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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Productivity vs. Humanity

I've been doing lots of pondering, as I'm often prone to. As of late my pondering's been centered on a pretty specific facet of my life that's relevant to this blog. It's something I think I only really began to be cognizant of at some point midway through the development of Dubloon, and since then has only ballooned, particularly as I've gotten farther into my work on Phantasmaburbia.

In considering the general path of my life, a particular trend has been very visible in the last handful of years. There was a point in my life when I was a pretty socially active person. I always had semi-artistic leanings, sure. I drew comics and came up with card games and ran a website or two, maybe, but these were all expressions of various interests which I might have introduced to strangers as factoids alongside my favorite color or my favorite Pokemon. And then I started to get into making computer games.

I think the first really visible signs actually came when I was finishing Assassin Blue. I was running a website at the time (which is still online) where I posted scans of doodles in my notebooks. It wasn't anything great or special, but it was one of the things I did for fun and I was still in the process of cultivating a steady stream of visitors. And then one day I stopped. You can even see now that on my last update to the site I reassured that I was going to update on a regular schedule that week, and never did. I never even came back to correct myself or to apologize. I completely and honestly forgot about it entirely, and spent that entire week focusing on Assassin Blue stuff. And then the next week, and the next. Whoops!

The trend from there gets only more predictable, and largely already known to this blog's readership. I went on to work on more games. Slowly I stopped actively drawing apart from compulsion. I had a promising start as a writer of fiction that quickly faded. I definitely stopped maintaining any sites that weren't directly related to my games, let alone maintaining a presence on communities that had at most a tangential relation to my growing interest.

All of this is probably well and normal, really. I found my passion! I should be more than happy, and indeed satisfied with the gentle removal of the more nonessential parts of my day and life. But it started to become a very recognizable issue when I started to ebb away from friends as well.

The root of this isn't that hard to trace. When I want to make a focused effort on my games, I fairly feel the need to distance myself from people. Such is the nature of focused work! But more and more this starts to express itself in a very literal decision of if on a given night I'm going to go see some pals and party or if I'm going to stay in and fine tune that level or finally get to doing that boss fight I've been planning out for the last week. And then that decision starts to create an impact in wider circles, an example being my sleep schedule. Too often nowadays do I find myself awake and restless when the rest of humanity is sound asleep, even when maybe I'm not quite feeling the game stuff at the moment! (This is the part where I check the clock and realize it's close to 6 in the morning.)

I'm not complaining. I'm not pointing any fingers or calling any fouls here. This is actually what I chose for myself, sometimes through aloof persistence to my work but often through conscious choice. All of this begins to illustrate a very essential question of personal philosophy which I haven't yet definitively answered for myself.

I see very clearly that there are two ideals at play which are at ends with each other. On one hand there is the social life in which one draws energy from the people around them and expresses themselves through their relationships with others, their lasting impact being the impression left on their peers. On the other is the working man who shuts himself in his study and works tirelessly to produce work(s) that epitomize their knowledge and skill, a perfect brainchild which serves to immortalize these people long after they and the people who knew them have left this Earth. We all know of a lot of great figures like this in history, and it seems true with little to no exception that all the great artists and thinkers who produced the most thoughtful, emotionally significant pieces lived a lifestyle like this latter one.

At this point I might once have stopped to say that these dual pursuits of intro and extroversion were not diametrically opposed and that one could, with desire and practice, be master of both. But more and more lately I'm second guessing this. They're opposed in more ways than just literal time investment--when you choose whether to work or to socialize, you assign a value to those actions which is either greater or less than the other. You might like your friends very very much, but the more you let yourself be convinced that the most important things in your life are your achievements and productions, the more your friends become by definition distractions and less worthwhile investments. And even if that doesn't reflect your sentiments, it's the message that's sent when you essentially ignore them for extended periods of time. Conversely, once you get up from your work and go see your friends it's hard to pull away and come back, both in the span of that evening and in the long term as you're seeing them more and more. There are plenty of people who don't claim to have any particular hobby or talent or interest besides hanging out with their friends (and being a consumer of something, like listening to music or playing games)--and those people are perfectly interesting dudes with perfectly interesting lives!

