Burnout and the Future

So… this is what burnout feels like.

I’m almost now ready to submit the manuscript for my first academic monograph. It will have taken two months longer than anticipated, which was a great disappointment to me – it’s the only piece of academic work I’ve ever had to ask for an extension on. There were many factors at play there, some within my control, and some outside of my control, but the bottom line was that had I taken on less than I wound up taking on (and had the circumstances I was working within been different), I would have been able to get it submitted on time. Although I’m very happy with the final product, and I’m confident the work will be a valuable contribution to the study of unpredictability in games (of all its forms), I find myself reflecting specifically on the process by which the final parts of it – the crunch, if you will – were written. From around the start of March until the start of June, I can truthfully say I did effectively nothing with my spare moments except writing the book. All day on both days of every weekend was book writing; every evening was book-writing; every train journey and flight and coach trip was book writing. During this period I spent effectively no time with friends, no time exercising, and no time whatsoever doing any programming, much to my chagrin.

During this period, I began to experience for the first time what I believe is called “burnout” – my appetite dropped, I developed some anxiety (a deeply new experience for me), I developed some depression (similarly), and it felt at times as if there wasn’t really any point to what I was doing; that was I just speaking into the void because nobody else would read it; that I was letting everyone down by not working on URR (which I still feel quite acutely); and other feelings I’m not going to share here. Although certainly not the darkest time in my life, it has been, in many ways, a deeply unpleasant three months. Travelling a lot in this period helped me, and finding some times to engage with nature – whether meeting wild bison and wolves in the frozen tundra of Northern Canada or meeting wild tropical birds and lizards in the equatorial jungles of Hong Kong and Singapore – helped my mood a lot, but it only stemmed the bleeding, without addressing the underlying issues.

Academia, especially early-career academic before one secures a tenured faculty position, is notoriously stressful and time-consuming. One is always in competition with vast numbers of recent PhD graduates for a ludicrously small number of postdoctoral or junior faculty positions; one is constantly bombarded with requests and obligations and things that need to be done; one is strongly encouraged to submit only to top-tier journals, and yet doing so leaves one waiting for potentially years until publication, damaging one’s employability in the short term. The other crucial element of academia is that there is always more one can do. As academics, we don’t really have working hours, as such – just contracts that say we must “fulfil the expectations of the job”, or some equivalent language, using however many hours across however many days per week that takes. Many contracts even explicitly state we are expected to use evenings, weekends and holidays to meet those requirements where necessary – and that, assuming one wants to spend one’s academic career actually doing research, will always be true.

Up until now, I’ve always been able to field this and maintain the other things I want in my life, but in these last three months, I am not exaggerating when I say every spare moment has gone into the book. For the three months before that extreme compression of my time, almost every spare moment went into the book, and looking back, I can see my free time shrinking into a smaller and smaller gap with every passing day. Something inherently enjoyable – and I do enjoy academic work tremendously – quickly ceases to be enjoyable when it is something one must do, and when it is the only thing one is spending one’s time doing. Because of this the book became something of a chore, which itself made it harder to write, and which itself made it more of a chore, and made more painful my inability to spend my time on other things, and so forth. As a result of the stress leading up to and during the book-writing, I screwed up. I made two serious errors of judgement – one being a different but major piece of academic work I submitted, and another being a piece of work I submitted elsewhere. In both cases I made poor judgements about what I wrote, and over-estimated my knowledge of those domains, and was – quite appropriately – brought down a rung by those who do know those domains. They were both humbling experiences, which really brought home how much my judgement had been impaired by the stress of finishing the book.

But now, the book is basically finished, and I’m on my final visiting position of the year, having also just been offered an amazing new two-year postdoc opportunity in Canada where I will be able to drive my own research and make my own hours. However, as I sit here for now in a cafe in Nevada, trying to take stock of things, I realise that there are four things I must make time for, and a fifth change I need to make overall, from now, moving forward, no matter what, in order both to be the kind of academic I want to be, and to have the life I want beyond the academy.

