Developing a videogame is a technically advanced, highly skilled and mostly experienced-based job. It’s an industry of design, code, art and sound – a myriad of crafting unlikely complex systems to work together trying to establish a certain experience.
This is what many universities, schools and self-study books that I’ve visited emphasize. They’re focused on taking a technical enthusiast up to the level of a highly trained specialist. The best schools and programs deliver people that fit directly into the traditional games industry.
Game development is decreasingly homogenous and increasingly diverse, but many programs are not adopting to that new reality. Although we’re not nearly at the point where making a game is as accessible as say, writing a story or taking a photo, the recent surge of easily accessible game development tools has led to an increased democratization of game development. Now, more than ever, the reality of game development is not just about technical skills, but more about emotional resilience and an understanding of one's place within the creative process.
That’s not to argue that technical skills are irrelevant, or an academic understanding of design is useless, it’s an argument to combat the lack of emotional support a lot of game programs offer. More than any of my technical or business-related challenges, the biggest challenges I’ve faced during the past three years have been deeply emotional or personal.
A lot of our modern society is built around the idea that success is something you earn, and not having success is something you deserved for not trying hard enough. From the first moment we’re born until the moment we realize it’s a societal construct, we’re taught to avoid mistakes to score high grades. We’re being taught to be ashamed of failure and proud only of success. We’re taught to think in highly optimized, repeatable structures and not in the messy exploration of the unknown.
As such, a lot of modern education is built around technical, measurable skills. They’re often focused on a lot of those same concepts that lie at the very core of society. That’s simply how education has to work. But game development is a creative field, and like many creative fields the reality simply is that there is no objective measurement of success. There is no ceiling to what you can expect of yourself.
The biggest obstacles I have faced are related to that. I only learned the value of avoiding crunch and establishing a healthy balance between work and life after I had relationships fall apart and friends become estranged. I’ve learned about dealing with demotivation and crippling fears of failure. After many months of struggling with that distinct feeling of being a fraud, I finally took the step of talking to fellow developers and realized that feeling of not knowing what you’re doing is common.
A large part of any creative endeavor is about confronting yourself. Instead of explaining just ‘how to make games’, I feel more educational programs and tools should spend serious time exploring ‘how to cope with being you making games’.