Game a Week Part 4: On Failure

In part 1, I explored the motivations behind and the beginnings of Game a Week. In part 2 and part 3, I recapped the first 11 weeks worth of games. In the last part of this series, I wanted to discuss failure.

As you can see – out of the 11 weeks that I’ve been at Game a Week, I’ve failed on two of them. I have what I would normally call “valid excuses” for those two weeks, but in all honesty, any excuse is just that – an excuse.

Personally, every time I “fail” at anything, I take it hard. A failure to me reflects directly on my self worth as a human being and a contributing member of society. For example, failing at something such as Game a Week causes me to think: “Wow, you can’t even accomplish one measly prototype in seven days? You are a terrible game developer and will never be successful at anything ever”.

Obviously, this is an entirely counter-productive way to think, but when you’re laying in bed trying to sleep, it’s hard to keep your mind from wandering where it tends to go. I know a lot of people out there struggle with self-doubt and impostor syndrome, but even so, my mind still wonders “When is everyone going to realize that I have no idea what I’m doing?” (according to The Onion, it’s today).

I try to remind myself of all the things I’ve accomplished but, I generally end up rationalizing to myself why they don’t count as real “successes”:

Rational Adriel: “Remember that time you worked on Rock Band Blitz?”

Irrational Adriel: “Yeah, well, that was years ago and I was fumbling around in the dark and no one noticed. I actually had no idea what I was doing and can’t believe that no one picked up on that. I only really was hired because they were desperate for more programmers”.

Rational Adriel: “What about Train Jam? That got pretty popular.”

Irrational Adriel: “There’s no proof yet that it will be fun. Plus, I’m probably just making this organizing thing way more complicated than it needs to be. Someone else could have done way better with much more ease. Also, I’ve screwed up a lot of this along the way – it could be so much better.”

Rational Adriel: “Sooo, you do know that you wrote code that will go to space, right?”

Irrational Adriel: “So what? So did plenty of other people. That is a job that I objectively had no idea what I was doing at – I can’t STILL believe I worked there for that long without anyone noticing how stupid I was.”

Rational Adriel: “Okay, well how about [X]?”

Irrational Adriel: “It doesn’t count because of reasons [Y] and [Z]”.

It’s a constant battle in my head, and a battle that I’m actively trying to remind myself is untrue and unhelpful.

At Steam Dev Days, I talked with another developer (well, I talked to A LOT of other developers, but this one is relevant to the proceeding story). He’s a developer who is working on a game that I personally find to be awesome. It’s creative, has received praise from other developers and news websites, was successfully kickstarted, and has been greenlit. In my eyes, this guy has everything going for him. After a bit of talking, he began to open up to me about his insecurities. He lamented about how he felt out of place because he hasn’t produced a finished game and how he doesn’t feel like he can talk to the other developers because he’s not “successful”. He even referred to me as someone who is more successful than he is. Here is someone that by all units of measure is further along on something real than I ever have been, wallowing in his non-success to me. This is such the quintessential example of the self-doubt that runs rampant in our industry.

A good dose of humility is a quality that I consider to be important, but it’s dangerous when it starts crossing over into a territory where it messes with your self-worth. It’s something that I’ve been actively trying to recognize when it’s happening to me and push the negative thoughts out of my head. These thoughts do nothing to help me accomplish the things that I want to, and are counter-productive in every way.

It helps to talk to other people both inside and outside of the industry to process these thoughts. Seeing others have the same doubts, the same insecurities, is almost reassuring in a way. If everyone could see how scared everyone else is, maybe we wouldn’t all be quite as afriad to try something new.

I’m trying to live my life in a way where I simply just try to do things things – no matter how scary and how big the risk of failure is. If you don’t try, you won’t know, and in my eyes, not knowing is worse than failing.

If you see something that should exist where it doesn’t exist – make it exist. If you have an idea that you can’t stop thinking about it – explore it. If you don’t like something that is happening in your life – fix it. If you want to do something but haven’t for one reason or another – please, just find a way to do it.

Failure is a part of any meaningful endeavor in life. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not taking enough chances. You should mitigate against the fallout from failure, but you should not fear it. You can learn from success, but I find that you learn much more from failing.

The overall theme of Game a Week has been to just start making things. There is a HUGE difference between thinking about something and actually doing something – and this experiment has only proven it to me more and more each week. You can extend this lesson into a lot of different aspects of life, and for me, it’s been an incredible concept to take to heart.


2 Responses

  1. Very inspiring post, thanks!

    In a way, it’s nice to see that other developers (and someone was has accomplished way more thing game-wise than I did) are also suffering the impostor syndrome…
    I wish we could see more “honest” post like that coming from game designers, because they are both “reassuring” and “motivating” to aspiring game designers.

    And congrats on your various “one game a week” experiments, they are great!

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