Behind the Curtain

A recent post by a friend on her gaming site, SaveGame (yes, same one from the sidebar) really honed in on the sort of malaise I’ve been feeling myself. Losing the passion for the things you once loved, feeling empty in the moments spent in a hobby that used to provide a sense of fulfilment, it can make you feel lost.

I’ve been going through similar, and it has or had (I’m not sure if I’m past it yet or not) infested many of the things I consider strong interests, even things I’m passionate about. Yes, games are one of those things, but so too is writing. If you haven’t been able to tell from recent posts, I’ll make it plain – everything is hard and I’m not sure what I’m doing and I don’t know what to do about it. There’s two things that are probably most important in talking about this – working out where things have fallen off, and identify where a spark can be ignited once more.

I’ll do my best to address this in whatever way I can.

Writing

It’s supposedly the focus of the site, so it seems the one to start with. As I keep saying, I’m working on my novel. I finished the first draft earlier this year, took a brief breather from working on it, then got back to work on the next stage – editing. This editing stage is mostly to do with restructuring where things happen, with the intent being at the end, I will have a beta-ready novel that can be given to people for additional impressions.

The ‘alpha’ version has been read by some. They seem to have liked it, even if they had concerns about the ending and got a little lost when I wasn’t clear about the events taking place. I read through it myself, and while I wanted to fix all the problems with it, I was able to get through to the end without throwing it against a wall.

Now though, it’s crisis time.

Editing is a drag. No no, not a drag. It fricking sucks. It is hard work, and it can feel like you’re merely inching through a mire one knuckle at a time, hoping to whatever forces you believe in that it’s not shit you’re wading through. You’ve been in it for so fricking long that you can’t tell anymore. You read it back, and wow, you’re sure it’s shit. You know you improved it (or are sure that you have), that it’s somehow better than what you had before which you thought was tolerable, but this… no, it’s shit, right? It has to be shit.

But you have to continue. And by you, I mean me. I’m continuing, but some days are okay, and some are just hard. I’m far from the finish line on the draft, and I tell myself that maybe it’ll get quicker as I move through to the point where scenes don’t have to be set so much, or when the changes are hopefully less major. That little perfectionist streak that used to cripple my writing years ago feels like now it’s its time to take over, because I’ve done the first draft and the whole “just get it done then fix it” attitude doesn’t want to apply itself to something that’s been written previously.

As an aside, writing on the blog is different. I don’t edit. I occasionally check spelling, and I just push out whatever comes to mind. If there’s been a gap between posts, it’s usually because I don’t have any ideas on what I want to write about. Sometimes it’s because I’m sure nobody’s listening, or the stuff I’m writing in posts isn’t any good. Yes, even with being a finalist in a blog competition, you still wonder these things. If I’d won my category or the overall thing, I would still be wondering these things. Getting that sort of accolade is fantastic, but it’s not an endpoint. I didn’t think that it would be, but it’s really not. There’s been no influx of opportunities that come from it, and while there’s a steady rate of traffic coming as a result, you never know if people get to the front page, say “WHAT, NO VIDEO!?!” and close it again.

So that part of it gets to me.

I have another friend who is my go-to-alpha-reader. She’s fantastic and you should follow her, though the point of mentioning her is more that she’s usually positive about what I’ve written. It’s one of the ways in which I feel like just maybe, there’s something to this writing thing. It’s the discussions that come out of it, about writing or what’s been written, that I really enjoy beyond the writing stage.

Again, no, editing is not a joy. Maybe that’s because it’s my own stuff, and maybe it’s because editing itself is such a soul-sucking task. Be nice to your editors either way.

On the whole, I do feel like I should be doing more. My progress on editing has stagnated. I look around the internet and see lots of competitions that sometimes seem like a thing I should look into, but I don’t feel like I belong in them. What business do I have entering them? Facebook writing groups (my own aside) seem to be endless promo circuits rather than discussions about writing, and the campaigns that are about actual writing? They’re targeted at kids. Many award type things, cut-off is 30-35. Guess what I just turned.

