Dudebro

I’ve been meaning to post about my mockumentary film Dudebro on here as I put it online last month where it was featured on Kotaku.

So here it is to watch:

As it’s International Women’s Day today, it seems an appropriate time to post the film to my blog here as sexism is still a chronic problem in the games industry and within games culture. It hurts the industry and it hurts people. I’m quite proud of the finished film. I’m glad I was able to make it when I was at TAFE last year. There are some minor production issues I would do differently had I had more time and money, but overall I’m really happy with what we made. If there’s one takeaway from the film that I hope everyone leaves with after watching it, is don’t be that guy. Think about what you say and the effect it can have on other people. Words are powerful. Use them to help and not hurt.

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What is game?

I never really enjoyed sports much. Sports are games. You follow the abstract rules to try to beat your opponents and win the game. I understand how they work, but instead for me, the type of physical games I enjoyed involved exploring the bushlands and enjoying the tranquil peace of the environment as I’d talk to the birds and soak in nature. I enjoyed aimlessly riding my bike around my suburb, feeling the wind rush past my face as I’d fly down a hill. When I was little I’d explore new streets and locations on my trusty pushbike and feel as though I was an explorer from centuries ago discovering new continents and new civilizations. At other times, my friends and I would create our own role playing games with more structured rules that we’d build. I might be the The Doctor and you might be The Master and we’d both set a location for our respective TARDISes and we’d have to compete to find the pieces of the Key to Time that our friends had hidden for us throughout the universe (or in our case, around the streets that we lived in). Those were the games that I loved to play.

So on that note, to commence the new year on this blog, I thought I would reflect on three videogames that captivated me in 2012 and the common thread that drew them together.

Those games are Dear Esther, Katawa Shoujo, and To The Moon. The common element is that all three games are strongly narrative based. The purpose of the games is to uncover the story. There are those who would question if these games can even be called games.

I believe those people are incorrect when they dismiss these works as “not games” on the basis of not being “interactive enough” or containing too much narrative. Games can be more than just abstract systems to unwind, and narrative is a game mechanic. Even an abstract board game such as Chess has at its core a vague narrative of medieval warfare that ties the abstraction together. As I surveyed the suburb on my bike as a child, I created a narrative of being an explorer. That was part of the game.

I find it curious that Raph Koster writes that narrative is not a game mechanic , when in his book A Theory of Fun, he dismisses the idea that games must have a definite goal in order to be a “game” and not mere “play”. If I as a child was make-believing that I was an explorer riding on my trusty stead (my bike) to uncover new lands (streets), is that not a game? There was no final goal and no competition, but was it not still a game?

I’d argue you the same about these three videogames I played last year. They have few game mechanics that are necessary to grok in order to play the games. Instead, in all of them, it’s the story that captivates you as you play them and they give you an experience. You explore the island in Dear Esther, as the story unfolds and you examine the island for clues as to what happened and why you are there. In Katawa Shoujo you play the part of Hisao, a Japanese student with a heart condition, as he enrolls in a new school and makes new friends and learns about relationships and how we as people treat each other. And in To The Moon, you explore the life of a dying old man as you attempt to grant him his dying wish and uncover in the process his regrets and joys and the decisions that shaped him into the person he became. In these games, you have an experience, and you learn.

It’s learning and games that I want to talk about as it was the link between games and education that fascinated me when I first started to think critically about what draws me to videogames as an art form. There are some who would say that videogames are a waste of time – an unnecessary time sink that could be better spent doing something else. However, anyone who makes such a claim does not understand what games are, in that games are education. Young children don’t just play games to amuse themselves without purpose . They play games to learn. Our brains are wired to want to be constantly learning. Games are universal too in that they exist in all cultures and in non-humans as well. Cats for example are predators and accordingly they need to know how to kill prey in order to survive. So what does a cat do if you move a piece of string in front of it? It pounces on it and tries to kill it! Cats play at fighting in order to learn how to become better killers so they can live.

Cat playing

My previous cat playing a game. Serious business!

