October 8, 2013

The Answer

At this past Indiecade I discovered that I was asking many people the same question - "why make games?"

It started as a reaction to the commercialized flow of the discussion at Indiexchange. I had already tried, toyed with, and subsequently felt disillusioned by most of the ideas that positioned games "as a business" and "as a career," and I needed another way to understand the topic, since I felt like that framework was holding me back. So throughout the week, I asked why people were making games. I had no expectation of getting The Answer, but I did get a wide variety of responses:

"When I found that I was good at it, I just didn't stop" "I could contribute a certain speciality skill or perspective of mine" "There are still things I want to try to explore" "It's more like an urge I have to satisfy, like hunger"

By the midpoint of the weekend my thoughts had been stirred, and I was on my way to a satisfying answer for myself.

Really, this question can be intended in at least two ways. One is: "Why should people bother playing the game I make?" and the other is: "Why am I motivated to make this game?"

The first one I felt I've resolved - even before I started pursuing the "why make games" question - by looking towards philosophy. If people feel that they are gaining something from the work, and if you personally are holding true to a philosophy you believe in, there is no issue. They gain what they want from it, and you say what you want to say. There will always be a "better thing to do," in or outside of the topic of gaming, but that is something you can grow with through practice and self-reflection.

The second one, however, became more and more troublesome as I internalized the first. My motivation to make things can't be directly related to some kind of principled, intellectual approach. It's a selfish impulse - it feels good in the moment. So what I was really asking myself was - "am I wrong to feel like this(selfish, impulsive) when it might not result in that(principled, considered)." And really, there is some continuum of creativity where one end is entirely born of impulse and emotion, and the other is totally cold and hyper-rational. The extremes are not realistically available to most people, but I now believe that I was aiming for the rational extreme, and so I suffered a loss of motivation as I failed to fit the role I was envisioning over and over.

Indeed, the whole creative process runs counter to the idea of the idea of role fulfilment - you are there to try something new, so it's not going to fit in a mold. The moment when we know exactly what we're doing and have no more questions is the moment when creativity ends. So by aiming for a role I was also poisoning my creativity, adopting positions of an established nature to guide the role-satisfying need and then determining that it was a bad position after entombing myself within it and giving myself no way out. A recurring statement of mine would be "People will like this" - not myself.

In life, our position and motivations are very chaotic. Even if we say and believe we want a thing for a certain reason, or claim to do something for a certain purpose, the true source of actions is much harder to track down, and the results of those actions are even harder to predict. Asking "why" is a good way to validate work, but it isn't fit for a person, because people aren't simple enough or predictable enough to make such judgements clearly. So yes, maybe we don't have the artistic identity we'd ideally want, and we're compelled to fill a role that doesn't always fit, and exhorted to be "good" or "successful" within various success metrics. But those things aren't a call to action - internal needs are. Creative work is one of the most positive ways one could ever be selfish, and for that reason it's good to follow the urge and deal with the consequences later, taking it on faith that you're going to do the right thing.

Speaking personally, I need to stop approaching every single project with the assumption that it's unworthy until proven otherwise - if "I want this" is good enough, the rest can be worked out along the way.


Copyright James W. Hofmann 2010 - 2013.