I’ve battled depression and anxiety my whole life and it can cause me to be very critical of myself, especially when I’m feeling my worst. At times when I feel like quitting, the mantra “If you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.” comes to mind. However, I love working on indie games, but that doesn’t automatically make me happy and can definitely feel like very hard work.
I’m sure a lot of other devs feel the same way, but the romanticization of work isn’t healthy. It can be misleading and can be harmful to your mental health. I always believed that if I were a game developer working on games then I’d be the happiest person in the world, but in reality, it doesn’t and can’t magically fix everything.
I’ve worked on my game for the past 2 years and it’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong, I take a ton of pride in my work and it can be enjoyable, but when I’m not enjoying it, I find it hard to accept because of how much work is romanticized.
When I was young, I’d draw all the time, and even as an adult, I still do to unwind or get out a creative burst. Yet drawing for work and doing pixel art can be different. The term for what I do is “pixel pushing”, the mundane task of finalizing a piece that feels more like following specific rules than an act of free expression.
The first part of detailing an asset is fun but also overwhelming. You start to create the shape of the asset and the freedom there can be the best part of the project, but once you’ve finalized certain stylistic choices, you’re essentially “pushing pixels” around to find the appropriate spot for them, which becomes mundane and tedious. This task alone can take up the majority of your time while you’re working on it.
This happens all the time in game development, especially in indie game development where devs are responsible for the majority of the tasks. I often find myself stuck having to do essential tasks instead of what I’d rather be working on, which can hinder y productivity. Then I start to wonder whether or not I should even be doing this.
After a bit of soul-searching, I always find the short answer is “yes”, I do want to keep doing this. How we decide to deal with challenges defines who we are. Pushing through when times are hard while also accepting when you need a break is how I’ve made it this far and how many other indie devs have been able to succeed.
My game Blood of Yamin is a passion project. There have been moments of frustration, hesitation, depression, and exhilaration. It’s something I am incredibly proud of and it’s been a lot of work. In the meantime, I’ll keep pushing and keep working to bring joy to an industry that brought me so much joy and am so passionate about, but I’ll also be sure to focus on my mental health.
Johnathon “Skubasteve” Brown is a pixel artist based out of Las Vegas and the owner of Quintillion Games. His current project is Blood of Yamin; a passion project and love letter to Metroidvanias with a bit of an RPG twist.
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