September 23, 2014

Understanding Creative People

­We see them splashing inspiration on a canvas, and the results look amazing. They bring the imaginary and the abstract into our world, shaping how we look at reality. They speak in arcane tongues, weaving speech spells that enhance our everyday. They create, and they can’t help themselves.

These are creative people, and they are struggling in the game industry.

We Compare Ourselves to Others

In the game industry, it’s easy to compare ourselves to our peers, especially if they’re successful. We feel like we have to make the next game changer, become a darling, or work on the next big AAA game to prove that we’re worth something; as if we need the approval.

That’s a problem.

First, let’s talk AAA. How many artists, designers, programmers, producers, QA, and Audio people could you name without looking them up? Unless you were the face of a core aspect of a project, no one but those you’ve connected with will notice you; even some leads don’t get attention unless their game goes wrong. Trying to judge your success based on high-profile projects is flawed and wrong. If you’re in this space for namedropping material to prove your worth, you’re doing it wrong.

The indie route isn’t much better. Most independent developers struggle/struggled for a long time before becoming successful. A lot of independent developers have made a lot of games and stumbled upon one that resonated with an audience. Trying to make it big with that One Dream Game™ is silly and setting yourself up for disappointment.

It’s one thing to work smart, but it’s another to shortcut your way to success. Seeking out shortcuts removes valuable experience that can help a creative grow. Imagine an MMO where you saw a low-level player in a party gaining experience from people they knew that were much farther in the game. Sure, they might be “leveling up,” and they may seem more powerful, but in reality, they won’t know how to use their skills because they don’t have real experience.

Don’t be the person that trades their creativity for clout and pretends that status equals skill; focusing their energy on detractors instead of creating things. Make sure that every day you can say that you’re better than you were the day before. Admiring people that have worked hard and aiming for greatness is okay but remember; you’re only you.


Embrace that.

We Think Our Opinions Don’t Matter

So you’re not well known in the industry. Or maybe you have an opinion about a genre you don’t play too often or on the behavior of X company. Just because you weren’t working on an anticipated project, or didn’t write that one controversial piece, or have a YouTube channel with a million subscribers doesn’t mean your opinion is worthless.

It’s easy to think that your opinion is worthless since the “average” consumer comment is stereotyped as YouTube tier. The comment sections on an average game video or article are usually horrible and poorly written. The content creators rarely respond unless someone disagrees/trolls or agrees with them one-hundred percent, and many content creators are shutting off their comment sections.  It doesn’t help that most of the industry believes that gamers are immature (and are stereotyped as cis/white/heterosexual males) and those employed in the industry and whose views align with the popular narrative are mature. Who would’ve thought?

Despite what the industry says, the truth is that consumers matter way more than developers, publishers, journalists; you name it. Their money and views drive what’s popular, what game company stays alive, and what publications get to live by posting articles. So why am I talking about consumers when this is about creative people? That’s because:

Creators are consumers.

Creators consume and engage with all kinds of products and media. Because of this, and the idea surrounding consumers in the industry, it’s no surprise that creative people don’t think that their opinions matter. Some in a struggle to become like those that they perceive to matter, separate themselves from consumers with titles and labels. Only by desperately trying to cut ties with the one label they can never get rid of do they have the confidence to feel like they matter and dehumanize a vital part of our industry for bonus points.

Those that unfortunately learn to succeed this way value their opinions because other prominent people tell them that their opinion matters. This mindset creates a system that makes creators only feel comfortable expressing themselves based on those that support them and not the value of their opinions or work; thus encouraging cliques and narcissistic behavior once they find support. By not valuing our thoughts and ideas as creators, the toxicity can leak into our creative endeavors and makes us doubt ourselves.

That doesn’t mean that your opinion is right; voicing an opinion without educating yourself or accepting that you could be wrong is choosing ignorance over understanding. But as long as we present clear, thoughtful views, we are making the industry a better place for everyone. Everyone’s opinion matters.

We Don’t Like Examining Ourselves

Sometimes it’s hard being a creative person because it’s easy to get discouraged when we make mistakes. Mistakes can trigger other moments in our lives and our careers; we feel horrible and worthless. We suffer in silence as if we deserve always to feel bad about ourselves.

It’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes.

By going through our baggage, we can learn about ourselves and heal. We can use those wounds to come to a better understanding of the world and translate our experiences into spaces where other people can learn and feel. A lot of creative people have the unfortunate experience of struggling with mental health or horrible life experiences. Looking at problems straight on and tackling them is hard, especially if you feel alone. If you need help, try and find it wherever you can.

We live in an industry that has a hard time admitting when it’s wrong. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, and it’s easier to hide ignorance and mistakes with a veil of smugness than acknowledge that you’re human. By not examining ourselves, honest critique can look like a personal attack, and it incentivizes people to surround themselves with people that don’t challenge them. A community that doesn’t take the time to reflect is prone to repeating the same mistakes over, and over again.

We’re Afraid to Step Out of Our Comfort Zone

A sad truth about being a creative person is being used to the world telling you that there’s something wrong with you.

When it comes down to it, creative people tend to be scared of stepping out of their comfort zone. This fear makes potential talent compare themselves to people that “matter” because they’re creative, radical, and edgy “in the right way”. Those thoughts make them feel like their opinions don’t matter and thus feel like their work is worthless. With low self-esteem comes the inability to look inside and give time to introspection out of fear that it might trigger memories of failure, ostracization, and insecurities. It’s a dangerous game that no one wants to play.

Taking the first step is difficult. When an industry constricts how people can express themselves, it takes away creativity. It traps people in cages built with subjective morals and standards; told that they should be grateful for the opportunity to be educated; told that somehow that box is creative freedom. Forming a homogenous idea of what a creative person can and can’t do makes potential talent afraid of taking that step; that critical, potentially life-changing step into the vulnerable and abstract; a space where the potential for growth is high and where nuggets of inspiration are buried under a sea of experiences.

Understanding Creative People

Creative people are bright and have a lot of things to share. They thrive with other creative people in spaces where the sky’s the limit and ideas, feelings, and perspectives are shared without fear. If this space can’t exist in our industry, that potential will find another home. I wonder how many people have we’ve lost.