Games are not a waste of time. Games instead are systems that we explore to understand them better, and in turn understand ourselves and the universe. We find this experience to be, “fun”. If I could go back in time and tell my juvenile self that learning is fun and that games are education, I’m not sure I’d believe me, but education and games are irrevocably linked and we have fun when we’re in a state of flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to flow as that state between the challenge and your abilities where you’re not too frustrated from finding the problem too difficult and you’re equally not bored from finding the problem too simplistic. You’re in a state a flow and you find that time slows down in that state.

flow chart

The ludologists may dismiss these three games for their focus on the narrative and not on the abstract systems that they’re comprised of, but I find this position too limiting. In all three games the player is educated via playing the game. The player is in a state of flow as the stories unfold and the player learns and is challenged by the narratives.

Allow me to talk for a moment about each game and why I find them to be excellent games worthy of being played.

Dear Esther teaches the player to explore. There are certainly less punishment and reward mechanics in place compared to a game such as Super Mario Bros (e.g. if you fall down a pit in Super Mario Bros you lose a life, and if you use the jump mechanic you can safely navigate over a pit, and if you obtain a green mushroom you gain an extra life, but if you run out of lives then the game is over) but the goal of exploration remains the same. There is also a story in Dear Esther that is slowly revealed to the player as he or she explores the island and finds clues in the narrator’s dialogue or in scattered journal fragments located around the island or the writings etched on the cave walls. The story is vague and open to interpretation but the player uses his or her mind exploring the island and attempts to fit the pieces of the story together. It is a poem in the form of a videogame.

Look, I love Half Life 2 as much as anyone, but you don't have to shoot people with guns to enjoy a game. There can be other objectives as Dear Esther demonstrates.

Look, I love Half Life 2 as much as anyone, but you don’t have to shoot people with guns to enjoy a game. There can be other objectives as Dear Esther demonstrates.

Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel, but I see it as a game in the same way that I see Choose Your Own Adventure books as games. It teaches the player about relationships and how your actions and words you use have consequence. A very essential life skill I think! I wrote last year in my review of it how I found it to be an incredibly important game that needs to be experienced. In a perfect world, everyone would treat everyone with respect and as equal human beings. However, if the history of humanity is anything to go by, that frequently doesn’t happen. Thus, Katawa Shoujo with its message of being the better person and treating everyone with dignity and respect, is a crucial game. If games are education, then many people could serve to learn from Katawa Shoujo and its message.

katawa_shoujo_hanako_equal

Lastly, To The Moon was made in the RPG Maker game engine and resembles the art style of 16-bit RPGs from the 90s such as Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. However, it doesn’t have the combat mechanics of Final Fantasy games. It even pokes fun at this during a mock melodramatic Final Fantasy style battle when a squirrel gets in the way of the player character.

The focus again though in this game is the story in which the player uncovers why the dying patient Johnny’s final wish is to go the moon. Dr Watts and Dr Rosalene journey back through his memory to find the answer and help him fulfil his final wish. The protagonists collect memories located in moments in Johnny’s history which leads to a small puzzle game at the end of each scene in which the player must flip tiles of the memories collected in order to progress to the next section.

That’s an abstract mechanic though, that while not unwelcome, isn’t the focus of the game. The core element of the game though is the story in which the player follows Dr Watts and Dr Rosalene in their voyage through Johnny’s life. It’s a story about relationships, communication, loss, regret, loneliness, love, and hope. So many of us have moments in life when we look back and say that we could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve done something differently if we could go back in time and change a moment. That theme of regret and hope is universal and this game explores that.

There’s a moment in the game that resonated the most with me. I won’t say too much about it as to avoid spoilers, but there’s a moment in Johnny’s past where his wife is ill and they can’t afford to pay for healthcare to help her.
(America you need socialized healthcare … but I digress!)

Johnny’s friend tries to comfort him and tell him that everything will be alright. That was the wrong answer though. His wife is dying and his friend gave him some empty hope to try to cheer him up but it had the opposite effect and he tells her in his pain that it is not alright.

A moment like this in a game makes me feel as though I’m in what Celtic spirituality refers to a as a “thin place”, which is a place in life where the veil between this world and the divine narrows. It’s like, as this blog is named, fragments of a higher truth that are found in the mist.

The thin place where Johnny responds in hurt to his friend’s well meaning but simplistic assumption that “it will be alright” hurts because the raw truth so often does hurt. His wife is dying and there’s nothing he can do to change that. Life can be very broken sometimes. We have this sense in our heads that life “should” be a different way, and when something tragic happens, the veil narrows and we’re reminded that life is important and that our pain is real and that it matters.

