NOTE: these lessons are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers, but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This lesson is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.
This month's article is prompted by a particular sort of Frequently Asked Question that usually goes like this:
"Is it a waste of my time to study Flash?"
Sometimes the question is worded differently:
"Would I be wasting my time to write a complete design document for my game idea, since it probably won't get made?"
Those are both the same question:
"I'm thinking about doing [activity X] but before I invest my time and effort, I just wanted to know if I shouldn't bother."
But when I dig further, there's usually more behind it than that...
"What I really want to do is become a lead game designer at Electronic Arts, and I want to make sure I do not one iota more than the things I need to do to achieve my objective."
Which always throws me for a loop.
I shall now explain. (And hopefully, I won't bore you too much.)
When somebody asks me the "waste of time" question he's saying he dreads the prospect of working hard at learning something - and is looking for an excuse to skip it. Or even worse, he might be telling me he doesn't have passions of his own (or he doesn't respect his own passions).
Someone who's really passionate about making games wouldn't worry that he was wasting his time to learn how to use the mod tools that come with Half-Life 2. He'd be doing it because he's curious, he's driven, and he wants to learn how those tools work. Those particular mod tools won't be used in his eventual job in the industry (even if he goes to work for Valve, by the time he's graduated college and gotten experience and joined Valve, their tools would have changed) - but he would learn the principles of the tools, and the principles of game creation, and that learning would prepare him well for a job as a programmer or level designer.
Someone who's really passionate about writing stories wouldn't worry if it was a waste of time to write a vampire murder mystery story. He'd write it anyway, because he loves writing and nobody can stop him. Someone like that has the kind of work ethic and creative spirit game employers look for.
Are you getting the idea?
There isn't one magical yellow brick road to the emerald city of the game industry. You gotta be you. You gotta be passionate about creating whatever type of creative stuff you enjoy creating... and you can't be constantly thinking, "am I wasting my time doing the stuff I love, instead of whatever magical yellow brick road stuff I oughta be doing instead?"
Dreams that go without action are not very useful.
Let's take a look at some typical "waste of time" questions.
"Is it a waste of my time to learn how to make mods using the Everquest tools?"
It depends. If you WANT to make EQ mods, no, of course it isn't. If you DON'T want to make EQ mods, then yes, you shouldn't torture yourself with it.
"Is it a waste of my time to write and draw an original fan fiction manga based on Yu Yu Hakusho, since I wouldn't be able to publish it due to IP law?"
It depends. If you WANT to make that manga, then of course you should do it. If you DON'T want to do it, then why are you even asking me? I mean, sheesh already! (^_^)
"I just want to make sure I'm doing all the things I need to do, to get a job as a game designer. I'm fascinated by the recent advances in knowledge about dinosaurs, but nobody is making dinosaur games, so it would be a waste of time to keep up with that stuff. What should I be doing instead?"
I can't believe you jumped to the conclusion that it's a waste of time to pursue that passion based on your "feelings" - and that you just gave up on your passion so easily. You've decided, stupidly, to ignore one of your main passions in life because you idiotically think it's at odds with one of your other passions. And you're asking me what your passions should be. Unbelievable!
[Harshness alert. If you can't stomach the truth, don't read the next one!]
"I'm in college, and I want to just focus on the stuff that I really need, but the school is forcing me to take a foreign language class. I'm never going to need that language. I'm an American, bygod, and I don't need no stinking other language besides English! It's a waste of time! But they won't let me have the degree without it."
You stinking crybaby, you disgust me with your provincial attitude and your juvenile lazy whining. You don't understand that the school is trying to prepare you for life in the real world, and you don't understand that the world is a lot bigger than just the country you live in. Geez! Besides, you're just whining about something you have no control over, and you didn't ask me a question. That's so wrong on so many levels, and I'm not gonna waste my time talking to the likes of you!
[Note: the preceding Q&A was entirely made up - no actual whining crybabies were really insulted in the process of writing this Q&A. But it felt good to vent for a moment! End harshness alert.]
It's not a waste of time to engage yourself in a creative endeavor that you enjoy, because you learn, you gain experience, and you improve your creative skills in the process.
It's not a waste of time to study subjects you're required to study in order to obtain a degree that'll look good on your resume. The investment of your time, at your young age, is worthwhile in building character, responsibility, and a strong work ethic.
You must follow your passions, but you must also get your work done. You have to get the degree, then you have to get a job so you can earn money so you can support yourself. Sometimes you have to take a "regular" job so you can save money to move to a game industry hotbed. It's not a waste of your time, if you just use your time wisely.
So. Wanna know what's really a waste of time? For me to try to help guys who worry about wasting their time rather than just doing it because they love it. Most of the time, guys who worry about wasting their time are already wasting it, deluding themselves that they have a hope of finding an easy path to their dream job. They should be just following their passions - because, well, they're passionate about them. Besides, as I've said before, "I don't validate." I prefer showing you new ideas rather than confirming yours. That's a waste of MY time.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "it's as though all my hobbies and interests led me into my current profession - it's as though I was training myself to achieve my own dream career." You don't do that by tailoring your interests to be in line with your chosen career - you do that by following your true interests, by being true to yourself. And one of the things you do in college is try different subjects on for size, so you can discover what your interests and abilities are. That's far from being a waste of time.
You think your dream career is game design - but maybe you'll discover that something else is even better... for YOU.
Your passions - your interests, your hobbies - are the true magical yellow brick road. They lead to an emerald city that was custom built for YOU.
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© 2005,2011 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.