Coming Back to Earth

This is a personal post related to game design. It’s important to write because all art, including game design, is personal.

My last two posts have been about my single-player storytelling game (SP game). Since my previous post, I created SP prototype #5. It was somewhat successful, and I believe if I continue in this direction I will reach my goal – a progressive, personal, meaningful experience for one player.

There’s something important missing from the previous sentence: the word “fun.” Most complex games, such as Village, 7 Wonders, Power Grid, or my SP game, are not very fun. They generally focus more on intrigue than fun. That’s fine for those games – they still bring enjoyment to people – but I’ve recently realized that I prioritize fun higher than intrigue. A few months ago, I would’ve told you the opposite. Here’s why…

For years I have struggled with mounting depression and anxiety. Two years ago, this dark feeling inside me became incredibly clear, and I stopped believing in everything. I believed, and still believe, that all concepts are contrived. It's ultimately all an illusion.

Over the course of the next year, this idea of contrivance stayed at the top of my mind. I was working on freemium games at the time, and the more I did, the more I knew I wanted to work on board games (see here for the reasoning). These two ideas led to the thought, ‘Why not switch to board games now? If nothing matters, why should I ever hesitate to act?’ This, combined with the introspection from declining, surgical-level foot health, made it clear what I needed to do.

I left my job and started freelance-designing board games full-time. I did most of my work with my girlfriend at the time who was working on her own projects. We eventually split up, and my work sessions became solo acts. At first it was a good learning experience. I became more skilled at playtesting multiplayer games by myself. It was in this period that I made strides toward the final design of Merc Mayhem (side note: possible news coming soon!). Everything would be ok, right?

The days became increasingly lonely. Depression and anxiety intensify when no one is there to make you feel connected to humanity. Death and suicide became daily thought topics. It wasn’t a concern, though – if nothing mattered, why would death? On my evenings alone, I wanted something I could sink my time into that would make me feel like my life was going somewhere meaningful. Thus, my SP game idea was born. Death had to be an important part of it, because I wanted others to feel the same acceptance and “truth” that I did. Death was intriguing; I had no place in my heart for fun.

I hit rock-bottom. I’d tried meditation, exercise and other non-pharmaceutical solutions for years, so it was time to see a psychiatrist. I tried one medication after another, each with different, negative side effects.

After a few months I got off the drugs. I wanted my old, unclouded, authentic point of view back. It felt great at first, but soon after, I hit rock-bottom again.

Fast forward to now. I am on one drug, and I am ok with it. Life has become worth living. I am still comfortable with death, but I don’t desire it. I smile everyday! The world is a different place now.

So how does this affect my game design work? I’m almost there!

Earlier this month I attended the Sasquatch Board Game Festival here in Seattle. I played and discussed the design of a bunch of new games. I enjoyed playing casual games the most during my time there: RampageMachi KoroConcept and storytelling in CV. The other games I played, like Lewis and Clark, were intriguing but not fun. Intrigue is one of the feelings I desire most in life, but in my new, consistently happier state of mind, I desire pure fun more. It’s always been in me in some form – that’s why I was a PopCapper – but now it’s truer than ever. Fun felt fake and worthless when I was unhappy; now fun is authentic and valuable.

As a result of all of this, I’ve started working on more casual games. The single-player game is still important to me, but my new happy state has really de-prioritized that part of my brain. Thus, the project is now on the back burner. It feels like I’m abandoning a meaningful journey in some way, but I’m ok with it. I’m still a relentless thinker no matter what I do, so I’ll get back to it someday. For now, I just want to make players laugh and smile with their friends.