Burnout, Jobs, and Adulthood
For the past two years I've been working as a game designer on a AAA studio, and it's been fantastic so far! I never really imagined working at this scale; in fact at some point - when I was in college - I said "I will never work in a huge AAA studio". Hahaha I hope they don't read this.
In 2021 my work permit in Canada was expiring, which meant if I hadn't found employment in my field I would've been promptly kicked out of here and back to Brasil. And I really didn't want that to happen so I was applying to everything. I applied to Ubisoft 3 times and got rejected twice; they never responded to the third application. I applied to indie studios, tech startups, I did contract work, and I applied to Rockstar Toronto.
Ding ding we have a winner!
I can't accurately write how excited and relieved I was to find a place at Rockstar. I mean, it's fucking Rockstar Games come on. I've been doing literally nothing other than work on games since I was 13 and it finally felt like that effort paid off. I love working here; the people that I work with are fantastic and I get to learn so much on a day-to-day basis it's insane! Now, you've read the title and you know where I work so you might assume this is about burning out from work, but it's not.
After I got the job I decided to take a break from game jams and my own projects. I had so much to learn and felt like I needed to focus 100% on that, at least for a while. It was also great to have a steady income that allowed me to go to clubs with my friends, eat out at cool restaurants, pay for shots, go on vacation. All of a sudden there was a lot more stuff I could do that wasn't sitting in my room hacking away at a game for a 24h jam. I started making more music, learning how to cook, going on dates. Then boom - two years go by and what once felt like a semi-consistent ritual of packaging a zip file and uploading it to itch.io now feels like something I used to do a lot in college. Like smoking bad weed and drinking cheap vodka.
It wasn't until earlier this year that I realized: I was burnt out from trying so damn hard. Always working on my portfolio, always feeling like I had to upload a gif to twitter, or a share a screenshot every Saturday. I felt like my entire self-worth - my identity - came from making those games. I had been competing for attention since I got started and now I don't have to anymore. It's hard to decide what you do next when you're given all that freedom. Still, I missed making tiny games. I'm still bombarded with ideas for interesting mechanics that are mostly incompatible with my day job.
I spent a long time playing around with different engines just for fun, mocking up concepts, writing hypothetical designs for games that exist entirely in my head. After some time I started taking a crack at working on things again. My entire perspective had to change. I'm not working on prototypes so I can pitch to a publisher, or that look good on a portfolio; I can just do whatever I'm interested in. I can experiment, I can take however long I want, and I can also just stop. No risks.
Sure, I don't have the time freedom I had when I was 15. Now I have weddings to go to, friends visiting for a few days, I gotta make dinner and do the dishes. But at least in the times that I feel inspired to type this into the computer, or accidentally spend 3 hours of my Saturday morning in Godot working on a tiny game, it's guided by an absolute sense of playfulness with no one to impress.
I've done a lot of progress in my next game. It's something I prototyped back in January and showed only to close friends when they come to my place. Nothing about it is challenging in terms of technique or design; this time the challenge comes from managing adult life with a 9-to-5 job. That's probably the most 20-something year old statement ever written, but this is my blog so I get to write whatever I want.
I'll post more about the game once I have a name for the damn thing. Until then, I'll keep chipping away at it on weekends and evenings when I find myself some free time.
And that's good enough for me. For now anyways.