I love To The Moon for reminding the player of the value of life, to take every moment, and find what out is important before this chapter is over. That To The Moon has minimal traditional mechanics, and that its focus is on the narrative, doesn’t discount it from being a game.

Games are education, so don’t limit the definition of the word game to exclude experiences such as these three games that can teach people about life, the world, and themselves.

Play tennis if you want. Ride your bike anywhere with no goal in sight. Play a visual novel and explore a simulation of relationships. Have experiences and learn. That is what games are about.

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There and Back Again – A Year in Review

The year is drawing to a close so I thought I would look back on what I’ve done and what I’ve learnt.

It’s been a year of ups and downs. There’s been times when I’ve wanted to flip a table and throw my hands up in the air…

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻)

But then I remember why I do this and why I want to do this, and that keeps me grounded.

Pump up the jam!

At the start of the year I attended my first Global Game Jam. It was less than a success for me. I joined a team of random people and the group dynamics didn’t gel. The result was this curiosity entitled Orboros, but not much of a game.

Not the fall…

Then I was accepted into a prestigious game development college, but, that didn’t work out so well, and I quit.

And there I was wondering where I had gone wrong. Things hadn’t fallen into place the way I thought they would…

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS DON'T MAKE LEMONADE. MAKE LIFE TAKE THE LEMONS BACK!

Damn straight Cave!

Take a third option.

So I considered all the developers that I respected – how they’d made the games that they wanted to play and the stories that they wanted to tell. They made those games themselves and they collaborated with other like minds. I can do that too.

I thought about autodidactism and how whenever in the past I’ve been successful in achieving goals, it’s been because I’ve had the motivation and the determination to want to do it and not listen to pessimists who say say it’s too difficult. My educational philosophy is that if you want to learn how to do something, you can. It takes a lot of persistence, and it won’t be easy, but it is possible.

Therefore I needed a plan of action, and while I thought about that, I enrolled back in TAFE and did a diploma of screen (and as I was exempt from most of the modules in it I then took on an advanced diploma of screen as well at the same time). Screen is a field ~close~ to game development (after all, many modern games make heavy use of cinematics, so there’s definitely a crossover), and as it turned out I did really well in both courses. My confidence was being restored.

Dudebro

I wrote, produced, and acted in a mockumentary during the semester called Dudebro. It’s about the ugly parts of videogame culture – sexist dudebros who don’t appreciate how what they say and do can affect others. I’m really proud of the finished production and will be submitting it to the Tropfest film festival next week (as such, I can’t upload it online yet, but I’m really looking forward to being able to show it to the public next year).

The Comeback

Meanwhile, I worked on finishing off The Comeback, the game that was created during my gamedev course at TAFE last year. It was never completed properly. I know it’s a bit of a cliché that student games remain unfinished, but I was determined to not let that happen and instead get it done and release it into the ether. I started redoing all the assets and making it in Unity (instead of Game Salad in which it was originally made).

The Comeback screenshot WIP

Above is a work in progress screenshot of The Comeback running in Unity. At the moment I’m working on doing all the animations for the player character Nicolas Dagger. It’s time consuming but it will be done. I’ll update again soon here with more about progress on the game.

I’ve also started up a file this year with all the game ideas I have. I’m excited about the possibility of making them, but I won’t mention anything specific about them for the moment, because I think that sometimes being too loud about your ideas is a sure fire way of making them never happen. I’ll have more to say about them specifically when I’m ready instead. It’s better that way.

Freeplay inspiration

As we entered the last quarter of the year I traveled south to Melbourne to go to the annual Freeplay independent game developers festival. It was incredibly inspiring all the work of the indie gamedevs there – to see the fruits of their labours – labours of love. That’s not to say though that it’s been a walk in the park for everyone there. I learnt how other indie gamedevs also struggle with the insecurity of wondering if you’re good enough, of wondering if you’ve made the right decisions. I think such thoughts are universal. Through all those worries and doubts comes grace though as you find the way to dig yourself out of the pit and forge your own path.

Writing

Lastly, I had one article published online this year – a retrospective about Maniac Mansion on gameranx.com. One article is minuscule compared to some of my prolific writer friends, but I enjoyed writing the article and I’d like to resolve to having more work published next year.

To the future!