I really have no idea what I’m doing. The actual act, sure, I’m confident in that. My biggest obstacles there have always been time, persistence, and confidence, with the degradation of one always leading to a mess in the other two. No mentor, role model or even… I don’t know. It’s just a thick pile of shit. I don’t have the money to spend on a writing course, if that’s something I should consider doing. It’s all so horrible, and I feel quite lost.

Games

These were my escape for a long time, but they’ve been losing their oomph for me. At times it can feel as though I’m going through the paces, doing it because I’ve been doing it for so long, yet unsure if I’m really getting any joy from it.

Some of that is the games itself. It feels like I had so much to get excited about last year, whereas this year I’m stuck trying to think about a new game I’ve played this year that left me satisfied. There’s lots that I’ve wanted to like, but they’ve fallen flat. No surprise in that it’s often those where the story served by the game that elevates it beyond the playing (or forms a part of it) that I am most excited for. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been all that interested in the Mario offerings, but then I didn’t grow up with them either.

Whether or not I grew up at all is open to debate, BUT not the point.

I know one of the factors affecting my love for games is their generally backward nature with regard to representation and equality. The other could be expressed with the words of Nicolas de Chamfort: “One would risk being disgusted if one saw politics, justice, and one’s dinner in the making.”. I know it’s certainly true for me of politics (note to Australians: Question Time is a horrible, horrible joke and the manner of all that serve their is an appalling affront to every one of us), though I’ve never had to deal with the gritty truth behind the other two. Games, yeah, having that eye on the industry through following lots of game journalism which digs into the machinations that produce the things we often love, ugh.

A lot of players don’t help. MOBAs, MMOs, and (MM-ish)FPSs are the biggest area of games at the moment, and you know the expression ‘talk like a sailor’ (sometimes also ‘swore/cursed like a sailor’). They’ve got nothing on many gamers. That’s not my scene, and a big part of why I tend away from online stuff. If I want to play a MOBA, I stick to just playing against bots. MMO, solo-everything (though WoW was different, but still no big guild-raid-dothisforlife crap), and really just want to play with people I know (if anyone at all).

My general style is a slow explore (same holds for my writing), and if possible, building.

There’s lots of games I want to like, or like but want to finish, or one way or another just don’t have the right flow going on with my ‘gaming’ energy at the moment if you could consider that even a thing. I put a game on and it often feels empty – again, just going through the motions. The sense of wonder is ethereal, something I can no longer grab on to. The story isn’t there or it’s not compelling or the game is challenging without having style (so I never quite feel like I’m getting better) but have nothing to draw me in beyond that. Many RPG-laden ones have huge elements of “I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m sure I’m doing it wrong” which detracts from their enjoyment, and that’s my go-to genre.

Change

That’s what this is all about, right? Doing things differently in hopes one might recapture the bit that once appealed. Going back to the roots of what was so good about it all, that’s a nice way.

With Writing

With writing, there’s a small bit. About a year ago, I was playing around with the idea of writing something quick, which was going to be a piece of fan-fiction.

It’s a distraction from the editing, but as much as I need to finish editing, I also need to create with writing. I don’t think I’m ready for another bout of world building, which is why I’ve turned to fan-fiction.

At times I do see a competition and wonder if maybe I should write something for them, but am convinced whatever I did would either ring hollow or be terrible and otherwise lead back to the self-doubt stage. I don’t want that. I’ll also take it as an affirmation that me writing is a bad idea, and I don’t want that either. Most of my interaction with established entities in this space tend to reinforce the notion that I don’t belong there, which is the opposite of how those things rolled last year. Don’t like this trend at all.

Writing is a big, positive part of my life. Even when I suck at it, and even if that’s as good as I get. It’s likely that few will ever see the offshoot story I’m writing, but it’s a story I still want to write. I did consider working on one of the stories from my fantasy setting, but that in itself is a big world I would probably get lost in. Pace-wise, I managed to write a page in 20 minutes on the fanfiction piece while commuting, which is comparable to my pace during NaNoWriMo. Considering that so far, I’m mostly making stuff up with original characters, I find this encouraging. My earliest memories of writing delve into the fanfic side, and it’s in a setting that I know people love, rather than hoping that my own fabricated efforts at world creation and building are more than wannabe wankery.

