Brain Games

I should be happy right now – ecstatic, really. Two big projects (Broodmother Sky Fortress for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Mike Evans’ Hubris setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics) which I’ve sunk a combined four years of my life into are hitting store shelves in the very near future. Together they represent a big step forward for me as a professional in the RPG industry and yet – I can’t shake the feeling that I’m worthless and unskilled. That anyone looking at those two books will know what a shitty hack I am and that all my faults and failures will  be there on the printed page for all to see.

This shouldn’t be read as an indictment of either of those books from a quality standpoint. Everyone I’ve talked to says they really like what I did and that I should be proud of my work – and yet…I can’t.

I hate myself for feeling this way. Every time I go into a project all I can see are the myriad ways I’m going to stumble and make a hash of it. That I’ll forget some niggling technical detail or that my depression and anxiety will overwhelm me again. Or that my skills aren’t up to the task. Every endeavor I undertake is done so under a cloud of dread and sick anticipation of the failure that lies ahead.

I gave my contributor copies of the last big release I worked on, Towers Two, to friends. I couldn’t stand to look at it. Didn’t want it on my shelf telling me what a fuckup I am, and how much better it could have looked if I wasn’t a worthless piece of shit.

It becomes something of a feedback loop after a while. My brain is an echo chamber containing a perpetual motion machine that generates anxiety and self-loathing. I feel like I’m a second-rate character in a Daniel Clowes comic, bumbling through life…surfing on a crest of deep-seated anguish and at any moment I’ll collapse and drown.

wilson-p21I hate being like this. It’s not just about the freelance work…it rigidly defines everything about me, from the failure of my marriage to the flat career trajectory which keeps me stuck in a Groundhog Day of endless low-wage jobs.

Thing is – I know I’m not unique. We all face challenges in our lives. Some face the very same obstacles I do…and in some part I suppose that’s why I’m writing this.

I know quite a few people in this industry, and more than a handful share my problems. I know this because after I was diagnosed with depression and ADHD last year a good number of them opened up to me privately and publicly and frankly…I was astonished.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: working on RPG’s is largely a labor of love. Very few people who work in this business do it full time. A great many of them, mostly freelancers – but also some independent publishers – maintain day jobs because the money pool in RPG’s is very, very small. But they do it – in the evening hours after the kids have been put to bed or on the weekends when they could be doing a vast array of other things. Often squeezing time for gaming projects into every spare nook and cranny of their lives. They do it.

That’s why I do it. It’s why, despite the fear and nausea I feel at taking on work, despite all the voices in my head that tell me I’m a fuckup – that the next project will be shit and that it will be shit because of me – I keep at it. My love of games and the people who make them are what sustain me – even though I haven’t really played anything in nearly two years…my lifelong desire to be part of this weird culture keeps me going. And I’m not alone.

Keep that in mind the next time you sit down with your friends to create some stories.


2 thoughts on “Brain Games

  1. Welcome to the club, Alex! Broodmother was something of a cursed tome for everyone involved. I took over a year to finish the art, which I had estimated to take eight months working part-time. There were crazy extenuating circumstances, but a large chunk of that was me just sitting staring at a blank page because I was deep in depression and fucking terrified of screwing it up. I don’t think I stack up the the other artists working on the line. Over time, it snowballed into this huge insurmountable task that I was in no way qualified to complete. It took some serious effort (and threats) to buckle down and get the thing done.

    Every project you complete will probably leave you feeling you could have done better, and part of you will hate what you’ve done. However, try and look at them a milestones that helped you get to where you currently are. Over time you can track your improvement and give you a sense of accomplishment. I’m glad to be done with it, but actually looking forward to seeing the physical book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, man – I really appreciate that…and I feel better knowing I’m not in this trench by myself. I guess that’s partly why I posted this – because I know there are a lot of people who share these feelings and issues. And, I know how this will sound because I know how I process similar things said to me: you did an amazing job on the art. Really, you should be proud of it.


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