My immediate plans are to find some work – any work really – to make some money to live and meanwhile be teaching myself to improve my skills at home and finish off The Comeback. I’ll give myself about six months of saving money and doing that, and then I’ll go back to TAFE to do a short teacher and training course so that I can teach at TAFE and other adult education institutions. I enjoy being able to teach other people what I know. It’s rewarding to think that someone’s life may be improved from just the small step of increasing their skills and knowledge. I think this stems from my educational philosophy that you can learn whatever you want to learn. You’re not limited by your “smarts”. If you want to learn something – you can. I want to inspire other people to believe that too and see how it works in their lives.

I hope next year goes well, but you can never truly predict the future as much as you may try, and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. The future can be full of frightening uncertainties, but as I’ve discovered this year, it can also contain pleasant surprises that keep you on target.

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Freeplay 2012 – Chaos and Grace

Do I know enough of the people there to attend an independent games festival? Have I done enough myself to prove that I belong? Am I just an imposter? My life has been full of chaos, never knowing where things will lead. These were the thoughts that ran through my head prior to attending this year’s Freeplay.

The theme for this year Freeplay independent games festival was Chaos and Grace.

It was aptly titled theme for how I felt. In spite of all the chaos in things that have gone wrong or turned out differently to how I planned, there has been grace as well. You never know how it will turn out, and this is not necessarily negative. You can’t predict what will be the outcome of the chaotic bits and pieces that you throw together.

Mare Sheppard (co-creator of N) was the international keynote speaker. N is an indie game success story, but as she said in her talk, it wasn’t always that way. When N was entered in the 2004 FlashintheCan Festival, it was beaten by Starsky and Hutch Pinball.

Wait, seriously?

And yet now N is a hit, with the console version N+ having been commercially released on Xbox Live, and Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP.

However, in the chaos of the early days of the game, she couldn’t foresee the grace that would appear later. You never know how it’ll turn out.

I arrived in Melbourne on the Wednesday afternoon. There was a game in Federation Square as part of the Freeplay program that night called Spies by Night.

We gathered around unsure of what to expect. The game was adapted from The Potato Game by Pippa Johnson. We divided into random teams and spent the rest of the evening stalking around Federation Square, attempting to move our secrets and steal secrets from the other teams. It was a good ice breaker.

The remaining days of the festival were full of interesting talks and panels on a variety of topics pertaining to games. As I listened on the final day about the need to not just be merely optimistic, but instead resilient, I smiled and something clicked in my head. Mere optimism can lead to wishful thinking, but resilience is the knowledge that in spite of chaos that surrounds us, there can be grace when you stay focused no matter how dark and uncertain it becomes. There have been times when I have stopped and broken down when faced with one dead end after another. But I was still here. I was still going.

At some point during Sunday, I wandered around the room of the Melbourne library where all the games that had been submitted for this year were being demonstrated. The many developers eagerly showed their games to me and I was fascinated by the variety of ideas. The creativity in the room was abundant.

That night was the awards presentation.

I was excited for everyone nominated and by the winners. It makes me want to finish a game of my own before next year’s Freeplay and submit it.

I started the week unsure if I would know enough people there, but by the end of the week, I didn’t want it to be over and I’d met a whole bunch of kindred spirits. I left Freeplay feeling encouraged and inspired. I wasn’t an imposter. I was in exactly the right place at the right time. Through the chaos, there was grace.

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Now and Tomorrow

I’ve been enrolled in a Screen course at TAFE this semester. Initially I thought it would a breezy lazy course, but no, but it’s been quite a busy semester thus far. One assessment was to make a short seven minute mockumentary film to be submitted to Tropfest next year. Everyone in the class pitched an idea and mine was selected.

Mine is called “Dudebro” and it’s about a typical misogynistic dudebro gamer. I wanted to make the film when I thought about all the sexist shit that’s gone down in gaming culture in recent times. There was the online harassment of Anita Sarkeesian who was attacked for the mere notion of wanting to explore tropes about women in videogames, or the sexual harassment of Miranda Pakozdi, a competitor in the Capcom Cross Assault tournament which was justified by fellow competitor Aris Bakhtanians who said that, “sexual harassment is part of the culture”. I wish these were just two isolated incidents, but alas they’re not, and I or anyone who’s been even vaguely following videogame news in the last year could list plenty more I’m sure.

I play videogames, and I don’t want the culture to continue to be infused with this. I want it to be an inclusive culture that welcomes anyone. So I made a mockumentary to do what I could to address this and hopefully make people think.

