Playing games is fun. And if you’re anything like me, then designing games is even more fun. But, like anything else in life that takes tons of time and energy, it’s not immune to a creeping sense of fatigue.
So what do you do when the thing you love most feels like it’s… *gasp* work? Well, I have a few tried-and-true suggestions that may help when people ask you what your creative process is like, and you’re trying everything in your power to not answer by saying, “mostly rubbing my hands over my face and trying to find motivation behind the ice cream in my freezer.”
10. Listen to music
I personally don’t listen to music while I work. That’s just my preference. But, when I need to decompress a bit, I do like to create a playlist and listen to it in-between work sessions. If you’re like me and prefer your work time to be silent and focused, try turning on the tunes for a change. It might just jar your creative juices loose. Listen to your go-to songs, or create a new playlist specific to your game:
- What are some songs that inspire you creatively?
- What are some songs that put you at ease?
- Are there any songs that relate in some way to your game? What do you hear in your head when you’re deep in thought about it?
Ironically, it can be physically exhausting to sit in a chair and stare at a screen all day (or stare at a board game all day). Your body does strange things when it’s forced to remain still. If you’re facing creative block or the creep of mental fatigue, try getting up and moving around. This can be as simple as going for a walk for 20 minutes. Get out in nature. Get the blood flowing. Some of my biggest breakthroughs during my own creative process have happened while I was out walking a local nature trail. In fact, if you plan on using exercise to shake loose any creative tidbits, then I suggest bringing along a notebook – just in case that big Aha! moment happens when you’re traipsing through the woods, sweating in the gym, or swimming in the pool.
8. Write your thoughts out free-form
Not everyone keeps a diary. And that’s perfectly okay. However, I’d challenge anyone facing fatigue to work through their thoughts by writing them down. You might surprise yourself. Writing activates a wholly different part of the brain than simply thinking through ideas – and in doing so, can spark thought processes that weren’t there before. (I’m not a scientist or doctor, so I don’t want to speculate about neural pathways or any such thing, but I can speak from my experience; writing things down helps me immensely.) I personally don’t keep a pen-and-paper diary per se, but I do jot down everything. Even this blog serves as a useful tool for not only providing a modicum of insight for other game developers, but also a way to work through and curate my own creative process.
This means spending time with gamers and non-gamers alike. If you’re feeling like games have taken up residence in your brain and are starting to feel like bad houseguests, then hanging out with your gamer friends might not be the best idea. And while they’re great communities, the same goes for spending all your time on boardgamegeek and social media. Take a step back from games for a little bit, spend some time with the other people in your life, and then get back to the grind with a renewed sense of confidence – so that it doesn’t feel like a grind anymore. Of course, it can be beneficial to spend time with your gamer friends as well. Maybe they’ll have useful suggestions for how to work through your current roadblocks, or at least you can talk about other things – like what games you want to play together next, or the upcoming release that everyone’s excited for. Humans are social animals, and our spirits tend to atrophy when we’re locked up, tinkering with our own toys.
Reading is one of those things that we all used to do in some capacity when we were in primary school. However, as we enter adulthood and other things vie for our time, it’s one of the first things to go. A Pew Research poll found that a quarter of American adults haven’t read a book–in whole or in part–in the past year. Reading can help unwind some of the anxieties you have about the project you’re currently working on. Like listening to music, it has a way of allowing us to let go of our current fears and hang-ups so that we can revisit them with a greater sense of clarity, and overcome them. You don’t even need to read a book. Try spending some time reading a magazine, a blog you enjoy, or even the news. If it gets you thinking about something besides your game for a little bit, then it’ll help you reorganize your thoughts for a fresh take.
5. Clean up or rearrange your workspace
It might sound obvious, but it’s difficult to be in a good headspace when your workspace is a mess. It’s where you spend the majority of your time working on your projects, so you owe it to yourself to make it more than just ‘barely habitable.’ Some tips for de-cluttering and creating a haven for your games:
- Organize your mess. If it’s something you don’t need every day, put it away in some sort of container or file system. If it’s something you don’t need at least once a month, then it doesn’t belong in your workspace at all.
- Share your workspace with some plantlife. Not only do plants look nice, but they help clean the air for us (thanks, respiration!). A little bit of plantlife can go a long way toward turning your workspace from functional to enjoyable. Choose plants that aren’t terribly difficult to take care of and you think look nice. It’s a matter of personal preference, and it can help add to the sense of ownership over your workspace.
- Remove your workspace from distractions. This means, don’t do things that prevent you from getting work done. Like I mentioned in #1, I prefer to keep my music-listening to times when I’m taking a break – however, if you’re the kind of person who can listen to music without being distracted, then go for it! It’s all a matter of what works for you. Aside from turning the music off, there’s two other things that I do to keep the distractions to a minimum. 1) I put my cell phone in a different room. I don’t turn it off, because I want to hear if it rings in case of an emergency, but by putting it three rooms away, it prevents me from mindlessley checking my social media or email. 2) Similarly, I turn my computer’s wifi off. Unless I need the internet for what I’m working on, there’s no need to have it on. This forces me to think twice when I’m tempted to surf the web.
4. Revisit the things you’re nostalgic for
The resurgence in tabletop games happened because of the very nostalgia for our pre-digital lives. So there shouldn’t be any shame in taking a walk down memory lane. Spend some time reconnecting with your childhood self by watching the old movies you used to love, visiting the old places you used to go to, or eating the old foods you used to enjoy. Revisiting the things that used to make you happy can serve as a kick to help find the happiness in the things you’re currently engaged in. Memory is a powerful thing. It can be a useful tool in your motivational toolbox. Just be sure to put away the trappings of childhood when it’s time to return to reality. 😛
3. Boil your game down to a vision statement
This relates to #8 “Write your thoughts out free-form” but is a bit more structured. If you don’t already have a vision statement for your game, consider creating one. Now, I’ll be the first person to show skepticism toward business-y artifacts and corporate gibberish, but crafting a succinct statement about what you want your game to do can serve as a charter of sorts, to keep yourself focused. A vision statement doesn’t need to be complicated, and there’s no right or wrong way to write one. At a minimum, I’d suggest including the following:
- What are the main things you want players to enjoy about your game? Is it a new and interesting mechanic you’ve devised? Is it the theme? Is it the co-operative gameplay of your game? Write down the core things you want players to extrapolate from their experience.
- Similar to the above, what are the things you want to avoid with your game? Maybe you don’t like player eliminations, and you want to make sure you spell that out. Maybe you don’t want your game to last longer than a set time – specify that you want a complete game to take only 30 minutes, or 60 minutes, or whatever you’re setting out to do. Write down the things your game is not.
Now, this can be anything, really – it doesn’t have to be ‘meditation’ in the ‘close your eyes and say, “ohhhhm”‘ sense. If you’re a religious person, prayer can be a helpful way to re-center your feelings. If you’re not particularly spiritual, then simply being alone and mindfully thinking can provide needed clarity when your creative process seems like a giant fog bank. If you need to, talk to yourself. Work through your inner demons in whichever way feels right for you. It’s not selfish to take time for self-care. Your game will be better for it.
1. Play games!
Last, but not least, play some games! There’s nothing better for unkinking the game design process than playing a few great ones.
What about you guys? Is there anything you do to help beat fatigue and creative block? Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,