After doing some of that, taking my muse out for a walk by letting it just run wild on something new, I found it easier to edit a scene in my novel. I’m not far from the “I’m probably terrible” stage, but I’m able to go forward.

With Games

There’s exceptions, and they’re usually on the bonding side of things. My son loves Minecraft, which caters to my explore-build streak. Yes, I also love it. My wife and I love co-op anything so long as the gameplay is fun, so we do that (currently on Diablo 3 which is a nice chill-out thing to play together after dinner).

For my own gaming, I’m not back on that either. I struggle to think of something I have that I really want to play by myself, so I haven’t been.

I don’t know if I’ve ever written about where I started gaming, but probably. Very super probably. It wasn’t long after I started gaming on a computer (after the Atari/Master System which kicked it all off) that I started looking at the making-of side of things. They used to have the Osborne computer books at the local library which had BASIC code for text-based adventures, and I dabbled in that side of it for years, strictly on and off though.

Maybe that’s where my interest in the behind-the-scenes comes from, in the creating and the achievement of producing something.

Every few months for the many years, I get a slight urge to look into it all. Over time I used BASIC, Pascal, C, Allegro, Java, Pygame, XNA, AGS, AGI, so forth and so forth. Sometimes I went a little forward, and often a lot back. The real point of this missive is hey, I started messing around with game programming again. At the moment I’m following through a mix of MonoGame and XNA tutorials (such as this one here), and gradually making changes to it with the goal of doing a crappy little sidescroller with ample spit all over it.

Nothing with a story yet, as it’s more to make and complete something, and learn myself up.

It’s not yet at the playing stage though. I might try one of my older things, like an adventure game. Those were my favourite for years. Some RPGs or I’m not sure what else. I want to escape into a new world for a bit where it’s just an adventure, where exploration can happen and one gradually gets bearings through further exposure. A planet or a city where it’s beneficial to learn your way around and gradually take your time? Is there something like that I don’t know of? Maybe?

Also on the game-side, I find myself a lot more interested in the games shown at E3 this year than I did last year, which would definitely come down to what Bioware showed in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect and the new IP. Far Cry 4 is also up there, No Man’s Sky, and the return (via remake) of Grim Fandango.

Maybe there’s something in the in-between. Creating will help, but would like to recapture that giddiness I used to get sitting in front of the TV or computer, about to start something up, with a big dumb-ass smile spread across my face just amazed at what might happen.

Conclusion?

Being aware that things feel horrible and down on yourself will cure you does not stop it being so. I’m trying something different, and by different I mean something closer to my roots in both writing and games. It isn’t perfect and it’s not always positive, but I will probably pretend it is anyway…

Well, no.

Maybe it’s worth taking a step away from both of those worlds. I’m not in them exactly, nor can I see how I would be. I’m pacing outside the forcefield that surrounds them, but maybe it’d be better to set up a tent where I am and just own… this, whatever it is. Let them close the curtain, run around in circles or whatever it is they do, and I don’t know what then. So many unknowns, and I can’t help but feeling I should have sorted this out by now. Even if I don’t know if others have or don’t believe it matters if they have or not, it’s something I still expect of myself.

That’s the conclusion. Yep.

3 thoughts on “Behind the Curtain

  1. These kind of slumps are the worst. But the thing is, I’ve been in this situation, and you manage to express the confusion and frustration of it really well!

    What got me through my slump was this: just do whatever doesn’t feel like work – as long as it’s something productive.

    I hope you’re on the other side of this malaise soon.

    1. The approach I’ve taken does seem to be improving things, but I think I’m still a ways from being at the right level of enthusiasm. Considering that between planning, writing, reading and editing, I’ve had the same level of impetus for the preceding 10 months or so, it’s a remarkable step past where I used to be with maintaining my drive.

      Thank you 🙂

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