It won’t be available to see online I think until Tropfest next year, but I also made a vlog in character – as the titular dudebro “Moz” – that I used when I pitched the idea for the film. I should probably give a language warning as Moz doesn’t know many adjectives that aren’t four letter words.

On a different note, tomorrow I’m off to Melbourne to go to Freeplay, the annual independent games festival held there. Looking forward to catching up with friends and meeting new people.

I’m on holidays now for three weeks and spare time for gamedev and has been hard to find this term, but that’s okay as it’s been a useful term and with a little bit of time management magic next term, hopefully I can find time to work on developing games and studying and working.

I’m planning in the new semester next year to do a teaching certificate at TAFE so that I’m able to teach there. I could teach whatever I’m qualified to teach within digital media, and I could teach English too. As I said in the last post, I still plan to independently study gamedev (and hopefully make money from doing so in the future) but for the short term I have to balance that with the need to make money for a living so I can eat and buy clothes and live under a roof and all those important necessities of life.

There was a time when teaching would’ve seemed unappealing to me. True story: I actually started a teaching degree when I was 20 years old and had just finished my undergrad arts degree, but I dropped out after a semester when I realized that I didn’t want to make a living teaching 14 year olds French.

These days though, my attitude to teaching has changed. When I think back to the various formal studies I’m done, I can see how a teacher can make such a difference. A bad teacher can leave you disillusioned and depressed, but a good teacher can encourage you and give you hope. And education is of such vital importance in life. Education is how people achieve social mobility, how they find work, and how they improve their self-confidence. So what a valuable and beautiful thing to be able to teach someone. It may not seem like much helping someone conjugate verbs or mask an image in Photoshop, but for all you know, that could be the very start to someone changing his or her life for the better. How awesome is it to be able to help someone do that!

So that’s the plan. I should pack now. I have a plane to catch tomorrow.

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After The Fall

May I shrink to dust
In your cold, wild Wastes,
And may my tongue speak
Its last hymn to your winds.

I wanted to do what Shigeru Miyamoto did ever since I read an interview with him in Nintendo Magazine System when I was about twelve or so and I realized that he was the one who invented all the videogame characters that I adored. As a teen I took inspiration from other luminaries such as Richard Garriott who created the Ultima series which captivated me so. But Richard Garriott was a child prodigy who wrote his own high school curriculum. Probably not the best person with whom to compare myself if I wanted to retain any semblance of self-esteem. It’s difficult not to feel small when you compare yourself with the gods of the pantheon of game development. So I hesitated, and wavered back and forth and flirted with the idea of pursuing a career in games, until a few years ago I decided that the time was now and I’d hesitated for far too long.

I pray for the herder
That whistles to his guar at play.
I pray for the hunter
That stalks the white walkers.

This is the post that I’ve been reluctant to write. When I was accepted into studying this year at a prestigious college in my field I was elated. This would be the method in which I would make those childhood dreams a reality, I thought. But then I found myself unable to keep up with the content. In a class of roughly thirty students, all with a vast array of skill sets, I found it impossible to keep up. With the strict timetable for subjects, there simply wasn’t the time. I found myself learning more at home as I’d consult online tutorials to desperately keep up. As I stayed awake for three consecutive days trying to finish for class something that I only vaguely understood, and my body cried for sleep, I felt the feeling that made me reluctant to write this post – shame. The shame of failure. And while I knew that failure is an essential part of education – you learn from failure – I still wondered if people would talk behind my back. “He just didn’t try hard enough” or “he wasn’t passionate enough” were the utterances that I feared would be murmured when I wasn’t there.

And in truth I had lost some of my initial passion. I felt burnt out from falling behind. I despaired that this is how it would always be. Constantly feeling like a fraud. I didn’t want that.

So I quit and I told as few people as possible. I didn’t want to be “the drop out” or the one who couldn’t cut it. But there it was, and I had quit. I was one of the chosen ones accepted into an elite school and I had renounced my fortune. The thread of prophesy had been cut.

I slumped into a hole. I never wanted to be one of those people who talked about their ambitions but did nothing to achieve them – the dreamers who remained paralysed. I didn’t want to be all talk. Yet here I was, unemployed and unmotivated.

