It's no secret that I've long worked on being a game designer (though it was a revelation to several folks that I had a blog, so if this is your first time hearing this then... welcome, I guess?) Ever since I knew what a game designer was I knew that I wanted to do that someday. But like most things in life things get in the way. Work happens, life happens, or other things take priority. Part of this was fear (fear of being good enough, fear of looking like a fool, fear that I wouldn't make it, etc.) and part of it was thinking that game design is done so much better by others, so how could I possibly be in the same league as these folks. So I stalled for decades on something that is ostensibly my passion.
Last night I finished playtesting a storyworld by one of my heroes. I'm not mentioning specifics at the moment because I want to save that for its release, but suffice to say this is a "big deal". I managed to get one of the unsatifactory endings in the story. Curious, I wanted to know where I had gone wrong. The storyworld really didn't provide me with the feedback I craved so I did the only thing that a hacker like me would do: I looked at the code.
What I found gave me one of the biggest gut-punches for my soul.
Without giving too much away one of characters in the storyworld acts as a mentor and barometer for your choices. He challenges you every step of the way, goading you on and challenging your beliefs. It's truly one of the best characters I've encountered in fiction. The question came up about my beliefs and my passions. I picked an answer that was close to what I would say in real life.
In the words of an imagined Heidi Klum on Project Runway: "Your passions are dull, and you are boring. Good bye".
The context of the storyworld is about the decisions of you, the main protagonist, as you are about to face death. As someone with stage 4 cancer this is something that has been weighing heavily on me. But what the character said laid my soul bare. The protagonist's story accomplished nothing. Sure, they did things, but nobody would remember their story. They'd be forgotten.
Not the kind of thing one would want to be not-remembered for when they're facing death.
My reverse-engineering showed me something that I've long felt. In the storyworld the protagonist I played didn't do anything to write their own story. They were buffeted around between all of these situations while not really exercising their own passions. In the end it cost them dearly.
This is what I wrote as part of my playtest feedback:
"I won't bore you with the particulars of my life, but suffice to say being in Michigan I couldn't escape the gravitational pull of working for two automotive companies where I lived comfortably and dutifully did my work. Some of it was quite good, and I'm proud of it, but in the end nobody outside of those companies will ever see it. Worse, I'm sure most of it has been decommissioned over the years (or even mere months after I'd completed them, in some cases). I'd done well, but they weren't my passion. They're meaningless busywork; chaff for accountants to write off; bits degrading on demagnetizing backups."
Folks have asked me over the years "what do you want?" or "what is your passion?". I knew in my heart what the answer was, but it wasn't something I'd strongly held. It felt more like a "nice to have". It'd be nice if I were a game designer. It'd be nice if I were a great programmer.
Weak passions, strongly held.
I know I've made similar revelations on this blog but this one seems more earnest and more real. Part of it was the failure video (it was really quite scathing), and part of it was in the context of the storyworld itself. It's like being an astronaut waiting for the perfect time to go into flight. (Spoiler: It's the next time you can strap your ass into the spaceship and not get thrown out.)
It's not going to be easy, and it might not even be fun, but dammit I need to light the fires of these passions and see how bright I can get them. Nobody is writing my story by me. The least I can do is make it a good one.