Game Development As a Calling

Earlier this month there was a flurry of discussion in the indie gaming blogosphere/twitterverse/alternate dimension of unreality about the financial viability of being an indie developer.

Adam Saltsman contributed a cool article on Gamasutra, discussing his spectrum of games as art vs. games as craft, and the potential viability of games along that line.

One particular thought of his stood out, because it's something I've often found myself thinking about:

I'd already decided that that making games was a worthwhile way to spend my life. It can be easy (and even beneficial sometimes) to convince yourself that you're just building trivialities and time-wasters, but even those things can have astonishing value to people. Play is so fundamental to our existence as animals, I see a lot of worth and even nobility in devoting yourself to making playful things, regardless of their intellectual aspirations (though those are great too).

The problem that's vexed me, is whether I'm wrong in choosing to invest my life's ticking clock in game development. I'm not building games that cure disease or make society better or more efficient.

Disregarding whether those are worthy pursuits in and of themselves, they're the sort of thing that my gut says are productive. And that morale intuition also tells me that games are primarily entertainment and largely unproductive. And productivity is something that my psyche simply labels as good, I'll leave it at that.

I embrace game development because it helps me tread a line. The things that I have to learn and improve to be a game developer--e.g. programming, math, logical thinking--are things that I consider to be personally productive. And they all have potential applications that are societally productive.

Applying them to games, while less societally productive, at least keeps me interested enough to keep developing my productive skills and being personally productive.

If it's a choice between that and being personally unproductive and feeling less than fulfilled while doing something societally productive, I'd most definitely rather make games.

Getting back to that quote, I admire Adam for having struggled through a similar issue, and having a rationale that resolves it for himself.

I'm just not there myself. I do agree with his reasoning. I agree that play is a fundamental part of being human, and that games therefore have a productive place in society. However, I've still got this little voice whispering doubts in my ear.

Because it still seems to me that there is a gradation of worthwhile. Games might be worthwhile in one sense, but are they as worthwhile as discovering new medical treatments, developing new technologies, or creating new methods of civic organization? Games simply strike me as having less of an impact.

This isn't to say I'm abandoning game development. I also believe that you should do whatever it is allows you to live a fulfilled life. And if making games is the only thing I've found that's allowed me to do that, then I'll stick with it.

Really, the problem is that you only have so much time to devote to any one thing. And the ramp up time to actually get good and have more of an impact is so long.

Ah well, hopefully I'll be able to carve a better middle way for me.

Andrei Marks

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