I fell into myself and took vicarious comfort in living virtually in Morrowind, the third game in the Elder Scrolls series, as the prophesied Nerevarine who would return to Vvardenfell to save the people from the corrupt god Dagoth Ur. Here was a battle I could win.

But I couldn’t live in Morrowind forever. Spend too long in the virtual world and it brings on what I call a gamer ennui – a tedious existential angst as the real world reminds you that it’s still there. And I still felt the sting in the back of my head reminding me that “following your dreams” was more complicated than it was in fairy tales and videogames.

Everyone has different learning styles. I learn best from doing something repeatedly until it makes sense. Others learn from seeing and others learn from hearing and committing it to memory. It’s probably difficult in a creative and highly technical course to accommodate so many various learning styles with a rushed timetable in a classroom of so many students. That style of learning just didn’t work for me. It does work for some no doubt, but not me. I suppose I’ve always known that it doesn’t. I learn best by myself with personal mentoring by more experienced people. I freeze up in large groups, especially with people I don’t know well looking over my shoulder or people with conflicting personalities. Instead, by myself in private, I feel free to ask dumb questions repeatedly without fear, and that’s how I learn by making mistakes and learning from them.

I suppose my time with the prestigious college is an experience I can view like that – an educational experience that taught me how not to achieve my goals.

We perhaps expect the paths to our goals to be clear cut, but life is rarely so simple. There’ll be more complications to come. Life’s like that.

I still desire to do what Shigeru Miyamoto did. I still desire to make worlds like Richard Garriott did with his Ultima series. I haven’t given up on that and I don’t want to be one of those people who are all talk, even though during my time in Morrowind I felt like one as I became the prophesied Nerevarine there, but a false prophet of dreams in reality.

It’s easy to build in your head an idea of how your life should flow, but as time goes on and the actuality is different, a crisis of confidence can form. Echoing Obi-Wan to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, “you were meant to be the chosen one”, I thought of the college. You were meant to the way I would fulfil those childhood dreams. Or were you?

Who decided that that was my fate? Why was I despairing that my prophecy was broken? There was no words written in an ancient book specifying that I was destined to study at this college in order to achieve those goals. It was I who had decided this instead when I was accepted into it. No thread of fate had predetermined this to be my one true path.

As I confronted the evil Dagoth Ur at the Red Mountain, he asked me if I had been chosen by fate. Was I really the Nerevar reborn? I wasn’t sure, so I told him that I was a self-willed hero and that I made my own fate. He was impressed by this. After all, it didn’t matter if I really was the chosen Nerevarine or not. What mattered was that I willed myself to face the wicked god and overthrow him, chosen one or not.

Was I the chosen one in Morrowind? Did it matter in the end? I saved the world from Dagoth Ur regardless. Morrowind deconstructs the trope of the Chosen One thus so. It never mattered if I was the fated chosen one, as by doing what the chosen one was meant to do, and stopping Dagoth Ur’s machinations, I became the chosen one myself. As is said in the text of the Nu-Hatta of the Spinxmoth Inquiry Tree, “Walk like them until they walk like you”. By walking like the Nerevarine and defeating Dagoth Ur, I became the Nerevarine.

Walk like those whose status you seek to emulate, and in time, you will become them. Or in simpler terms: fake it till you make it. Don’t wait for a thread of prophecy to light the way then despair if you fail to follow that path – light the way yourself and carve your own destiny.

That can be a bewildering prospect though. Life seems simpler when you’ve put all your eggs into a single basket that you’ve convinced yourself will be your destiny. So when you realize that instead now it’s up to you alone for it to happen or not happen, and it always has been, it’s a startling thought. The onus is to teach myself, and it always was. Whenever I’d excelled at something in the past it had been via autodidactism. I don’t say those words ‘teach yourself’ lightly though. One thing I neglected to emphasize in my post on Teaching Yourself is that it requires a colossal amount of self-discipline. This is no small feat. Do I have that level of self-discipline? How I wish there was a fortify willpower potion in reality as there is in Morrowind. Anything worth doing though doesn’t come easy, right?

After the fall, you try to pick yourself up. God knows how difficult that can be and how easy it can be instead to wallow in self-pity. I have no choice though. When you’re knocked into the pit, you must climb out or you will die.

I pray for the wise one
That seeks under the hill,
And the wife who wishes
For one last touch of her dead child’s hand.

