Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jealousy in the Gaming Industry

This weekend, a lot of my friends will be having a very good time at Origins. Having lived in Columbus for two years, I can vouch for how remarkable having fun in Ohio is. I have little good to say about my time there except for “Go Buckeyes!” and “I prefer New Jersey.”

If New Jersey is the armpit of the nation, Ohio is the weird, hangy part of fatty flesh under the middle of its bicep. Go Buckeyes!

Yes, they’ll be at Origins. And I’ll be at work, furiously (in both senses of the word) grading students’ essays on The Great Gatsby or Jane Eyre. While my buddies are playing the new hotness and selling through scores of copies of their amazing games, I’ll be cursing myself for having my job and cursing them for having more fun than I get to have.

Add to that that the promised delivery date on those games was last February, and you’ve got a real recipe for jealousy. My friends from Hogger Logger launched their campaign later and shipped their games earlier. I love those guys, but I also kind of hate them. And don’t even get me started on Jason Tagmire’s turnaround time… I just got Wild Cats in the mail this week, so I kinda hate him, too.

If the preceding hasn’t been all that much fun to read, it’s because it isn’t. Even with my charming wit and delightful snark, you can’t make jealousy pretty. It’s whiny. It’s unhelpful. And yet, we’re smack dab in the middle (Early middle? Late middle? I’ll leave that to others to debate…) of the golden age of board games – or the board game gold rush, depending on your level of cynicism. With so many games coming out that are so awesome and selling so well, it’s hard not to be poked by the green-eyed monster from time to time.

Shut up, Chupacabra. We're not talking about you. You don't even have green eyes.

So, what can you do when jealousy rears its unprettiable head? Here’s my humble advice – five things that have worked well for me.

#1 – Acknowledge that you’re jealous

A wise, older friend once told me a piece of two-part advice. The first part is, “You can’t help how you feel.” It’s phenomenal advice. We spend a lot of time telling ourselves that we shouldn’t feel the way we feel about something.

And how's that workin' out for ya?

In fact, by not letting ourselves feel those things, we just make ourselves feel bad about something we just can’t control anyway. In short, we wind up feeling bad about feeling bad. Unpleasant emotions go away faster if we just let ourselves feel them, no matter how unpleasant they might be for the time. So, be jealous if you’re jealous! But…

#2 – Then shut up about it

The second part of that wise, older friend’s advice was, “But you can control how you respond to that feeling.”

If you were at conventions when the potato salad campaign was trending, I can pretty much guarantee that you experienced somebody ranting about how much they hated that guy for getting all of that money and how they could put up a campaign for egg salad and make a fortune if they didn’t have standards and were willing to just grab for money.

The obvious problem being that no sane person prefers egg salad.
 Ignoring the obvious issues with such lines of reasoning, was that a fun person to be around? Did you feel like they enriched your con experience – or did you try to force a laugh and come up with a reason to be somewhere else? Do you want to be that person? If not, take a few deep breaths and…

#3 – Figure out why you’re jealous and do something about it (if you can)

The post-campaign for Gothic Doctor did not go smoothly – and each time someone delivered on time (or worse, early), I got jealous. But rather than taking to the internet to whine about it, I decided to see what I could do to speed things up. Usually, that wasn’t anything – but stopping to think about it is better than a whiny, self-effacing post on Facebook.

Guuuuuuuuuuuys!! Printing a game is haaaaaaaard!!

Sometimes, though, it’s that someone has been successful in some way that you haven’t been able to be – yet. I went through this with quite a few campaigns between the titanic failure of the first Gothic Doctor campaign and the relative success of the second one. But rather than complaining about some stupid game that doesn’t even look good and is outfunding your brilliant project and all of that jealousy crap, I looked at the campaign and thought about what they did – and how I could do that, too. A lot of what I did right on the second project came from stealing ideas from wildly successful projects. If it spurs productive action, jealousy can be a productive emotion, and in my experience doing something about it helps reduce any jealous feelings I’m having.

#4 – People aren’t more successful just because they’re luckier

Being jealous of someone because they’re “lucky” on Kickstarter completely misses the point of the platform. Luck doesn’t play a big role in success there – though it certainly plays some. Truthfully, to be successful at anything, especially in the gaming community, you have to be hardworking and lucky. As Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

And you can trust the man who punched both rabies and anthrax in the face.

For every story of a person who got lucky, the backstory is that they were ready to take advantage of an opportunity. Every person who happened to catch the eye of a big publisher also made a great game that the publisher liked. Everyone who ran a Kickstarter that just took off also included something that people wanted and worked hard for what they got. Sure, the balance is sometimes skewed, as with the potato salad Kickstarter – but Brown also goofed on Kickstarter and has a degree in marketing (I heard this but can’t find confirmation – but it’s the internet, so I can just say things).

Now, this is about Kickstarter. When it comes to financial security or general success in life, that’s an entirely different story in my opinion – and one that rests on the good fortune of being born into a good socio-economic class. But on Kickstarter, it’s about how hard you work and how appealing your project is to potential backers.

#5 – You can’t do everything

I was talking to the same wise friend who told me that you can’t help how you feel but can help how you act told me. I was bothered about not feeling like I could design, publish, teach, and still have any sort of happy life, and he said, “You’re a bright guy. You can do anything. But you can’t do everything.”

What this means, since my friend needed to spell it out much more clearly for me, is that even though your mind is a vast and infinite ocean of possibilities, you can’t swim the entire thing. You have to choose where you’re going to dive in.

This is not true of Indian buffets. I can eat everything at an Indian buffet.

Most of the time when I’m jealous of someone, it’s because I can’t do everything – but I’d really like to. This is especially true of jealousy over things like Origins. I could go to any con in the country…but I can’t go to every con in the country. Well, I can’t do that and stay married and keep my teaching job. That’s the way time works.

On some level, we all have to make the decision about how much of our lives we’re going to give over to this as a hobby – and then we have to understand that we feel jealous because we just wish there were more of us to go around.

This has been especially helpful for me when it comes to being jealous of one of my favorite people in the industry – and my favorite person to work with on games – the inimitable JR Honeycutt.

Hell yeah. That sexy beast right there.

While I’ve decided to keep my day job because (a) I love it and (b) it offers me stability, he’s decided to dedicate his life to being in the community. Consequently, he gets to go to a lot more cons, and he gets to spend a lot more time gaming and designing. Sometimes I hate him a little bit for it, but, in the end, I have to just tell myself that the biggest difference is the core choice he made to dedicate more time to gaming.

So, when I get jealous of JR for cranking out designs, going to cons, talking to people, running a charity, his two YouTube shows, and all of the other stuff he has made the time to do, I remind myself about how great it is to have a student’s eyes light up when we talk about Jane Eyre or how awesome it is that I get to have students smart enough to disagree with the MLA’s outdated usage of gendered third-person pronouns. And when I get jealous of people at Origins this weekend, I can remind myself about how, this weekend, friends of ours from Boston are here to visit and how we’ll be making homemade pasta that will probably be a disaster, but we’ll laugh, probably wind up ordering Chinese food, and play games late into the night.

And that right there makes it okay that I can’t go to Origins.

Doug Levandowski is a game designer who co-created Gothic Doctor and UnPub: The UnPublished Card Game. He has other designs in the works, too - because that's what designers do. When Doug's not designing, interviewing, writing articles, or sleeping, he's teaching English to a bunch of amazing high schoolers. They're working on Jane Eyre, his favorite novel. You can find him on Twitter at @levzilla.  


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