M.C. Escher's Drawing Hands_10426361249_400_342_Making video games is like writing books.

I know I’ve already compared the stories you can find in games and books, but recently I’ve come to realize that the connection between the two goes even deeper. Making a good game is a great deal like writing a good book. There is a great deal of polish, long hours, and other unseen hard work that goes into the finished product that very few people ever see or appreciate. All we are left with is the end product: a faceted, polished, lustrous glittering stone.

Nearly everyone who asks me what I do for a living responds with “Oh, so you play games all day? That must be awesome!” when I tell them that I test game software. I encounter a similar mindset when I talk about writing. “Oh, you write? If I were as creative as you I bet that would be super easy!” Well let me tell you right now, I don’t play games all day and writing books is not at all what I would call easy (although the writing phase is probably the easiest part). The parallels have never been that clear to me before.

One of the easiest ways for me to understand and cope with something that is challenging me is to draw a parallel to something I already understand, and as of late I’ve been struggling through writing Transmuted. Finding the time can be difficult and  finding the energy can be hard, but finding the confidence has been the worst by far. I feel like half the time what I’ve written is complete tripe. Working on a game as part of the development team has helped me a great deal with this. I realized that, in the immortal words of Ernest Hemingway, “The first draft of everything is shit.”

After all the experiences I’ve had in relation to these two subjects, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone thinks these two things are easy or awesome to do because they only see the finished product. By design, they never see the entire process that goes into creating that product. They never seen the long hours of polishing. They never see the tears. They never see the frustration. They never see the endless grind that it takes to produce either of these things. After I realized all this, I came to the conclusion that, despite some minor differences, these two things are essentially one and the same. They are both long, and lonely endeavors. (Making the game isn’t nearly as lonely; you work with other testers, developers, designers, and engineers, but you’re usually required to sign a nondisclosure agreement, preventing you from talking about your job with anyone outside your job, creating a whole new kind of lonely isolation).

When we see nothing but the finished work, it becomes very easy, as both a consumer and a creator, to forget that very few works of art (if any) begin life as a glittering jewel. Most begin life as a dirty, lumpy rock that very few people would even give a second thought. It takes a nearly immeasurable amount of work, time, and commitment to change a dirty lump of a rock into a polished and faceted jewel. So the next time you’re trying to create, or enjoying a beautiful thing, take a minute to think about the fact that it probably didn’t start that way. Someone poured countless hours, love, and skill into the creation of it.


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