Tuesday, September 29, 2015

i'm leaving games

i tweeted this out about a week ago, but basically: after this next month's QGCon and Indiecade (where i'll be doing a talk with David Kanaga about art and politics), i'll be leaving games. this has been a long time coming, and something i need to do for many reasons. the biggest one is that music has always been the most important thing in my life, but i never seriously thought i'd be able to make any kind of real career out of it for a long time. i have terrible performance anxiety and never really thought i had what it took to be a good producer either. there were other reasons, but a lot of why got into working on games stuff because i thought they'd make money. and of course i took an interest in game design, because it's something i've always been interested in. but over that time, my relationship with music evolved in a much healthier way. and i feel like i put had to put that and a lot else about myself aside when i moved here because i thought that's what i needed to be to be liked and successful in an industry like this. and also becomes videogame spheres really do demand of people involved in them to be forever pledged to them for eternity. and that has been extremely destructive to me.

the time i've spent in games has certainly been an interesting one. a lot has happened - it would obviously be impossible to summarize. i have been given some space to explore myself, for sure, and some people have been incredibly supportive and are what have kept me going over the years (and i'm eternally thankful to them). but outside these wonderful people, most of my experiences have been pretty awful and done a lot of damage to my emotional and physical health. needless to say, it's way past time for me to find a place for some healing from past hurt, and to be direct myself back on the right course - where i've always really wanted to go, in the end. a lot about my games career has screamed feelings of unhappiness and unfulfillment to me from the getgo, and i think that's just because i was doing something i've never been fully happy with. but i'm done with that now. now's a time to have more space to think about things without trying to be successful or be a brand, or spend all my time on the constantly anxiety-producing twitter. now's a time for me.

i'll also being moving out of the bay area to portland at the end of this month. there are many reasons for this, some of them personal. but basically, things weren't what i thought they'd be like here at all. it's expensive, it's full of tensions i knew basically nothing about and feel terrible about shoving myself into. i've had tremendous problems with the dynamics of social groups i've been a part of. i've felt a lot of selfishness here, the place is becoming unlivable in multiple ways. i have learned a lot and become a lot less ignorant about a lot of things, of course. i've connected to so many people in ways that would have blown my mind before. but a lot of it's been learned the hard way. i still go through a lot of stress and frustration about how everything went, and feel like a lot of my efforts have been wasted - especially emotional efforts i invested in people i probably shouldn't have been investing in in the first place. i will probably struggle with that for a long time. it's hard to let stuff go. i moved here with next to nothing and a lot of optimism and i'm leaving with much more than that and a lot of pessimism. hopefully these are things that can be shed over time, in a safer space. we'll see, i suppose. i still have some hope for the future, even if it's a very guarded hope.

--- SO HEY, since i haven't posted on here in forever, i figured it would be good to update this here blog on the happenings of the past year. the biggest thing, of course, is my Patreon - which is still my primary source of income. i still very much plan to do more with in it the coming months. i am eternally thankful to many people's generous support on here. without it there's no way i could have survived like i have. it's been a hard time, but i'm glad people have been there to get me through it. i hope you can continue to support me in the future ---

now, for more catching up:

~~~ first and foremost, i released some music this past June: "EP Year Zero". it's mostly older stuff, but i wanted to put it together in a nice place.

~~~ i did a talk at this past GDC called "The Power of the Abstract" which you can watch the video to (free!) there. it was a fairly big undertaking but a lot of people came and i was happy with the end result. the comments were, however, less than stellar. i also spoke with Isaac Schankler at this year's Different Games conference about unconventional approaches to composing game audio - the link to the video is there.

~~~ i was also on the jury for this past IGF Nuovo award which the fabulous Tetregeddon Games by the fabulous Nathalie Lawhead won. 

~~~ i did a series of videos on selected levels i like from Doom mods with commentary called "Doom Mixtape". the link to the full playlist is there.

~~~ in other youtube news, i did a few commentated playthroughs of increpare games and streamed myself playing through all six episode of Wolfenstein 3D (warning: audio is a little lo-fi) on twitch.

~~~ i wrote a couple articles you might have missed. the first is from last month - a piece i put up on Medium about FKA Twigs and the double-standards of online pop feminism. the second was for Offworld - a very personal piece about my getting into making games, my relationship with Braid and the inception of Problem Attic.

~~~ i did the sound library for Anna Anthropy's neat game tool Emotica Online and sound fx for Brandon Sheffield's ill-fated last Playstation Mobile game Oh, Deer!

~~~ i made a few Mario Maker levels you can find the codes and screenshots to them here.

~~~ as always, you can always find updates to the most important stuff i've done on my tumblr (like art, and any other things), in lieu of anywhere else. especially if i'm trying to spend less time on twitter!


post script:

i've recently been fixated on watching a lot of retro game collecting shows on youtube. one is called "The Game Chasers", which involves a couple of men from Texas and their cohorts driving around to flea markets and game stores trying to get deals and catch each other 'slipping', as the catch phrase of the show goes. the show also features lots of farting and references to each other as "chodes", for those wondering about the quality of the programming here. another is called "Flea Market Madness" by PatTheNESPunk, who shows up to flea markets early in the morning to hunt for good deals on games with his friend Frank (my favorite part of the show), an older eccentric completely disinterested in games. Pat, by the way, is also known for employing a "but it's about ethics in game journalism" argument on youtube in the early days of GamerGate. so yeah, that's kind of what you should expect.

as strange as it sounds, i've become weirdly absorbed into both of these. part of it might be that their kind of game collecting is something actually very familiar to me. me and my brother collected NES games and followed the much smaller online NES community back in the late 90's/early 2000's (tsr's NES archive, anyone?) when he first got a job as a teenager. at one point we had close to 150 NES games, several boxed. it was, of course, easier to find stuff then than it is now, with a market much more interested in retro and the idea of owning the actual, real deal. and i was always more interested in playing the games than he was - which is probably why he sold most of them off not too long after.

a lot of this stuff is still swimming around in my head, but it permeates around Magfest, where several Game Chasers episodes were filmed. Magfest was my first game event of any kind - it was the place to meet up with people i knew from back from my time as a remixer/community member on OCRemix, which was a very formative (and often frustrating) website for me in my teens. i have fond memories of the two Magfests i went to - Magfest 8 & 9 (January 2010 and 2011), even if i had already basically moved away from that community several years back and my reunion was relatively short-lived. i still have a very awkward and complicated feelings about that phase of my life. but part of it was really meaningful and important to me, even if i seemed to grow out of it all very quickly.

i still think back and i try to visit that kind of unpretentious enjoyment of games and game music - before i knew much of anything about indie games. before i went to GDC. before i did any talks at any conferences. before i somehow became part of a "queer games scene". before anyone saw me as being "important". i look back with sadness, because it was still really fun and important time to me. but there was also such a sadness and emptiness at its core i've never been able to get over.

IRC channels i regularly spent my waking hours in my damaged state after college in were constantly filled with people talking about how awesome last years Magfest was, and how they got so drunk, and how next year will be even more epic. people structured their entire lives around it. so many didn't really have an existence or sense of purpose outside of it. i felt very much a part of this because of that. i still never understood why, if it was that important to them, they couldn't spend more time trying to make these things happen outside of Magfest. but i don't know how capable of it they really were. these were people living for an event that only lasted three or four days out of each year. just one little burst to bring them out of the monotony of their otherwise boring existence. post-Magfest depression was always such an immense thing for everyone for a reason. you came back, usually with a horrible flu, back to your normal existence. and it sucked. it's hard to have such a high and have to wait a year again for anything approaching that meaning in your life. i escaped all of this by going on my own path, maybe, but i still think i lost a lot in the process.

the fact is: i cried hysterically at the end of my second Magfest. it was meaningful to me as much as anyone else. i felt like my life was nothing at the time, and i didn't want to go back to it anymore. so i ran away from that life and into games. and found that land of internet fun and games was not at all what i thought it was.

i guess this also just goes back to the whole culture of retro gaming. these discarded bits of consumer culture become people's church, their mecca. they become such an important and fundamental part of their lives. they become holy in every sense of the world. and the culture becomes much more about how this reflects on them and their identity, and what happened in the past, and endlessly trying to re-own and relieve every event of your childhood, than generating new culture or engaging with stuff critically or seeing clearly. of course it is a clouded, manic kind of excitement that's very infectious and extremely unpretentious. and that manic energy is a far cry from the businesslike seriousness of GDC or all the cutthroat competition and social dynamics and pretensions of indie game/tech spheres, for sure, but there is no moving on in the world of videogame fandom. the love becomes a weird fetishism that can never be escaped from. everything is put on a pedestal forever, never to be removed or changed.

watching a video by Pat the NES Punk on the Flintstones: Return To Dinosaur Peak (one of the rarest NES games), i see the emptiness of this dynamic exposed in its rawest form. Pat's videos are filled with weird "why am i wasting my life" jokes and asides, but this video takes it to another level, into an absolutely excruciating level of pathos. at the end he makes a plea to his audience to consider why any of this is even important or valuable. at first, it seems to be a joke. but then the video just ends and never goes anywhere after that. and in that moment it seems, very clearly, to not be a joke. 

Pat poses a really good question to his audience that he obviously has no way of answering. in the end, if you're one of the lucky ones like him and you're a straight white guy from America with lots of disposable income - you can try and own everything. you can collect them all. you can search far and wide to try and save all these old cartridges from less loved fates. but you can never own what you really desire - to gain back your childhood. you can never really get back that feeling that you lost. it won't ever be like it was before. and you really never have space to discover yourself or move on from it healthily, because that's not what the culture is about. so instead of dealing with this trauma, we try to create bigger and bigger illusions and fantasies onto ourselves. we make it part of our world, hoping it will seep into our sense of being. but it can never bring us onto a path of awareness or clarity or fulfillment, where we can see these things for what they are and move on from them, happily. they will always be ghosts of the past stuck inside of us.

the thing i love about game culture is so many people try and preserve what creations were left behind by a ruthless, brutal market and bringing it back to the forefront in a passionate, sincere way. that's the best of what something like Magfest has to offer the world to me - an unaffected, infectious, incredibly excited exploration into the world of games (and especially the music, which i've always connected to so much). the thing i hate about game culture is there's no real creation, no challenging, no constructive criticism, no moving forward, no healing. the fundamental truths of games can never really be questioned unless you want to greatly offend people's entire basis for being. even as the industry moves on coldly and the world of indie games moves on just as coldly. and so it just seems, in the end, like the church for a lot of very damaged, lost people. and nothing i've ever experienced in games - even after several years of being involved in the "social justice warrior" side of games, has really challenged this fundamental truth for me.

so yes, maybe one day i will return back to making games. who knows? i still believe in the potential of the medium - there's so many directions you can go and that people are going in. there will continue to be the exceptions - the increpares or Tetrageddons. and i don't think my work in this sphere can ever really be done, for sure. but videogame culture - from the fans to indie games, to alt and queer games spaces, to game jams, up into the highest level of the industry, is and probably will forever remain very insular and closed off to outsiders. because of that, and many other reasons, i'm fine to have nothing really to do with it - or anything surrounding it - its conceptions, its critics, its creators, teachers, preachers and practicers - anymore.