I don't think I've yet fallen totally completely into either territory, but I do ride that line frequently and for me it's very easy to slip too far one way or the other for a long time. It was only really with Phantasmaburbia when I considered this balance in my life and decided to really let myself slide into that introverted zone and see how my production was affected. And now I'm facing the ramifications of that, and it's made me thoughtful. I'm seeing how my friendships become more strained, and I'm also seeing how my gradual detachment from people gives the actual product a very different energy from the perspective of me, the creator. I'm starting to question what is indeed optimal for me, while I fear actually experimentally pulling back from my project in fear that I'll somehow lose it. Which is pretty ridiculous to consider.

Obviously the "answer" is different for everybody and in all cases lies somewhere paradoxically between the two absolute extremes of introversion and extroversion. I didn't really write this with the purpose of coming out with a conclusion, and indeed I haven't yet even really reached one for myself yet. Just something that's been on my mind, that maybe you might be interested in pondering as well.


José Carlos said...

I can say that I also think about this alot... I have no advice to give, only to balance both intro and extroversion, and creating only for the fun of it, while maintaining your emotions and social characteristics. But like other things, fun comes in small doses, so don't get stuck with one way or another, there is room for everything.
And that thing about people with no interests being interesting really pisses me off too xD

PsySal said...

I can relate. About five years I decided on a philosophy-- I won't try and construct the meaning of my life from what I create.

The things I make are an outflow of my life, but they don't define it. So in that respect the purpose of my life isn't really what I make but everything else that's going on. So I guess what I'm saying is, I try to never let work get in the way of relationships.

I think I came to this realization after working too long on a project in "introverted" mode, that didn't turn out all that well. I realized that all that really mattered was everything else.

I guess it's sort of an extreme view but since I tend to want to always WORK WORK WORK it's necessary for me to hold it, if I'm to have a chance at not feeling a bit miserable and empty.

Imaku-kun said...

I don't have much friends to begin with, so I don't really think much about this. But I do think that sometimes, we're so determined to finish what we started(and make it good) that we forget our daily needs. Also, we have our family too.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should make friends that have the same passion for game making that you have. Work on a project's the perfect blend of productvity and humanity!

Myster said...

Judging on the way you wrote this entry I assume that you are a youth will a full life ahead of them.

Why I mention this is that most people in their youths feel this way, however few decide to examine and make anything of it like you have, so kudos to you.

I assume that you are unable to achieve both the creative and social aspects because your friends, who you may thoroughly enjoy the company of, may not share the same interest and obsession with game design as you.

This is what happens when you start to grow older, your ideals and values start to change and you may find yourself seeing your current friend group less.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that you may find yourself surrounded by a different friend group in years time, all who share the same passion and obsession with game design as you (for example when you join a game developing studio, your fellow employees will become your friends).
Although you may still feel strongly about your old friends and still see them from time to time, you will 'move on' from them. This is fairly normal, and in my view, healthy behaviour. It is very rare that people keep the same friends their whole life and to those that do it is usually because those individuals have failed to move on with their life (or alternatively their friends share the same interests as them, hence 'move' along with them).

I'm only 19yrs old, but I'm finding myself in a similar situation, deciding between pursuing my interests or keeping my friends. The number of friends I have at the moment are a fraction of what they used to be, and it's purely down to the fact that I no longer share a common value with those friends (i.e. highschool, sport, geographics due to relocation, etc).

Do what you enjoy doing, but at the same time don't close yourself off from relationships. If hanging out with your friends makes you happy then my all means continue with it. If you are anything like me then a social fulfilment will help fuel your passion for game design.

The days I create my most creative, interesting games are days after I've had a night out with my friends. The days that I do the least and am most unproductive are the ones where I long to hang out with my friends.

There are clearly a multitude of issues at play here and everybody has their own method of approaching them.
Enjoy what you have while you have it, but at the same time don't be afraid of change.