Firstly, I need to make time again for programming, starting now. It’s something I enjoy tremendously, it’s creative work which forms a crucial balance to the intellectual work I make my income from, it’s something a lot of people are following and counting on me for, it’s something absolutely tethered to my online presence, and it’s something I simply deeply want to start doing again, and which gives me valuable balance in my life. It makes me deeply sad that I wasn’t able to get 0.8 out before I went into this period of total time compression and book-only-focus, and I want to put this right and get 0.8 released as fast as possible, and certainly before my new position starts later this year. Once 0.8 is out URR will be more than half-done, and psychologically, that’s an important marker I need to hit. Therefore, starting next weekend, I intend to devote a day per week to programming, no matter what else might be looming over me or might be requiring my attention. Either Saturday or Sunday each week, but probably I think Sunday, my intention is to always spend that day – as a minimum – programming. Despite the long hiatus, URR is not cancelled, but has certainly been on hiatus, and it’s finally time for that hiatus to properly, and truly, end.

Secondly, I need to make time again for fitness and exercise. I haven’t exercised once in the last three months, with the exception of hiking up and down Victoria Peak in Hong Kong and a couple of hikes in Alberta and Nevada. Normally I would exercise for at least an hour at least four or so days a week, but the book has simply dominated my time and my thought to such a degree that I’ve let this slip completely, down to zero. I can tell and feel that I’m less fit now, I’m less strong now, and less healthy now, and I don’t like it. It’s an unsettling and disturbing change from the state of being I’ve become used to, and I want to get back to my previous level of fitness as soon as possible. I’ve now managed to get this back to exercising twice a week, and hopefully I can push that back towards four as I decompress in the coming months. As I’m moving to Alberta, I’m keen to do lots of hiking there, too, and I have some interesting future travel plans which should also help with that.

Thirdly, I need to make time for a personal life. The fact that I am likely moving to a new country/city in a few months feels like a good time to make this kind of resolution – both to renew existing acquaintances in the UK and elsewhere, especially important now that I’m no longer in physical proximity to my friends in the UK, but also to go out there and find new friends and new colleagues. I’ve always been someone with a small group of close friends instead of a far wider social circle, but this, also, has shrunk to nothing in recent months, and my personal relationships have definitely suffered for it. I’m making amends to those I have unintentionally hurt, which I believe to be an important first step, and from this point onward I’m going to make a lot more time with friends and family in the coming months. It seems that the importance of this to one’s mental health only appears after it is lost, and that’s a lesson I don’t want to have to repeat again in the future.

Fourthly, I need to make time to actually play games. I got into game design and game scholarship and game writing and competitive game play because I love games; because I’ve played hundreds, probably thousands, and certainly own thousands; and I’ve been playing them since I was as young as I can remember. But I no longer find myself with the time to actually play any; in the last year I’ve played only two games for pleasure, which were Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3. Both were incredible experiences, but that’s only a fraction of the time I would normally spend playing games. Even in other periods of stress – such as when I was simultaneously finishing my PhD and dealing with a life-threatening illness – I still found far more time to play. It’s fun (most crucially), but it’s also important for my ability to be a good game designer and good games scholar. As such, my goal is now to at least double the number of major games I play each year for starters, and hopefully increase this number as time goes by. Right now, The Witness, Demon’s SoulsShadow of the Colossus, The BridgeAntichamber, and perhaps even returning to playing roguelikes all look very appealing, and that’s where I plan to start.

Fifthly, and lastly, I need to focus. Forgive the cliched phrase, but I now realise I need to work smarter, instead of working harder. I’ve been trying to be a game scholar, and a competitive game-player, and a game designer, and a game writer, and all the other things in my life outside games. This is just too much. As a result, I’ve decided to permanently “retire” any competitive gaming from my life. I want to really focus on scholarship/writing/coding, and in turn, to present myself specifically at the intersection of those three things. My background in poker remains a major informing element on my academic career – especially as I move toward studying gambling more seriously as a topic of study – but I think I’m spreading myself too thinly, both in terms of my effort, and in terms of how I appear. I want to focus in on my strengths, instead of trying to be everything, and do everything, when it comes to games.I think this will, without a doubt, be for the best, and strengthen my ability to work in my core domains without “distracting” myself with others.

