I'm an Indie Game Developer

Can I say that? Does it make people think I’ll never focus or settle? Are they sighing and looking at me with frustration and thinking “Not this again?” Does it matter what they think?

Answer to all: maybe.

I have half a dozen self-published, unfinished games that nobody plays up on a free hosting site. They aren’t very good. Three of them are really poor copies of some of the best games of all time.

Each project served some curiosity I had, a thought I wanted to explore. They are labors of love. They are ugly, but they are mine. And I will proudly show their guts to anyone who’s interested.

Maybe they make me a game developer. I guess it just depends on what your measuring stick looks like.

“I’m an indie game developer” is my latest mantra.

I’ve always had to tell myself I’m the thing that I feel like I have no business attempting to be so I can push through the hard parts.

In school I had a different mantra: “I’m an engineer.” It was a tough sell, but I was stubborn. Then after school when it was hard and then I went back, I was still saying it, and it was an even tougher sell. Still stubborn.

Then I got a job, and it became more firm, but still a little shaky. At some point it became “I’m an analyst. A data monkey. A script wizard. A problem solver.” That didn’t last long before I realized it was wrong, or at least not all the way right.

Analytics was full of interesting patterns. I like patterns. It feeds the brain. This turned into how I fed myself and bought shoes. But I also wanted other things.

I’m also a dreamer

During this data phase, I had these dreams of what I wanted to do, started to get a sense of who I wanted to be.

They weren’t affirmations. That way I could be okay not pursuing them. I told myself I was being practical, when I was really just being safe. So I used “I want to be” instead of “I am”. They were: “I want to make games” and “I want to be a writer.”

Those things make your boss look at you funny, because they’re hard and not at all what they expect when they ask you what you want to do with your career (they expect, “do more of this, make the company money, be a manager”). Maybe I just have a poor understanding of context and audience.

Eventually I decided I didn’t want any of what I was doing, and data analytics did not seem to be getting me closer to my dreams, so my mantra became “I’m a software developer” because that seemed like a logical (and practical) next step, and I swung my rudder fully into creating software.

I wanted to learn everything all at once. I overextended, burned out, fired back up, overextended. Maybe burned out is a little strong. Short-circuited and drifted on the current. Look! Metaphor!

It turns out creating software was not what I expected. But that’s not a bad thing either, since the ceiling for growth seems to be impossibly high and it should keep me busy for a while. Maybe I’m just growing up.

But I’m still stuck on the dreamer thing

Throughout it all, though: “I’m a gamer. A reader. A wordsmith. A creator.”

Also heard at some point: “I’m a guitarist” and “I’m a pianist”. Not sure where that came from; I guess I always felt disappointed in myself that I let my music education stop at percussion. I let sheet music scare me. Notes were hard. I thought everyone was supposed to be able to sight read and I was just broken somehow. So I never gave it a chance.

I bought a guitar and learned how to fret chords. I discovered tabs and suddenly sheet music was optional. I started to realize that music, like video games, is just math and patterns and autonomic memory. I was hooked.

Music keeps me together and is one of the bright spots in my life. I’ll hear a song and jump up and go try it out and fail miserably, but feel great about it. One more pattern unlocked and put on the shelf, even if it’s incomplete and full of holes.

Other directions, and finding purpose

Maybe my life’s purpose is finding my life’s purpose.

Most recent mantras: “I’m a philosopher, a humanitarian, and an armchair cognitive psychologist.”

All of these things point to figuring myself out, creating things, and helping people.

And that’s what I want to do with games. Help people. Figure out how to teach. Tell stories. Connect people. I just haven’t figured out how, so I’ll just keep sharpening my saw until I get there.

Little bets

For a while I was told, and felt like (and is clearly evidenced by this ramble), I was spreading myself too thin, that doing too many things was keeping me from being great at one thing. Maybe the problem was there was no one thing in my direct line of sight that I felt was worth being great at, and that would also allow me to feed myself and buy shoes.

During a rant about this particular topic to a friend, I was pointed to a book that might help. It’s called Little Bets, by Peter Sims. We’ll see how it goes, but the general idea is that even though the directions we go in may seem unrelated or arbitrary, the best ideas are never really planned. They’re the result of experimentation and unpredictable inputs resulting in phenomenal outputs. So keep feeding the brain, and eventually it might just give you something amazing in return.

I’m an indie game developer

Here we go.