You can be despondent that things didn’t go the way you had anticipated and convince yourself that now you are fated to disappointment forever, or you leave yesterday behind and be energized by the new possibilities that tomorrow brings.

After the Fall comes Winter and all seems lost and cold, but then the Spring brings forth new life into the world, and hope is possible again. A setback only lasts for a moment and is nothing to be ashamed of, for as sure as the sun will rise and bring about a new day, you can always make a choice to make a change. Then you will be chosen by your own accord.

I will not pray for that which I’ve lost
When my heart springs forth
From your soil, like a seed,
And blossoms anew beneath tomorrow’s sun.*

 * This is a volume of verse collected from Ashlander wise women. ‘May I shrink to dust’ is from the Ahemmusa Ashlanders of the Grazelands.
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On Teaching Yourself

Doom 2 was a light bulb moment in education for me as a teenager. I’d picked up a copy for twelve dollars in a videogames bargain bin at Harvey Norman. There was a time when you could find quality games in store bargain bins instead of multiple copies of uDraw tablets (or whatever the store can’t sell at full price).

As a teenager I would regularly purchase PC magazines, as commercial games were often too expensive for me, but on PC magazine cover disks there could be found a vast array of freeware, shareware, demos, and all sorts of software. Some months after cheaply purchasing Doom 2, I bought a PC magazine that had on its cover disk a level editor for Doom 2.

I was excited at the prospect of building my own levels for Doom 2 but the instructions on the disk and in the magazine were vague, and this was the 90’s so resources online to help me learn how to do this were few and far between. I would have to take the brief instructions I had and teach myself the rest.

So that’s exactly what I did, and eventually I had a map that I built myself of which I could be proud.

Screenshot from Doom 2 .wad file The Fluid Pit

The word autodidactism comes from Ancient Greek and literally means self-teaching. It’s also an educational philosophy, the belief that you have the ability to learn whatever you want to learn by teaching yourself and that you don’t have to be held back by anything such as your history, your age, your socio-economic status, or your schooling. As Captain Planet said, “The Power Is Yours”. He was talking about saving the environment specifically, but the point stands.

There’s obviously some exceptions to that. For example, if you desire to work in law or medicine, then you’re going to need some formal qualifications in the relevant discipline in order to find work, but for other areas, especially the creative fields, what you need to know can be self-taught.

I think a lot of people are plagued by self-doubt though to begin attempting autodidactism. They convince themselves that they’re not smart enough, that it’s too late to start, or that they’ll never be able to achieve what they want by teaching themselves. It’s unfortunate, because none of that is true. If others before you have been able to learn how to do something, then so can you.

I’ve certainly been wracked with that self-doubt, even after I had success teaching myself to make my own Doom 2 levels. I listened to those negative voices that preach failure, and it’s crippling.

So here’s a few points about autodidactism to help you not be crippled by negativity:

Start small. You need to be able to see the forest through the trees, or to use another cliché, you need to start your journey at the first step before advancing on. It seems obvious, but I think people sometimes jump ahead too far too early by attempting something that’s beyond their current ability and then they become frustrated and confused. When I taught myself to use the Doom 2 level editor, I started with the very basics. I started by familiarizing and playing around the level editor interface, and then I taught myself how to make a basic square room. Only once I understood that, did I move on to something more complex. It was a slow process, and sometimes boring and tedious, but it worked in the long run.

As a former guitar teacher once said to me, even Paul McCartney and Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix and (insert any other famous and successful musician here) had to learn the scales. They may not have enjoyed learning the scales either, but it was necessary to understand them before they could go on and compose their own complex pieces of music.

You will suck, at first. Expect that. TV Tropes calls it Old Shame, and as you can see from the examples in all the subpages at that link, it happens to everyone and in every field. As a noob in any field, by the very fact of your lack of experience and knowledge, you will of course not be as talented or skilled as others who have been doing it for longer than you. So don’t have unrealistic initial expectations by comparing yourself to those who are more skilled than you at the present time. Comparison is a killer of self-confidence. Compete with yourself instead.

Allow yourself to fail. Expect to fail. Embrace failure. It means you’re learning. Autodidactic Jeri Ellsworth talks about this in her video Secret to Learning Electronics – Fail and Fail Often. Her advice about learning electronics applies to the learning of any discipline. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s good. I’ve been in formal classes where teachers have scolded novice students for making mistakes which is awful. Instead, celebrate making mistakes because that’s how you learn.

