The people who make video games aren’t, generally speaking, what any normal person would call “cool”. They’re nerds. Dweebs. Geeks. Societal edge cases. Because these are the people who understand how to put a video game together. They know how to code, produce digital art and sound, and can write a million words of inane fiction in a weekend. Controversial take, I know, but it explains why the vast majority of the over ten thousand new releases on Steam every year are niche games that appeal only to minor sects of the dingiest, dankest subcultures. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that—though if you saw half of the entries marked “adult only” in my Discovery Queue, you might think the makers have at least one unaddressed mental issue flitting like a deranged bat through their cobwebby belfries—it’s just how it is.
I wish I’d never livestreamed, at least not to the degree where I’d convinced myself it would be a viable path to fame and fortune. I poisoned my ability to enjoy video games. Even now, more than a year since the last time I “went live”, I still hear a tiny voice of self-inflicted guilt that chides me for wasting my time playing games alone.
I wish I could go back and recapture the pure joy I felt playing Red Dead Redemption (the first one, the better one, every year around my birthday for five consecutive years in a dogged ritual to appreciate the best work that Rockstar has ever done); Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag, absolutely vibing with the protagonists Conor and Edward and the universe that Ubisoft so lovingly crafted; Metal Gear Solid V, both parts played to 100% completion with such fervent ardor that finishing them left giant holes in my heart that have yet to be filled. And not having to share any of that with a live, equal parts sycophantic and antagonistic audience, sweating over a donation or subscription.
I’m getting there, though. Over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to brush aside the overwhelming angst of having a backlog of 4,354 (and rising) video games. This year I’ve challenged myself to focus on a single console game and a single computer game at a time and play them until they’re done. And something astounding is happening: I’m finding myself fully immersed in the play.
There’s much I have to say about the discipline of focusing down to perform a single activity without distraction. I don’t have the science to back up my claims but anecdotally, my life has improved since starting this practice. In addition to video gaming, I now write without anything going on in the background, and code and read in silence. I feel like I get more done, and the quality of my experiences is much richer. I also feel like much of the ongoing ADHD epidemic that social media projects is self-inflicted, rather than true neurological disease. It’s possible to come back from thinking that you have to have three sources of media running at any given time to get anything done. It just takes a little self-discipline, which is something that’s in globally short supply these days.
Have you ever noticed how people who tell you, “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” have completely let themselves go? They’re one Snickers bar away from diabetes and haven’t completed a life goal, like, ever.
Not taking oneself seriously is a loser mentality.
If you enjoy playing Palworld, there’s a good chance you’re mentally retarded.
I never want to be famous for anything other than my writing. I want insecure people to resent me for what I’m actually good at.
If you’re carrying around excess amounts of body fat, at some point you wasted food.
Creatives believe they need unfettered freedom. What they really need is disciplined production, and for a creative it’s difficult to pull this from within.
In simple terms: an independent creative needs someone to kick them in the ass at regular intervals in order to get things done.
I know this because it’s what happened to me when I went indie back in 2010. I understood full well the importance of scheduling, setting and meeting goals, and shipping deliverables no matter the cost by set dates. I’d just graduated from two years’ worth of Vancouver Film School diploma programs and those lessons were consistent across the board. But in a traditional production environment there’s someone on salary whose specific job is to crack the whip over the heads of the creatives. As an independent, there’s only you—and, if you’re lucky enough, a genuinely concerned significant other who likely has their own life to deal with and can’t make or take the time to manage yours.
Looking back, I know I could have self-produced myself with much more discipline than I did. I simply chose not to. I felt like I deserved a break after toiling away at teaching English in Japan for a decade, followed by two years of insanely fast-paced, overpriced, ram-rod education without any kind of a breather. I took it way too easy on myself. And, after five years of slouching toward an ever-receding horizon, I failed.
I only bring this up because a few of my past acquaintances have recently “gone indie”, and due to the horrific magic of social media they put their daily minutiae on display for the world to see. It’s so bad that I marvel at the levels of ignorance it takes to post a long trail of decline to the permanent, public record and not be aware of how badly they’re bricking it.
Unfortunately, I think this is just one of those things that a person has to live through to properly appreciate. All I can say is: if you’re one of those people who has difficulty self-producing and can’t or won’t work with someone who’ll kick your butt, you may want to keep your independent creative endeavors at the hobby level and not quit your day job.
This is the first post on the new architecture for CMON1975.COM. I’ve spent the last week reengineering things from static HTML to dynamic PHP, and most of the foundation work is complete. I’ve converted the book, video game, and show reviews from individual pages into entries in a database, and now I can serve all of my words to you from a single, reusable template rather than a festering pile of immutable code. This will allow for features like search, and the option to switch between light and dark modes, other fonts and layouts, and much more.
I’ve done a bunch of web development over the years. The original DARK ACRE site I hand-coded in HTML in 1998. I dabbled with WordPress, which only reinforced my desire to have both complete control over my content and knowledge of how it was being served, and since 2005 every creative endeavor that I’ve published on the web has had its first home on a scratch-built website.
For years I got by on self-taught knowledge, even through the indie gamedev salad days from 2009 to 2015. It wasn’t until the spring of 2019 that I took my first university-level course in web programming. That was also the only course in all the years of my post-secondary education that I got an F for my efforts. I blame the way the content was delivered: the final exam, like most university finals, consisted of being locked in a room without access to any knowledge bases except what could be retained in the squishy grey matter between my ears, which is unreliable on the best of days. I couldn’t remember shit. But sit me down with access to Google and I could build a world-class web application.
All of this is to say that now, in 2024, with access to ChatGPT 4.0 the only limit to successfully assembling enough code to do what I want is my imagination and patience with the occasional AI hallucination. For seven days I queried GPT on everything from building administrative security to data mass-migration and displaying database contents on web pages. I’ve learned—well, remembered, really—more about MySQL, PHP, HTML, and Excel over the course of that week than I ever did in university. And it all works. I would say that 90% of my queries to GPT produced working, usable, human-readable code.
The remaining 10% was subsequently fixed by further querying. It’s gotten to the point where I can recognize that the LLM isn’t giving me precisely what I want before I try to implement it. Using ChatGPT as a “code monkey”, for lack of a better term—and there really isn’t a better term, trust me—has taken out almost all of the frustration that I used to experience when I relied on web searches and documentation to write my own programs.
I have to wonder: If I’d had ChatGPT back when I was an independent game developer, would I still be chasing that dream today? It certainly would have made life infinitely easier. But then I realize that anyone with twenty US dollars today has that power in the palm of their hand, and I think that I’m better off writing poetry and genre fiction.