A special Global Game Jam

Hey there! Luciano speaking. I was one of the programmers and designers for the game.

I wanted to share my journey through this last Global Game Jam since it was a bit special. I hope my experience becomes useful in some way for all of you game dev folks out there. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

A bit of my background

I'm 26 and I'm from Argentina (as well as the rest of the team). I wanted to make games since I was like 10 or 11 years old. I started making RPG Maker games when I was 12 and able to get my hands on a not-so-legally translated to spanish version of RPG Maker XP (my english wasn't that good back then). Life drove me away from game making when I was around 16 years old but my love for the thing led me back to it a couple of years later.

I've been working in the games industry for 5 years now and this was my sixth GGJ. I started exploring game making a couple of months before starting to work as a game developer. I officially work as a programmer but I do game design too, as I love to build experiences that other people enjoy consuming.

For many years, the GGJ was like a second (or first, depending on how you look at it) christmas to me (and I LOVE christmas).  I mostly enjoy working with people I never worked before, meeting all kinds of new people, experimenting with ideas, getting both creative and focused on work at the same time... It's wonderful.

The thing is that in 2016 the anxiety and depression issues I've been struggling with basically my whole life blew up in my face  and I suffered an anxiety crisis in the middle of a GGJ.

I basically ran away from the site on friday and left my team hanging without a programmer.

On saturday I came back, apologized to the team and tried to put together a prototype with a friend (eamanelf) and wasn’t able to get it going (spoiler: it’s coming as a web release soon, stay tuned).

On saturday night/sunday morning I ended up putting together some kind of story making game about some people sharing a mate (that weird argentinian infusion).

But the thing is that ever since then my mental health entered in a downward spiral.

Now that I’m coming out of it, I intend to share this whole thing with the game dev community to raise awareness of these kind of issues and open a debate about how can they be dealt with.

So, first note:

These issues can be dealt with. It’s most likely not the end of the world to suffer anxiety and/or depression. You are most likely able to get through it with the right kind of support.

Of course there’s a wide spectrum of anxiety and depression issues and not all of the are to be dealt with the same way. I understand (and so should you) that this is just my experience and it might only apply to me. It might not, though. It might as well help other people, so it’s worth sharing.

What then?

Let me say this straight: I was never confident in my ability as a game developer. Even though I had a steady job making games, I kept making games in my free time, I kept learning new things constantly and I had a circle of friends and colleagues who respected me as a professional, I always thought I sucked and never finished anything else than jam games (and god forbid I published them somewhere) and (kinda obviously) games I did at work.

Remember the allegedly cherokee tale of the grandfather telling the grandson about the battle between the good wolf and the bad wolf inside of us and the one that would win would be the one that we feed the most? Well, my “good” wolf (the one representing confidence, willingness, self esteem, and all that stuff) was bulimic. It would throw up anything I feed him.

This mutated into the absolute inability to do any game making outside work. And even at work I would have an awful time concentrating and working as well as I somehow knew I could work. This thing I suffered from had taken something very valuable for me and it was a desolating feeling.

I found this to be a rather common thing in game developers but somehow is something that goes undetected as we tend to shares our successes and not our struggles. This, of course, hits your right in the face when you’re struggling with your crippling self-doubt.

So, note number two:

Sharing our struggles and “failures” (I’m openly against using this word but it serves its purpose here) is just as important as sharing our successes. I know it’s hard to do so, but we need to break the mask/avatar we build for social media (or life in general) and share all what’s going on with us. It’s way healthier for us (because we’re not fooling ourselves) and for everyone consuming what we share (as we’ll be showing them the whole picture). Everyone has its own struggles. Not a single person does it all without a little piece of doubt and difficulty. It doesn’t happen only to you.

Climbing up the wall

At some point I got tired of not having control of my life anymore and letting harmful habits rule my doing and started a process of steering my life in the direction I wanted to go.

I had many anxiety crises and even a bunch of agoraphobic episodes. I would stay up at night until I literally couldn’t do it anymore out of fear of that couple of minutes between you lay your head on the pillow and you actually fall asleep because it would mean that I would have to face my thoughts. I would be barely able to be alone in a room with my thoughts. There was a part of my mind that was my worst enemy. I needed to change that in order to be able to function as a person.

The first step was to change the kind of therapy I was taking. “Regular therapy” (psychoanalysis, speaking properly) wasn’t working for me anymore so I switched to cognitive-behavioral therapy, which has a more straightforward and pragmatic approach to treating your issues. Goes better with my personality and the particular needs I had in that stage of my process.

The first step in this new therapy was establishing a diagnosis. I got diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is basically having developed an unhealthy baseline for anxiety.

Medication was required and I was counseled to see a psychiatrist. I was rather reluctant to the idea at the beginning, but let me tell you it enabled me to do the work I needed to do in order to get better. Of course it has to be taken responsibly and seriously, but it’s not the end of the world to need some medication. After the anxiety medication did its job, the depressive side of my issue bounced right up, so I started taking an antidepressant too.

The medication worked so well that it stroke me how unused I was to being calm and having a relaxed state of mind.

So, third note:

Get help. Explore different kinds of help and stick to the one that works for you. Don’t panic (pun intended) if you have to do it a dozen times. The right kind of help for you is out there, waiting for you to reach it. And don’t either freak out with medication or let someone let you dozed all day. Be aware of this if you start taking medication and have someone you trust monitor you and raise a flag when something doesn’t seem to be going well.

What this Global Game Jam meant to me

After months of a big and daily effort to build healthier habits (including my diet, my sleep pattern, physical activity and meditation), I started to get pumped up by the results.

I would see things differently, be able to calm down, be able to deal with anxiety in a healthy way, and my creative mind would start to breathe again, as it was previously suffocated by my anxiety.

It’s not that I feel like Carmack or Jesse Schell, but I’m able to recognize my strengths and shortfalls as well and I don’t get depressed about “not being good enough” anymore (now I see it as an opportunity to get better at what I do).

Global Game Jam 2018 was, for me, the milestone after months of hard work getting healthier and building healthier habits. But it was not until I had more basic stuff sorted out that I was able to do creative work again.

So note number four:

It takes time. It takes hard work. It takes opening yourself to others and yourself. It takes patience. But there’s a path that will lead you to a healthier state and you can find it and follow it. And it will make you better.

The keys that enabled me to do this was getting the right kind of help and the right kind of support from my friends and family (as cliché as it sounds). This post/article or whatever you want to call it is perhaps a way for me to give everything I went through some meaning. I write this hoping it can help someone someday.

If you’re interested in more details about how it affected my game development, specifics on how I dealt with it or simply need some help and want to talk about it with someone, feel free to contact me. I’ll be more than happy to help you as much as I can.

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