Riding the wave of the game designer…genius or imposter?

Riding the wave of the game designer…genius or imposter?

It sounds easy enough for the humble game designer: learn the necessary skills, get your break in the industry, then it’s happy ever after…right?

Apparently not. A good portion of designers, even after decades in the industry, swing between feeling accomplished at every discipline and up-to-date with every innovation, to not knowing a fig about what they’re doing. Technology doesn’t stop for anyone, not least a game designer having a crisis in the cleaner’s cupboard.

Recently, a section of designers from studios of all sizes were asked their views on the topic. And it seems the feelings described above are common.

Some claim that the desire to create a clean, perfect, seamless game can be all-consuming and difficult to achieve, which invariably leads to feelings of disappointment and a wobble in confidence. Says Ryan Wiemeyer of Polygon, “Super Hexagon is a beautiful, simple game, targeting some of the same platforms (as our game), and was a similar play length; I loved how tight and wonderful that experience was. I kept looking at our game and feeling bad about it. Then it made me scared to share our game with people, which is a huge design taboo — you need to constantly ask for feedback."

But it’s not all roses on the other side of the fence, i.e. when your game is successful. The creator of Thomas Was Alone, Mike Bithell, admitted that the commercial success he achieved affected him, and not completely in a positive way. He wrote, “You know of ten other games that came out the same month that deserve it more than you. Why do you get to be the one whose dreams come true? If you're from humble beginnings, the money side of it makes it worse."

Wiemeyer points out that some of the earlier achievements designers would have held aloft as examples of their skill, tenacity and success are now run-of-the-mill. They’re not big news any more as so many people have done it. He says, “Things like being featured on the App Store used to be exciting, but now they’ve become expectations.” His personal experience of imposter syndrome stemmed from making a game that was a commercial success, but not one – in his opinion – that was driven from good game design.

Proof, if it was needed, that the feeling you’re a fraud is widespread, was evident at Game Connect Asia Pacific recently - a conference aimed at developers. Stephan Schutze planned to give a talk on imposter syndrome, and felt few would turn up to hear it. It turned out to be one of the most popular talks at the conference - organisers had to turn people away from the session as there was simply no room left. It was as if Schutze had read the mind of every developer with breath in their body.

Stepping into a studio where everyone is engrossed in their design, exploring wonderfully creative, innovative ideas with their colleagues at the kettle or water cooler, and from just being ensconced in an atmosphere of genius and energy, can be intimidating. Who would stick their neck out in that environment and admit to feeling like they shouldn’t be there? It’s easier to just put your own head down and pretend, hoping one day that inspiration, extreme talent and dedication will be the blood running through your veins when you wake up one morning. But, of course, it doesn’t happen like that.

Given that it’s clear everyone feels the same, whatever their success or circumstances, it’s unlikely anyone would shout you down if you confessed to such feelings. 

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