to accept criticism. In my experience, criticism and failure are greater teachers than praise and success can ever be. I have failed miserably on several occasions in my career, but each of those failures has taught me valuable lessons that have made me better at my job. And I've received criticism from a few people who, at the time, I felt were assholes. But even if they were (most of them weren't), I still learned something from them.

Thicken your skin. Embrace your failures. When you succeed take a moment to enjoy it, but be sure to shine a bright light on your smaller failures and do your best to learn from them. If someone is criticizing you, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they're not out to hurt you, just to make you better. And if they ARE out to hurt you, learn something from it, move on and be better at what you do. Living well is the best revenge.

So am I still a pushover? Maybe, but certainly less of one. I've been channeling Gordon Ramsay at work lately and it's helping. He seems to be the confident, assertive type. A good role model if ever there was one. As for my friend, he continues to be a valuable source of guidance and a good guy to drink with.

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Kale Menges
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I'm sure if you really were that much of a pushover, your lovely wife wouldn't hesitate in the least to let you know... ;P

And I'm looking forward to trying out Singularity. It's really looking polished.

Ian Fisch
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An artist once told me that you should be intensly proud of your work but ready to throw it away at a moment's notice.

Tomiko Gun
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Criticisms are hard to take, but you have to be open minded. Still, not all of it is correct, listen and think about it, if you don't agree with it, you don't have to follow it.

Mark Venturelli
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This is something I support a hundred percent. Here at our small studio the main thing we look for when hiring someone is: don't be a wuss. In a creative environment, a fragile ego can lead to bad implementations when someone on your team would be able to point out how to make it rock.

And about work being thrown away, my personal motto is: "design is redesign".

Hanneke Debie
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I really know what you mean there. It is two-fold though. When critisized, people will often jump to defend their work or explain why it turned out the way it is. I always try to hold myself back a second and think

'is that person actually right, or does he have a point?'. Sometimes that person is not right and I'll jump to defending and explaining. Sometimes that person makes a valid point and I'll continue in his line of thought.

The hardest, but sometimes best thing to do is say 'Yeah good point, you're right.'

Aaron Truehitt
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I love good criticism. It doesn't hurt my feelings exactly, but I get disappointed when I didn't get something right. Happens with everyone. You need to learn from it, apply what you learned, and use it so it doesn't happen again. Kind of like having bad things happen in life. It's only there to strengthen you. Growing ain't easy!

Derek Manning
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This is a great article with sound advice. Being in the game industry can be a very difficult place if you can't separate your personal feelings from your work. When people criticize your work they are not criticizing *you* but some people can't make that distinction, and I've known some. Ian Fisch's quote from above sums everything up perfectly.

Yannis Brown
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As a creative service we need to respect creative decisions and criticism. At the same time should not let our gut instincts be pushed to the way side. Usually we are the expert in our field and should not feel that we need to roll over and just take a decision black and white from above. However, we need to be able to discuss the criticism in a constructive way with our customers.

Take some time to find out why someone doesn't agree with your creative choices and then together work towards something that benefits the project as a whole. In the end, we are a service and our customers need to be able to make decisions based on all the information.

Remember it's not about you, it's about the project. We all want our projects to succeed and that requires collaboration. Collaboration is all about educated compromise.

So when someone gives you criticism - don't take it as a negative but use that criticism to see how it can improve what you're already doing. They are not criticizing YOU, they are giving feedback on something which they are interpreting differently than you.

Every creative person goes through this scenario when they first start out. Creativity comes from within and we are exposing ourselves as our passion drives our creations. It's inevitable that without experience we are bound to take criticism too close to heart. As we get more experienced we learn to use this as a tool to do our best work and not as an attack on our passion.

I worked on a project once where the creative director kept criticizing my choices, revision after revision, beyond what was normally considered normal from a freelance perspective. However they were only trying to get the best audio for their game and rightly so and I did my absolute best to support it. As painful as the process was on my ego and time, we were both extremely happy with the result and I don't regret it for a second.

Seriously, I've done some of my best work from embracing criticism. Sometimes just another idea is what it takes to take something mediocre to make it great! I also am highly weary when I get no criticism from a client and push for any kind of feedback other than "that's great".