The Release Valve

Here is another one of those posts where it may have questionable value. But, the purpose of a blog, at times, is to write and catalog things simply because you can.

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve worked in the digital game industry for almost 7 years. At first, it was as if I’d entered Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, minus the Oompa Loompas (mostly). There was, and still is, something magical about getting paid to create a thing purely for the entertainment of others.

Alas, even game development is a job. It’s a career, with benefits, pay, yearly reviews, 401k concerns, managers, long hours at times, and all the normal trappings of every other job. The other truth that all developers must grasp is that you’re ultimately making someone else’s games with someone else’s money. Even the head of the studio is working for the CEO. The CEO works for the shareholders. So it goes.

The key to maintaining one’s sanity in life is to find a creative outlet, essentially a release valve. This applies not only to game developers or those in a creative industry, but anyone with a pulse. My girlfriend creates with flowers as her canvas. This is her valve. She’ll spend long nights designing bouquets and center-pieces for weddings in addition to her normal job. She does this almost at cost, practically as a favor, yet she does it still.

I design games. They are my valve and a key to my happiness. When I have an idea, good or bad, it’s mine. I get to try it on my terms.

Game design is creating a story and a universe with rules of your own invention. Pigs can fly and corn can sprout eyeballs. Orcs fly starfighters and politicians can be noble. Game design is also the crafting of an experience or a particular feeling you want to evoke: Laughter, tension, cleverness, courage.

The labor of game design is filled with what I refer to as “delightful tedium,” including hours of spreadsheet manipulation (do I need 3 or 4 of these cards?), Photoshop tweaks, cutting hundreds of cards, and repainting wooden tokens you stole from your brother’s copy of Risk. I love this. It’s almost as if I’m counting grains of sand, only here, there’s purpose.

This release valve, which I twist on my morning walks and inside my apartment study, is the equivalent of my grandfather’s wood shop. He would gather, re-organize, toil, cut, build, destroy, and tinker for hours. Often he had a goal, but almost as often he had no pursuit other than the delightful labors of mind and body. He sought the best possible way to waste his time, much as I tinker for hours.

The desire to create fun, to build entertainment, is an absolutely noble goal. Happy people live longer, work harder, love deeper, , and countless other benefits. It is, as far as I can tell (from rigorous scientific study), the best use of my spare time. But fun is not the only worthwhile pursuit. That’s only one human need and desire. There are countless more!

I realize my audience is entirely filled with game designers, players, and people who get what I’m saying. But, in the hopes that someone outside of this niche stops by, I push you to make something. Create a blog. Tinker with water-colors. Make YouTube videos about Corgis who sing absurdly catchy pop-songs. Or, design games. We all need the delightful tedium. We all need to have something that occurs to us in the lunch line and forces us to pull out a notepad to jot it down.

We need that release valve that makes us interesting, industrious, and happy.