My last memories of Austin are sweat and donuts.
The sweat’s probably self-explanatory: it’s Texas. It’s hot. Even in October, we were battling 90-plus-degree weather and choking humidity. And as for the donuts? Well, we weren’t gonna leave Austin without grabbing a bundle of Red Rabbit baked goods for the long road ahead.
And that’s how, one year ago today, I remember cramming the last of my belongings into my surprisingly cavernous Jetta and setting off with my girlfriend and her dog on a 2,200-mile drive to Seattle, Washington.
The donuts barely lasted two days. The sweat never left.
* * * * * *
Time for a hard truth: It was irrational to leave Facebook.
I mulled the decision over in my head more often than I feel comfortable admitting, lying awake late at night or while staring out a fog-stained bus window at the same grey expanse of the 520 that I grew so familiar with during a short-lived contract role. I picked apart the threads that led to my decision: the factors that were within my control, the ones that were without. What were the catalysts? What caused what to happen?
I pieced together a haphazard mental timeline, corroborating dates to moods and specific conversations, trying to understand how I’d abandoned the first period of true stability in my adult life for something entirely unfamiliar. But cause and effect can be one and the same; so the model falls apart.
More than anything, I spent countless days wrestling with the uncomfortable realization that sometimes you can’t pin a tidy, self-contained reason to a complex decision. Maybe I’ll never be able to justify exactly why I decided it was time to leave my career and my friends and a city I’d come to see as home in order to chase something ambiguous but unrelentingly compelling. Maybe all you can hope to do is accept that it’s beyond you and that’s ok; it’s all right if you don’t know everything.
It was irrational to leave Facebook. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right choice.
* * * * * *
I moved to Seattle to make games. That’s it. And that’s what I did.
Making games isn’t especially difficult, as it turns out. It’s tough for an outsider because it’s an extraordinarily multidisciplinary field, which meant many weeks spent brushing up on programming techniques and art-asset production and debugging and build distribution and pretty much anything else you could imagine. But there are infinite solutions to any problem, such that all you really need to succeed in games is an optimistic outlook and the patience to endure a lot of trial-and-error.
There were plenty of tough days: ten-hour marathon sessions spent agonizing over one broken script, trapped in a Sisyphean loop of trying another approach and nearly succeeding only to have everything else come crashing back down around me. Those days were rough, but I learned the most from them. I kept learning.
The hardest part isn’t learning the craft of how to make games. Nor is it the process of actually making them. What’s toughest is deciding to give your all to pursuing an unreliable career path to the people in your life who, by and large, don’t see the potential and the promise that you do in the field you’ve chosen. I know the surest path to misery is to dictate your life around someone else’s whims, but there’s a loneliness—one I hadn’t anticipated—in changing your whole life to pursue something that very few people understand the value of.
I guess that’s the next big hurdle: finding satisfaction in the pursuit of something for my own sake.
* * * * * *
I’ve always dreamed of making games that are incredibly accessible to people who rarely play games or have avoided mainstream consoles due to the complexity of their controllers and the steep learning curve behind your average big-budget blockbuster game. The growing availability of powerful and free game-development tools means that more people can make more games about more things, and I can’t think of a better way to communicate with others than to build games that conjure up experiences that they can interact with, think about and share with others.
But even if a game’s as simple as tapping your finger on a screen, there are decades of stigma and an incredibly hostile (though, thankfully, shrinking) base of hardcore, xenophobic “enthusiasts” kicking and screaming against the inexorable democratization of games as a medium of expression for everyone.
I tend to think the future’s bright, and the vitriol fueling a cabal of supposedly disenfranchised “gamers” is sure to burn out sooner or later. Leigh Alexander, a writer I’ve always admired, argues that self-proclaimed “gamers” are already a thing of the past. Good riddance. You can’t properly appreciate or critique a medium if you base the core of your identity within it.
* * * * * *
One year later, I now find myself on the verge of another move. This time it’s different: there are plans; there’s stability; there are people to reconnect with and opportunities to pursue.
The last year has been an exhausting crash course not just in how to make games of all kinds but also how to survive when there’s nothing to hold on to. It’s also been an exercise in humility—in learning not to base my identity or self-worth around my career, my title, my position, or my network of friends. When you’re out on your own and away from the familiar, you’re left with a lot of anxious questions to puzzle through, but the end result is a better sense of self. Once you know who that person is, and you accept that person for who they are, it’s suddenly a lot easier to weather the small stuff that life throws your way.
I’m sure a lot of people look at me and wonder if I’ve thrown away opportunity over something fickle. On the other hand, I know a great deal of people who admire the risk I took and respect the way I’ve used my time to teach myself a vast new set of skills in the pursuit of something of great personal significance.
The truth that I’ve come to accept is that I am both people. I am the reckless abandoner of a steady path forward, and I am an idealist with the discipline and pragmatism to pursue bigger and better things in the face of uncertainty. I am flawed and I am exceptional. And I’m still here.
I don’t know how this next year will play out, but I know there’s one crucial difference this time around: I have a much better sense of who I am and what that person is trying to accomplish. For the first time in a long time, we’re both on the same page.