The desire to be perfect as a learner is unrealistic. Instead, make multiple mistakes and you will improve.

The following anecdote in the book Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, illustrates the wisdom of making mistakes in education:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group has sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Do just that! Expect that you will suck, and allow yourself to fail, and with persistence you will improve.

It’s never too late. It used to be thought that when we reached adulthood, our brains were mechanically locked into the patterns and knowledge that we had developed during childhood. It was thought that it was difficult to make lasting changes to the makeup of our brains and develop new skills and abilities that we never gained during childhood. We now know from modern neurological science, as Doctor Norman Doidge explains in his book The Brain That Changes Itself that this is not the case. Our brains instead retain plasticity and can rewire themselves and change their makeup even into our old age. Want to learn a new language, learn to play a musical instrument, learn to program, learn to paint, or acquire any other previously undeveloped skill in your adulthood? It’s not too late.

This article The First Step Is To Start shows the following image from the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain:

Vincent Van Gogh Carpenter, 1880 and Woman Mourning, 1882

Vincent Van Gogh Carpenter, 1880 and Woman Mourning, 1882

What a difference in those two years! Van Gogh was 27 when he started painting and with persistence improved in his craft. You don’t have to be a child prodigy (and who would want to be one with the stress and pressure they must face!) to be skilled and successful at something you desire to learn. You just have to start, be persistent, and not quit.

Don’t believe the myth of the gifted. Speaking of child prodigies, there’s a pervasive myth that success is only available to those who are magically talented enough – that you are born smart, average, or stupid. Raw talent only takes you so far though. Beyond that, it’s the persistence to learn what needs to be learnt is what counts. It’s easy to deceive ourselves that famously successful people are only where they are because of luck or innate talent. They may indeed have had some luck or innate talent which helped them start their career, but that’s only a tiny fraction of the story. Beyond that, it was their persistence and them deciding never to quit that resulted in where they are now. Don’t listen to those who want to divide the world into a class system of ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’. They’re wrong. If you want to know how to do something, you can learn it.

You’re not a fraud. This is something I still struggle with, and from talking to other people I know I’m not alone in this. I think many of us set imaginary milestones for ourselves in which we tell ourselves that we are just pretenders in our chosen fields until we reach that point. Prior to reaching that goal though, we’re just imposters, we tell ourselves. This is nonsense. You are what you do. Do you like to write? Then you’re a writer. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t sold a dozen books or haven’t been published in high profile magazines. The fact that you write makes you a writer. Do you make games? Oh you haven’t had your games published on Steam and Xbox Live? You haven’t got a fancy degree in game design from a fancy college? Doesn’t matter. You make games, therefore you’re a game developer.

The point is, don’t convince yourself into believing that you’re a fraud in your industry (whatever particular industry that is) because you haven’t as yet reached a certain pinnacle of success and others you know have. You don’t have to apologize for what you do by euphemistically coating it with phrases such as, “I’m just a student”, or “I’m playing around with learning how to do it”. No. You are what you do. So do it.

I once read an interview with Steven Moffat, the current producer of the television show Doctor Who. He was asked to give some advice to novice writers in how could they become successful in a writing career. His advice was that they should, “write”. It may sound simplistic, but he’s right. If you want to be a writer then write! And write, and write, and write! Keep doing it and don’t quit. You will improve and the rest will flow from that.

HEY YOU CAN DO IT

As I played through my Doom 2 level this week I found myself heavily criticizing it. I’d comment aloud to myself all the things I would’ve done differently if I were making it now.

Screenshot from the Doom 2 .wad file The Fluid Pit

I don’t like how this supposedly brick wall that divides these two hallways tapers to such a narrow point.

Screenshot from the Doom 2 .wad file The Fluid Pit

This stairway was meant to have water rushing down it but there was no water texture that came with Doom 2 that worked on a vertical plane so I used a blue brick texture instead. Why didn’t I just make a new animated water texture to use instead?

I could be here all day pulling it apart but that would be futile. I did the best I could at the time as a beginner, and of course it wasn’t perfect. However, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I had something that I wanted to learn how to do that I taught myself how to do.

There’s no reason why I can’t do that now. We all can.

p.s. if you want to play the .wad file that I made back then for Doom 2, you can download it here.

Posted in Games, Study, Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments