Of Professional Jealousy

I think I’m not ready to let the blog-whining thing go just yet. I myself like reading about other people’s lives when I’ve met them or am otherwise interested in their work, so perhaps others are similarly interested in mine. Depends on how entertaining you can get about your own foibles, I guess.

As the reader remembers, my understanding of game culture and design primarily comes from roleplaying. While I wouldn’t presume to any great, expert knowledge in matters of, say, computer game design, I certainly will take that risk when it comes to roleplaying, of which I know a thing or two.

Keeping that in mind, I’d like to say a few words about the idea of game design as a profession. I feel that the roleplaying background matters here a great deal, because where I come from, game design is not usually considered a profession. Roleplaying is simply too small of a hobby nowadays for anybody to plan for a career in roleplaying. Not that we don’t try, mind, but even in the best cases the end-result is more reminiscent of a gentleman’s vocational pastime, perhaps spanning decades, but still not something that’d be recognized as a profitable enterprise if all the expenses were lined up in view.

Thus, it is somewhat accurate to say that a significant part of the roleplaying game designer community does it as a hobby, or focuses on game design in discrete bursts of activity when the situation allows. The more successful designers move on to other industries with valuable experience, the less successful ones with little to show for it. My story today therefore concerns itself with jealousy felt by those who can not devote themselves to their passion full-time.

Now, my own position is relatively enviable, many might say: I live a life of few needs and firm ties to community. I don’t actually need to work, never have, and right now it seems that work in my future will be something just like it has been to this date; a diversion or passion, or social necessity in service of my community. Not having a family, nor plans for one, no real estate loans nor cars or pets, life for a middle-class person in this country really is ridiculously easy. I don’t even mean public welfare here, it’s just that the little work I do is trivially sufficient for the sustenance of a man of reason.

But my topic today is not how well off I am myself, it is the (from my perspective)  even more enviable life of a professional artist. I mean, man, it must be great to be able to devote one’s time fully and without interruptions, years at a time, to the creation of great works of art and reason. It’s especially easy to feel like this right now, when I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing all kinds of necessary services to people around me. I’ve installed internet connections, formatted computers, laid out advertisements, maintained an Hungarian jukebox, started up wlan networks and so on. The days have just flown by, with me not noticing as I’m dragged here and there by all these small things.

This life of a white-collar handyman would make much more sense if I particularly needed or wanted the work. As things stand, I would much rather concentrate on designing Theomachia and Karta Machiton right now; I don’t know if it is exactly an unique opportunity, but for one reason or other I haven’t myself had the motivation to start a computer game design project before. And it would be nice to do a good job in something I care about, too. I would be rather annoyed if the project suffered because I couldn’t devote enough time to doing my part well.

The easy “solution” to my problem here is to “just say no”, but that’s of limited usefulness when we’re talking about friends, family and associates who have grown to depend on my skills, and when most of these little things harrying me are of a temporary and exceptional nature. Usually I’d have plenty of time for my game design, but for some unfathomable reason everything and anything, starting with the forced digitalization of the Finnish television networks (guess who installs the digiboxes around here) and ending with the total combustion of my office’s workstations, has piled up and happened this fall. I would really like to concentrate on bootstringing Karta Machiton, especially as I’d have a good opportunity to test it this weekend, but all this secondary stuff is eating practically all opportunities to work on the game. It would be great if I could just put all this other stuff on hold until I actually have time for it, but time is money for others as well, and they can’t very well leave the jukeboxes broken, advertisements unpublished and computers in their styrofoam caps.

Jealousy: doing layout work, maintaining information technology and writing the occasional piece for different medias seems like a pretty sucky deal when friends and associates are successfully working on their own game design or other arts. It’s stupid, but I can’t help but think that if I only lived as a hermit in some far-away place without all this communal stuff getting in the way, I could equate or exceed the people I compare with myself. The proposition of packing my bags and going somewhere with no other humans becomes dangerously attractive when I start imagining that my life might be hindering my art. I’d probably feel quite foolish when I got to my hermitage and noticed that actually, it’s not other people hindering me, it’s just that I’m lazy and impatient.

But, professionalism: while I don’t particularly care about the badge of professionalism for any perceived scene appreciation related to it, I would like to have my design being taken seriously by my relatives and other people. By which I mean, perhaps they’d leave me alone if I could claim that I’m working, making money and generally being a good protestant worker ant, when I’m really just making or playing games. So that’s my stance on professionality: it’s great for making people outside the hobby take you seriously. Or so I imagine; unless I’m mistaken, my father certainly has taken my efforts more seriously when I started bringing home cultural grants and such.

Hmm… I was going to write about how I’ve grown particularly jealous of Ben Lehman , a  talented American designer around my age, with a pretty similar gaming history in some regards. I was going to use him as an example of a guy who apparently has his life in order and manages to devote serious time to making beautiful games, but it seems I can’t fit this particular ugly sentiment in the flow of the text. Well, I’ll discuss that topic at some opportune moment later, assuming that I’m going to continue developing this personal whining thing as blog content. Maybe not, I feel mildly ridiculous writing all this touchy-feely introspection as it is. Doing it regularly would probably give me diabetes. Probably much more constructive if I go and design that game instead of whining here, now that I think of it.


2 Responses to “Of Professional Jealousy”

  1. Ben Lehman Says:

    Hey, Eero. It’s funny that you’re jealous of me, given that I’m scrounging for demeaning work so I can pay rent right now, having totally failed to leverage my game design experience into decently-paying work. Of course, this is also because I’m a member of a different culture: American cultural mores don’t allow my parents to let me live on family property, etc. If I had a family farm to stay on, I’d be more likely to be able to support myself on my design efforts.


  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Yeah, that is kinda funny. You can’t get a job in some media-related whitecollar business, then? Some days it seems to me that I can’t take one step without something like that coming up, too often from really nice people who I don’t particularly want to leave unaided. I guess the situation is quite different in the new world, of course.

    I’m sure that even if I think that being busy with laying out the Nordic version of Bang! sucks, it sucks much more to not be able to pay your rent. That’s the problem with writing whiny blog entries: somebody can certainly outwhine you out there. Sometimes it’s even somebody you’re trying to be jealous of.

    Of course, Ben, I wouldn’t mind it if you decided that living in the US is too expensive and took another world tour. I’m sure you could save a month or two of rents by coming to live here in rural Finland. Lord knows nobody else wants to, which is the secret to the cheap real estate hereabouts. Of course they compensate with expensive foodstuffs, so you’d have to stop eating to really benefit from the conditions. Quite doable if you’re poor enough, I’m told.

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