Small Thoughts on a Big Decade

Like most people, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past decade. It’s weird to think of milestones like this when they’re so big. It’s a decade, of course it’s big. The past ten years contain the entirety of my career in the games industry (I started writing and editing for a games website, the long defunct Medium Difficulty, in 2011 and then started at my first games studio as a marketing intern in 2012). It contains my entire career in book publishing, which I left after doing both publishing full-time and games part-time for almost 5 years, to finally focus only on game development and not burning myself out trying to be in two industries that require so much of your professional and personal time.

It also contains me facing the absolute worst parts of an eating disorder. The parts that, in retrospect, brought me closer to never recovering from it than I ever could’ve admitted in the first place. Some of the most intense pain, and most intense shit I’ve ever put my body through. An obsession, an addiction, and a total consumption of more than half of the decade. It also contains me finally going into intensive therapy (individual and group) to actually start the extremely difficult recovery process.

It’s also weird because that eating disorder, coupled with some other really intense things, is why I started making my own games. Why I so fully invested in making games about healing, about coping, about failing to cope, and about starting the painful process of healing all over again. The friends and the community I found from making those games, and going to festivals and conferences to talk about those games, is so tightly interwoven with why I found a home in the games industry. I used to talk about this quite a bit. It motivated my entire approach to designing games. It motivated why I made games and what I made games about. It still does, but it’s not the same all-consuming drive it used to be. The lessons you learn from making your own flawed and intentional games are real lessons, and have shaped who I am as a developer and designer — no doubt about it. But it’s in the background now.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten about how intense, how all consuming my eating disorder was. It’s impossible to forget something that literally ruled every second of my life, and that has caused lasting damage to my stomach. And I still get asked about my games about mental health (more than I would’ve expected, to be honest). It’s impossible to forget, and I don’t exactly want to, either. But it’s that I no longer think about it daily. Or even weekly. And for something that literally took up every hour, every minute, every second of my life before, that’s weird. It’s really weird!

In another timeline, I wonder if I would’ve stayed in games after my first position ended after we shipped in 2013. I stayed because the programmer on that game suggested I make my own games. He knew I was a writer and I loved video games. When I said I couldn’t program, he referred me to Dames Making Games. And they created a space I had never seen before. A space where I could learn from others, where I could test, where I could teach myself and where I could grow into an independent game developer. And just as importantly, they provided a space where others were also contending with difficult emotions, others who were also navigating their own healing through making games about it. It was a space I didn’t even know could exist, and it was exactly the space I needed. At the time, there were a lot of reasons to not stay in games. The hostility, the aggression, the parts that were actively volatile, actively dangerous at times. There were a lot of reasons to leave it, to not throw away a good career as a book editor to pursue making video games. But I stayed in games because it was a space where I could create games about my experiences with a community that listened, that shared, and that empowered me. (Thank you.)

And then, once I did enter recovery and moved from creating my own games to working solely with other studios as a writer, a designer, I continued to want to stay in games. Making games was no longer my only lifeline. But it did become the thing I cared the most about. I get asked a lot about why I make games. In the beginning, I said it’s because making games gave me a space to talk through difficult experiences and emotions within a community that cared. It wasn’t the same as self-publishing or doing poetry readings. It was different in a way I don’t think I can now (or could back then) really, honestly, genuinely articulate. But it was different enough to make me fully embrace creating my own games.

Now, when I’m asked why I make games, instead of some other form of storytelling, I always answer that it’s because I’m invested in how we tell stories through interactivity. It’s a new way of learning how to write, how to tell stories, built on the backbones of what we already know from film, from books, from theatre, but recontextualized into something almost entirely new. I healed, and I moved on. I mean, I’m still healing, and I’m still moving on. But I’m doing it. And that’s kind of weird to realize, even if it’s an entirely good thing (and it is). I still make small little horror games about difficult experiences, but it’s no longer the centre of my world, or the main thing that drives me now. It’s like realizing you’ve been breathing slowly and properly after a horrible asthma attack. It was painful, but eventually I did start breathing normally. Now, I have new challenges to take on. But it’s important for me, right now, to appreciate this.

I don’t really talk about the personal side of this stuff on the Internet much anymore (but literally, I am always willing to talk about this 1:1, just ask!). And I’m only slightly sure about why I am writing this now. I guess I’m posting this more as a recognition of one element (of which there are, obviously, more than are stated here) of how I’ve gotten to where I am right now, in this exact moment. I’m proud of who I am and how I’ve grown, personally, professionally, and I’m incredibly excited about where I’m going. And thank you, to everyone who was there with me along the way.

It’ll be interesting to read after this post after the next decade, that’s for sure. Because this decade? This was a big, difficult, awful, painful, affirming, amazing, incredible decade. As decades are bound to be, I’m sure.