There, I said it.
I’ve been meaning to write this one for a very long time.
All this while I just couldn’t bring myself to say it. It was difficult to come to terms with this realization. All I’ve done most of my adult life is make and play videogames. So this definitely made for a hard pill to swallow.
If you’ve been passionate about videogames through your adolescence, you know what I’m talking about. All your friends stopped playing and you thought to yourself, one day it’s going to be my turn. “Growing out of videogames” they call it. Never, I thought to myself.
I don’t imagine this makes a lot of sense, especially since it’s coming out of nowhere. It’s been awfully quiet here. I haven’t posted on this blog for over a year now. There’s certainly a lot we have to catch up on. I think a little bit of context would go a long way to bring us on the same page.
So let’s get right to it.
Over the last year I haven’t played any videogames at all. The year before that, I played a little bit of Overwatch and some Rocket League, that too only if my friends were online. I wouldn’t play otherwise. The last game I remember enjoying from start to finish, all by myself, was Bloodborne. I went into Dark Souls 3 with the same enthusiasm, but it couldn’t keep me for long. That was the first time I started to feel there’s something wrong.
All of last year I was a little bit distracted. I had a television for a couple of months before I moved into a smaller apartment closer to work. I booted my Playstation once maybe twice to try out the new Deus Ex game. After that I never touched it again. I played Pokemon Y on my 3DS for a couple of minutes on the bus to a remote village in Thailand. I think that’s about it. Maybe a few matches of Hearthstone on my phone, that too unranked. Doesn’t make for a lot of gaming time does it?
I used to be excited about AAA games. I remember the time I used to look forward to the next big release and tune into every development. Keep up to date on forums and follow games media to stay on the cutting edge. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t see past the fact that they’re all the same now. I lose all incentive to continue playing within minutes. Most if not all of them open with a long cutscene which only does an okay job of setting up a story and showing off the rendering tech. After that to my eyes it’s yet another open world littered all over with objective markers telling me what to do. Walk ten steps and it’s the same awkward 3D dude lip syncing carefully written dialogue that I can simply ignore because a more succinct version of it is being distilled into a legible journal entry on a quest log anyway.
Look, I don’t have anything against the next AAA game. I’ve been there and enjoyed them for countless hours. I get it, if you enjoy playing them, more power to you! They’re solid, polished experiences put together by hard working teams of talented individuals. I have all the respect for them and the work they produce. Don’t take this the wrong way, AAA games are great, I’m just finding it difficult to get into them, which is also only a recent development.
This might sound a lot like one of those “it’s not you honey, it’s me” kind of situations. Trust me, this time I actually mean it.
To be fair I didn’t have a lot of time to play videogames last year. In a desperate attempt to leave home for a change of scenery, I decided to move to Thailand and settle for a job in mobile games. I spent all of last year cloning a well known title under the supervision of uptight OOP fundamentalists pretending to be game developers. Their unhealthy obsession with Test Driven Development didn’t work out in the end. If you’ve spent three years trying to clone a mobile game, you’re definitely doing something wrong. All of it paid for my pool on the 50th floor so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Walking into an office every day and collaborating with other team members was a nice change, I enjoyed that aspect of it. I learned quite a lot about programming, didn’t agree with most of it. Otherwise the work itself was quite mundane. Every monday we’d get bullied into making hilariously absurd time estimates for our tasks. The rest of the sprint we worked late and followed orders. Any attempt at improvisation was crushed almost immediately.
Not playing videogames at all and spending forty plus hours every week working on a mobile “game” that I couldn’t care less about, put me in a place where I started to feel disconnected from videogames altogether. I found it difficult to find the time to try out new games that I might enjoy, or work on something interesting that I was excited about. I’ve been in a videogames lull before, but this time I felt I had crossed a tipping point of some kind. I felt that I was in a different space altogether. That is when I lost my drive to create and began to realize that I might have finally grown out of videogames. I was almost ready to wrap it all up and kiss my passion for games and games development a final heartfelt goodbye. Let’s be honest, I think the panic didn’t kick in for the longest time because I was seeing this one really cute girl. It was only when she was out of the picture that it finally hit me.
