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Archive for May 9th, 2012

All this New Blogger Initiative stuff has reminded me of one of the common pithy bits of supposed “wisdom” that I’ve heard since junior high, when “inspirational” speakers try to tell us good little empty-headed starry-eyed students what to do with our lives and careers.  Perhaps you’ve heard this one before?

Find a job doing what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

It’s my experience that this is not only shallow and semantic, but the philosophy is actively bad for long term health.

There are a few aspects to this:

  • Turning a love or hobby into a job is effectively ceding control of that interest to those who write the checks.  Whether you’re working for The Man as a cog in a machine, or The Herd as an entrepreneurial wizard, you’re still tying your love to money.  That always changes things.  And, as the EASpouse storm made more aware, and this story of Free Radical underlines (hattip to Anjin), passion is easily exploited by unsavory management, canny to optimize assets and maximize revenue.
  • Jobs and work are usually crucial to staying alive; paying the bills, food and shelter, that sort of thing.  Money is almost always a necessity for mere survival, and work is usually how you get it.  That’s healthy, as I reckon it, because I think work itself is a good principle, but the last thing you should want to do with an interest you love is make it something you must do, rather than something you want to do.  It then crosses the threshold into an imposition on your time and energy, rather than something you approach at your leisure.  It controls you, rather than you controlling it.
  • One of the best ways to lose interest in something is to see how other people screw it up.  Hobbyists and wage slaves both have to deal with people at some level, but again, when money is involved, you’re letting someone else have inordinate say in your interest.  No longer are they just a passive voice that can be debated or ignored.  No, customers and corporate controllers cannot be ignored, and when you don’t agree, sticking to your guns can have a real monetary impact.  Maybe that’s a tradeoff worth making sometimes, but it inevitably changes the tenor of how you approach your work.

I’d argue that this applies to your motivation to blogging as well.  To be sure, you can start a blog with the intention of making it a revenue stream, but then it’s a job.  That’s OK, but it’s different from just blogging for the sheer love of communication and shared ideas.

I don’t do what I do here for money.  I work a day job doing something else (I’m an artist at Wahoo/NinjaBee studios), and write here as occasion permits.  Sure, I’ll do some side projects that will occasionally net me a little spending money, like some of my Shapeways or Zazzle/CafePress merchandise, and I’d certainly be pleased to make some money with some of my game designs someday, but that’s just icing on the cake.  I designed Alpha Hex for a contest, and have been refining it in fits and spurts ever since.  I designed Zomblobs! because I wanted to play it and maybe even see others play it.  I’m writing a series of novels because I want the story told.  In other words, I follow a maxim something like this:

Find a job you’d be happy doing, so you can pay for the things you really want to be doing.

Initially, I wanted to work in movies.  I grew up on Disney animation (and I’m introducing my children to DuckTales), lots of drawing and tons and tons of reading.  Animation is what my BFA degree was geared for, and I did very well in the program.  Maybe I will yet work in film someday, but I know what goes on in that particular sausage factory, and I’m OK with not being a part of it, though I’ll toy with the idea of making my own movies sometimes.  I also wanted to get a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, simply for the sheer love I have for the science, but I took a hard look at the politically charged career paths there and decided I’d maintain the love as an indie and try to pass it on to my children, rather than get burned out by the pragmatic concerns of a career in the sciences, rather than just working on science because it interests me.

I think this is partially what drives indie game developers, at least at some level.  Making games for the sheer love of making games has a tendency to produce some great stuff.  I’d hold up Minecraft as an obvious example, but there are plenty of others.  The Rampant Coyote is my touchpoint for getting a bead on good indie games, though the Humble Bundle and Indie Royale are good to check now and then.

That’s not to say that projects like Psychochild’s Storybricks are somehow lessened by monetary concerns, or devoid of passion.  No, it just means that Storybricks, for all its indie pedigree and passion, is still being worked on as a commercial product.  Psychochild and his intrepid coworkers are working at making the tech interesting and useful, not noodling around in a garage somewhere for the sheer joy of tinkering.  I stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact, it’s the wellspring of human progress, the backbone of capitalism.  Working on something with the aim of making money with it can be an honorable pursuit.  This whole Kickstarter thing even taps into the market in new ways, letting customers echo their support of passionate developers instead of waiting for the AAA venture capital machine to churn out homogenized focus-group approved games.  (And yes, I’ve pledged support for Storybricks; it really looks like a sweet project.)  There’s plenty of love out there on commercial projects, and I suspect that the vast majority of them start as labors of love.

It’s just not the same thing as working on something because you love the work, the thing or both.  Money changes the priorities somewhere along the line, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes gross, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better.  (Money changes how we handle things as consumers, too.  It’s not just a producer thing.)

I’ve told my wife on occasion that even if I were independently wealthy, living off of a mine of oil or something in my back yard, I’d still be working hard, just on different things.  I’d push the design of Zomblobs! even more, and develop its sister game that I’ve had rattling around in my mind.  I’d make a steampunk fabrication lab behind the house.  (Probably not by the oil well, though.)  I’d write and illustrate more books.  As it is, I’m doing those things when I can, in small ways, but if I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d simply have more time for the things I love to do.  I’d still love to work and produce things I consider valuable, it would just have a different tenor to the process.  If money could be made with the fruits of my labor, hey, that’s a bonus, but it wouldn’t be the reason for working.  I’d be working because I value what I’d be doing and what I’d be producing.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but I’ll tell you this:  when I am compelled by circumstance to do something, it is a task that I may well grow to resent, no matter how much I might like it initially.  When I choose to do something, to act on my own rather than be acted upon, my love for the task is not ground away as I go, but rather, it grows.

Those times when I don’t feel like posting on this blog, I don’t.  It starts to feel like an obligation sometimes, whether I’m feeling pressure to post something so I can keep people coming (I do want to share my game designs, after all), or when I feel like I want to comment on some topic of the month but can’t work up the right words, or some other circumstance where I’m not writing but I feel like I should be… those are times when blogging feels like a job, not something I do because it’s fun.  It’s much harder to write at that point.  I’m not of a mind that you have to push through it and post anyway.  If you do that, you’re treating it like it’s a job, and again, it inevitably colors your attitude.  Sure, there still might be something good in those posts, but they have a different feel to them, and in my experience, they aren’t as strong or as interesting.

There’s definitely something to be said for liking your job.  I like mine, and I’m happy with what I produce.  Working at a job you don’t like gets old fast.  That aside, I’m firmly of the mind that hobbies and labors of love need to be spontaneous and self-directed, or else they change into something else.  That something else might be good as well, but it’s different.  There is great value in doing something simply for the sake of doing it.  Like a schoolchild needs recess and time to just be free, adults need time to be away from imposition and obligation.

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