Posted by squinky on Dec 11, 2023

(In case you missed them, here's Part One and Part Two of this series.)

I'm going to be completely frank: last summer was not only really hard on Soft Chaos, but also a big scary mental health nightmare for me, personally. It's been a long process to heal from a personal crisis of that magnitude, but one thing that's been helping me, aside from the usual combination of meds and therapy, has been relearning how to be creative in a way that brings me joy.

I've been feeling burnt out and blocked for a while. It's been almost a decade since my biggest career successes, and since then I've always felt this pressure to do something more original and innovative to replicate those successes that, not for lack of trying, I haven't been able to live up to. (It didn't help that I spent years in grad school, where being "original" and "innovative" was supposed to be the whole point!) After I finished SECOND PUBERTY over 2 years ago, I was so exhausted that I felt like I no longer had it in me to do solo game projects again. I could keep on doing collaborative stuff with the Soft Chaos team, sure, but I didn't think my own creative voice mattered or needed to be heard anymore. There are, after all, so many younger queer people with much better, more interesting stories to tell through games now, right?

A couple of months ago, I started working through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, a book I'd heard about and seen highly recommended for years and finally felt like it was time to actually check out for myself. And I have to say, it's really inspired me to go back to what I love about the process of making games and not get so hung up on the end result. Many of the exercises in the book involve questioning assumptions we grew up with about what it means to be an artist (how much of my motivation to go to grad school was to make my career more legible to my family, most of whom have advanced professional degrees and work as doctors and lawyers and other well-paying prestigious jobs?) and allowing ourselves to revisit childhood interests and pleasures that we were later pressured to leave behind for whatever reason. I have to say, it feels quite lovely to rediscover the fun of being a nerdy teenager trying to figure out how to tell stories through point-and-click adventure games, but now with 20+ more years of skills and life experience.

Some character art I had a lot of fun making. I'm looking forward to having even more fun animating them and coming up with stuff for them to say!

The idea for a Soft Chaos album of games came about at a perfect time, actually. Making a bunch of small games based around a particular theme is something I already enjoyed doing with SECOND PUBERTY, but working on such games in dialogue with the rest of the Soft Chaos team feels like an even more supportive container for that creativity. It reminds me of the parts I enjoyed most about grad school, particularly, the friendships I made with other students where we would hang out and talk about what we were working on and inspire each other to make cool stuff both separately and together. It's the kind of dynamic I always wanted to recreate in a worker co-op, so it feels exciting to me that we're actually doing it.

In short, what working through The Artist's Way has helped me with the most has been to redefine making games for myself as a practice, rather than as products. Whatever results come out of this practice might get critical recognition again, or they might not, but it ultimately doesn't matter all that much. What does matter is that I'm rediscovering how much I enjoy getting lost in the process of creation, delighting in the weird ideas I come up with and making them real, with the support of people I care about who are also making delightfully weird things. And I have to say, it's been a real breath of fresh air for my mental health!

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