Fear of Making Games

by Darius Kazemi on February 5, 2009

in design,gamejam,introspection

In a comment to my post about the Global Game Jam, Ian Schreiber chided me (good-naturedly) asking why I didn’t make a game for the Jam. My response to him was,

Ian, it’s become very hard for me to dedicate a whole weekend to ANYTHING.

But actually, that’s bullshit. I could have dedicated that weekend to the Jam. But one of the side effects of hanging out with wonderful game developers is that my view of my own game development talent is very poor. I’m just not a good designer. Yeah, I can talk about design at length, and even inspire people to make cool games. I can even make really good suggestions to modify my friends’ existing game designs.

But designing a game from scratch? Let alone actually building it? I just feel like I can’t do that anymore.

Which is, of course, also bullshit. Of course I can design a game. But I tend to be really harsh on myself. ┬áIt would result in me saying, “This game sucks and I hate it.” I have, in fact, attempted to design games in the last year, and I usually get to a point where I just give up. It’ll never evoke what I want it to evoke in the player.

When I think about it, what prevents me from designing games is fear. I hate creating something bad. Normally I wouldn’t even release it to the public, but the idea of having something I’d created released to the public, no matter how bad it ends up being, is pretty terrifying to me. And that is, really, complete and utter — say it with me kids! — bullshit.

All I have to do is practice. And game jams are a great way to practice game design. So I was really doing myself a disservice by not participating in the Global Game Jam, and furthering this cycle of not making games.


David Sahlin February 5, 2009 at 9:32 pm

I’m still kicking myself for not taking the time off of work to participate in the Game Jam. I realized, the day before the Jam started, that I could have taken -paid- vacation days for them.


David McGraw February 6, 2009 at 1:32 am

As long as you’re having fun doing what you like to do and you are building something you would play, everything else is, say it with me – bullshit.

Greg February 7, 2009 at 3:52 am


Ira Glass understands and concurs.

Getting past the point where you have great taste, but can’t perform up to your expectation is hard. Practice is the only answer.

Ian Schreiber February 7, 2009 at 4:54 am

While we did not flat-out require it, we did encourage the organizers to strongly suggest that participants work in teams. All in the spirit of collaboration.

Would it make you feel more relaxed if you were working in a team instead of solo? What if you took on a non-designer role?

Maybe you’d feel even more pressured as a programmer. My experience is that if you’re at a site with a shortage of programmers and an artist/designer surplus, people will tend to be extremely forgiving of any faults you may have if you can just throw a few lines of Python together :). That was my experience as the lone programmer on a team of 4 in the XO Jam.

If you want to go the producer role, I’d imagine things would get REALLY interesting. Know any flavors of Agile that you were always dying to try, but would never risk on an actual project? Try it out in a Jam, assuming a project schedule of 1 hour Jam ~= 1 month AAA. Scrum, with hour-long sprints? No idea if it’d work, but it’d be interesting to try. You could probably even manage several teams at once, letting you set up quasi-scientific Methodology experiments with control groups. You learn some things, without risk of having your name attached to a poor design.

Just some thoughts as you clear your calendar for GGJ 2010 ;)

Adam February 8, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Get an iPhone. Stop whining, start creating. Then click the “ship it” button and forget it – you’ve done your service, conquered the fear, rejoined the massed ranks of “real” developers who *actually make games*.

(or, if it helps: just remember, *everything* on iPhone is sh** :))

Darius Kazemi February 8, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Adam, I say this with the greatest of admiration: fuck you too :)

I’d actually love to do some iPhone dev but I can’t afford one. So there.

Adam February 8, 2009 at 7:33 pm

(also … I was *going to* participate, but it was at a time of year that by the time xmas and new year’s eve were over, I’d forgotten about it.

I was too busy making an actual game in the free time I had.

Oops. :(

adam February 8, 2009 at 7:36 pm


I have total faith in you to make a great game.

Especially if constrained by a hunk of crap like the iPhone.

Especially especially if working on something that is pure style and no substance like the iPhone (That is not a comment on your lack of skills, it’s a comment on your strengths of marketing and reaching people).

Don’t you Americans get them free yet? I paid for mine (so I wouldn’t have to pay for a contract – I get free (literally – zero cost) unlimited data in the UK) but most people are just taking them as a free or $120 upgrade here.

Steve Chiavelli February 8, 2009 at 11:52 pm

One thing I tend to do when trying to brainstorm a game design is get obsessed with making something unique. This ends up being a huge personal block for me. I imagine that others run into similar problems.

To get around that block I just have to say screw it and make something I like. Unique features will work their way in naturally once the basic framework for what I want to make is in place.

Not strictly Game Jam-related, but somewhat relevant :)

Michael Melice February 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

Darius as you said in your post “you” can make a game. Even if you hate your own game you should still create games and force yourself to love them. Or you could just tweak them until you actually do love them… at which point you could sell them. If you take a look at independent games on iphone and xbox 360 it will probably cheer you up I mean most of them are terrible. Honestly a group of 6 individuals at the game jam I attended made a game with XNA that was better then 85% of the games in the xna community catalog. But then again I kind of like what David McGraw said…

Darren Torpey February 17, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I wondered if you were feeling some anxiety of this nature with the event, because I know I was.

Even as close as a few days before the event I was having some brief, private doubts about whether I could really succeed.

Ironically, it was Kyle Gabler’s keynote that got me nervous again. He talked about making an “art game”, putting real meaning into the game, etc. and I started to wonder if I could really pull that off.

And we probably didn’t quite succeed in creating a game that conveyed its meaning clearly. But we tried, and it was a really good effort and a great learning experience. Ultimately, I’m very glad that we took Kyle’s advice to heart and pushed ourselves to get the most out of our 48 hour experiment.

It might even be fun to play some day. For three minutes. =)

edubois February 20, 2009 at 4:28 am

Actually I seem to suffer the same problem, which is really bad when I’m working on a project for school. Though at this point I’ve realized that even if what I’m working on doesn’t work 100% right, as an MQP it’s really the process and the report that I’m being graded on.

In terms of outside of that, I think it’d have to boil down to having fun and not letting your expectations get in the way.

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