Simon J McDonnell

Creating cool stuff

The Urge to Create

I work in a creative industry. From indie exploration of obscure subject matter, to AAA blockbuster thrill-taculars, there’s a lot of imagination and creative juice running through the veins of game development. So why do I struggle to create so much in my personal time? I always feel like I should be creating, but it sometimes feels like an uphill battle.

Dare to be Digital
I competed in Dare 2013. It was a very creative environment, with multiple teams all making some really innovative stuff whilst being very passionate about it. Being constantly surrounded by that many people focused on producing things was a really great seedbed for further creative output. It was like a snowball effect, the more surrounded by creative people doing creative things I was, the more creative I became. More and more and more. I had this incredible urge to make things, cool things. It was a virtuous cycle. I created all day long (and sometimes all night), and then I would go and have these great conversations back our lodgings, and then I would write.

I had a saying during that time whenever I would begin to watch some tv or mess around on the internet which was “Would I rather be creating or consuming right now?” The answer would always be creating, and so I would get a lot done.

First Job
Since then I’ve found it a lot harder to create. I’m not sure why that is. My day job almost directly after Dare was being a game programmer. Every day was filled with game development. That said, it was developing games which I personally wouldn’t play. Not because they were bad games, but because they weren’t for me. Moshi Monsters village, for example, is a kids game in a franchise that is also for kids. Not exactly something that’s going to set my world on fire. This would certainly explain some damping of the creative juices. However I lived in Dundee during that time too, which is a university city that has a very vibrant game development community. My girlfriend was finishing up her course in computer arts, my friends were almost exclusively programmers, artists, and audio developers for games. You would think these two competing elements would balance each other out.

So why the drop off in creative energy? One reason could be that competitions are intense things. In Dare we were under a very strict timeline (8 weeks) to create a game from scratch, which we would then have to showcase. That kind of thing leads to a very singular focus. All anyone talked about was game development, or the competition, or exciting social drama!

Perception of Self
It may also be that while I was confident in my ability to design and improve games, I was a lot less so in my technical skills. I felt that I had ill-prepared myself for an actual career in games programming during my college years. I didn’t have nearly the skills I felt I needed to be successful. So I began to improve them. This has led to some fun things, like SimEngine. However it’s also led to me only focusing on improving my technical skills when sitting down to do some of my own development work. I’m a game developer who doesn’t make games in his spare time.

That statement being a fact is really damaging to my perception of who I am. When looking at the media surrounding games I’m constantly presented with people whose creative output is insanely prolific. I think of these people as game developers. I also think of myself as a game developer, but how can I do so when I don’t match one tenth of these peoples output? I’m afraid that my love of my craft isn’t sufficient for success, artisticly or financially.

Creative Failings
Writing is something I like to pretend I do. It’s something I’ve always admired and it’s always a skill I’ve always wanted to cultivate within myself. I’ve tried a website like this before, with regular posts. I have always failed. I just get bored and don’t bother writing new stuff. This one’s the first time I’ve decided on a regular schedule. A new post every Tuesday. This is hard for me to do. Yet so far I’m doing it, and I’ve produced more regular content than I’ve ever done before.

I say the thing about writing because I think of it as another example of how I find creative work difficult. I wonder is it a common thing, to enjoy/ long for the end result while dreading doing the work to get there. Probably. There are plenty of people who want to be in shape, after all, who never attain the golden body they dream of. The people who actually do get in shape are the ones who found a way to make the work to get there enjoyable, or who pushed through the discomfort.

I don’t create as much as I think I should, and it’s damaging to my perception of who I am. Having a regular deadline for writing new things has made me create more regularly than I did before. A similar deadline for games development might work. Creative work is difficult. I wish I had more drive.


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