I’ve always had an escape. It’s part of the reason why I think I’ve made it this far in the first place. There is so much of the world out there. Videogames are really simple and easy to understand. This untimely hiatus sobered me up to a different reality. When I’m not giving one hundred percent of my attention to working on something, my mind begins to wander onto stranger frequencies. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my place in the world? Why are people doing what they’re doing? Why do people work the way they do? What is the meaning behind the complex interplay of social interaction? What rules do they follow? What purpose do those rules solve? What evolutionary device requires these rules to be a certain way in the first place? And what is my goddamned role to play in all of that? I imagine some form of spiritual ascension is necessary before one can hope to tackle questions like that.
I’ve asked myself many times why I make videogames. I don’t know why I make videogames. I like it when I travel across two continents to stand around at a games convention where a stranger walks up to me to tell me how much she enjoyed playing my game. I like that feeling, but it can’t be the thing that drives me. I might not know for certain why I like to make videogames, but I’m quite sure it’s got very little to do with any kind of extrinsic motivation. Whatever it is that got me off my bed and in front of my computer for sixteen hours a day, was a drive that came to me from a different place.
The universe is trying to tell us things. If you pay careful attention, if you train that muscle, you can listen to what it’s saying. It is telling you things you need to know, the universe is on your side. If you listen closely, you will know what to do and what is right for you. For the longest time I’ve shut myself off from it. I could dismiss this whole episode and say I was passing through a phase, but that I think would be an oversimplification of a more complex situation. While there might be some truth to it, I wouldn’t put it quite like that anymore.
I like to believe that we are all three dimensional vessels channeling a multidimensional universe. Given our lack of perspective, we are conditioned to comprehend only a particular version of our reality. We learn to harness and respond to a very limited number of energies that are available to us. We have untold powers at our disposal, only we choose not to wield them. I have felt a power before. I have noticed its presence. I can recollect each and every instance of when it has decided to intervene. Lovely Planet came from a different place. I would feel an odd disturbance of some kind when I got off my computer. Doing anything other than working on the game just felt wrong. Elegant solutions to complex problems would simply manifest in front of me with little to no effort. No amount of logic would explain how strangely unrelated elements would magically fit together. Mechanics and elements for which I would budget weeks if not months of experimentation, would assemble miraculously overnight. A completely random attempt at solving one particular isolated problem, would go to fix half a dozen other ones, and in one fell swoop, everything that was just a moment before completely disjointed, would turn into a beautiful symphony of interacting systems.
The space I’m in right now doesn’t allow me to channel that power. I’ve spent a long while trying to haphazardly recreate that same space. I’ve made sure all the pieces are in the right place. Everything I need at arm’s length, just like it used to be. Nothing seems to work. It is extremely critical that I find it sooner rather than later. I’m getting old and life is short. There isn’t a lot of time left, no time to think. I can’t bother to check and see who’s listening, and who isn’t. What works commercially, and what doesn’t. What’s appropriate and acceptable, and what isn’t. Who happens to care and who doesn’t. There’s videogames inside me and they need to come out. There’s no option but to move forward. An interesting idiot once told me that I’m not a programmer. He was right, I’m not a programmer at all. I’m a game developer. I make videogames. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do – I’m going to make the videogame of my dreams because I can.
I still have ideas. Even now, when I close my eyes, it doesn’t matter what corner of the world I‘m in. If I’m in a good mood, or a bad one. At a bar in Bangkok, or on top of the Eiffel tower. On a train to Amsterdam or at a nightclub in Berlin. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing, with who I’m hanging out or what the people around me are talking about. Still, after all these years, when I close my eyes, I can only see videogames. And it is my responsibility to bring those to life.
I am going to spend the rest of my time and resource in finding and building that space form where I can create again. I don’t care what it takes. I’m going to get on a boat and make my way north through the Mekong delta. I’m going to get high and listen to Ram Dass on the step farms in the Himalayas. I’m going to travel to Vietnam and ride a motorbike from Hanoi to Saigon. I’m going to walk along the beach in Bali and work on the rice fields in the Philippines. I’ll do whatever it takes. And once I have found my space you can be sure to find me in my element where I belong, sitting somewhere in front of the warm glow of a computer screen, typing away into the wee hours of the night, sparring with the ghost in the machine.