Continuing on with my (possibly slightly too personal to be all that useful) memoirs of game making in 2011, I should to say something about community, because despite my extremely hermit-y tendencies it turned out to be very important.
Just to be a bit clear, by community I don’t really mean a group of peers who you can bounce ideas off of and collaborate on projects and share wisdom and all that. Frankly, I’m very, very bad at accepting ideas from others – it makes me tense just thinking about it. What you do need, though, in any kind of creative endeavour/habit, is some people you can show what you’re doing to and get some critique, but possibly more crucial, some enthusiasm. Making stuff is hard enough without soldiering on in complete silence and isolation.
So, I’m married, which means my wife Rilla gets to bear the brunt of hearing every single idea for a game I ever have. One great thing about pitching stuff to Rilla is that she’s a rather hard sell and, if we’re being honest, quite frequently isn’t all that enthused by what I proclaim I’ll be doing. I find that initial exchange we have super useful because it tends to either harden my resolve to plunge on, or I really question the idea and perhaps discard it (or save it for later).
Then there’s my parents. I’m not sure why I still trust them at all, because they claim to think that every single idea I have is the most awesome thing ever thought of. Whether or not that’s actually true (of them), it’s helpful, I think, to have some pure enthusiasm available to you when you’re working, because otherwise it’s really hard. So that’s a key component too. Likewise, I wrote yesterday about how supportive Doug Wilson and Miguel Sicart have been, in terms of people who are actually around in Copenhagen where I live.
The biggest surprise for me when I started making games was how rapidly I found the Kill Screen writers to be a huge touch-stone for what I was doing. We have a forum system (which I manage to belong to solely because I was lucky enough to write a short piece about the 2011 GameJam that appeared on the website), and each time I’ve more or less finished a new game, I’ve posted it there before release to get some feedback from the Kill Screeners. Obviously not everyone has access to such an interesting set of minds, and so I count myself extraordinarily fortunate on this front (well, and working at the Center for Computer Games Research probably falls in that basket too). The Kill Screen people are about as funny, charming, and thoughtful a group as you could hope to meet, and their comments on the pre-release games have always massively helped my confidence that I was making something worthwhile in some way. After all, these are some deeply smart game-thinkers, so if they like the idea in a game, then I consider it entirely justified.
So it’s a bit of a love fest, basically, and I think that’s important if you want to try to make things that are a little bit different to the established mainstream. Otherwise you can really either get stepped on, or just ignored. Trolley Problem is kind of a good example of how this works. I thought (and think) it was pretty great and hilarious, but after it was released it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Luckily for me, I had numerous other voices, particular from the Kill Screen crowd, that meant that I still felt like I’d made a good thing.
Finally, I should just point out that I’d almost certainly keep making games without all this community – I’m stuck on making games as a thing I find deeply rewarding, and I’ve always been a hard worker when it comes down to it. But with the other voices involved, the whole process is filled with a kind of joy that’s hard to match – and I don’t use the word “joy” lightly.
In short, even if you’re a loner like me, finding a small cadre of people who you like and trust, and who like and trust both you and the things you’re making, seems to be a solid move.