As for the wider future, academia certainly remains my career path of choice. I take tremendous satisfaction from the unfolding of intellectual ideas on paper; I love travelling around the world to do research, to attend and present at conferences, to meet colleagues, and to experience new parts of this earth; I enjoy the freedom of working hours that academia (generally) gives one, even if that same freedom means working a lot of those hours, and the ability to largely work where and when I want. But these last three or four months have shown me what can happen when I take on too much – I make mistakes, and my ability to do anything else with my time beyond academia gets reduced down to a minimum, and then disappears altogether. This is not a “New Year’s” resolution, but this is certainly a mid-year resolution: I need to adjust my life back toward the kind of life I want to have, and I am confident this will have benefits both within and beyond my academic work. So with this written, and with this posted, I’m going to head to the gym in this hotel and work out for an hour, then head back to my hotel room and play something, anything, on Steam, then do some programming in the evening. The change starts now.

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38 thoughts on “Burnout and the Future

  1. Have you heard of the advice “Fail fast”? Come up with an interesting idea, write some code to replicate it, and if it works, that’s great, and if it doesn’t work, no sweat, you didn’t waste too much time. I think that’s the best way to reduce burnout…reduce the time commitment necessary to complete each individual project. It’s certainly much better than “failing slow” — “death march” projects that drag on forever and ever, where the actual accomplishment of the project is considered a huge success (regardless of its actual quality of the project).

    I understand that type of advice might be difficult to take for URR, which is a huge undertaking and not some experimental one-off thing. But I think a lot of people are interested in URR as an an experimental platform to test out your ideas about procedurally-generated cultural mechanics, with the “game” aspect of it being somewhat of a secondary concern at the moment. And URR has pivoted before, away from its original conception as a strategy game. Perhaps another pivot might be worthwhile to explore.

    I do want to talk a little bit about this though:

    “that was I just speaking into the void because nobody else would read it;”

    Speaking to the void isn’t a horrible fate. It allows you to formalize your ideas into something concrete, and enable you to engage in meaningful self-reflection. And while it is true that few actual humans would read the words on a random blog post, it does happen. The solution is to write very short blog posts, churn them out very quickly, and to “fail fast”, so that when you do speak, you’re speaking very quickly and then running away to do something else. Admittingly, that’s much easier in theory than in practice.

    • I have heard of this model – and wow, what you just said about the “death march” projects really hit home. I do *not* want that to happen under any circumstances, and I’ll definitely take your thoughts on board. And speaking into the void: hmm, in principle I see your point, and when this blog was young I think that that is what I was doing, but these days the readership numbers are sufficiently high that any kind of speaking-into-the-void – in a objective, numerical sense – isn’t really possible. But I am *really* going to try more, shorter blog entries, instead of doing a smaller number of longer and deeper ones. My intention from next weekend onward is to basically run a series of short blog posts, along the lines of “Finishing 0.8, Part X” where I just recount what I’ve done each week, even if it’s tiny and small. Next week’s update will probably be “so, I opened up the URR code and figured out what the heck I was doing again!”. But that’ll still be something.

  2. So sorry to hear you’re feeling burnt out man! I think you are doing just the right thing though, having some fun again and getting back into rhythms that fits.

    I can really relate to the crunching periods, it works and is a resource having that drive most of the time. But misjudging time and effort can be quite detrimental to general health in retrospect. That’s why its so important to take care of the body and mind and do things that simply makes us feel good!

    Glad to hear URR is back on the menu, but as I hope you understand I (we?) would wait a decade for that piece of art 🙂

    Thanks for a very honest and open post and take care friend!

    • Thanks Uggo, I really appreciate the message. Haha, and I appreciate the willingness to wait, but 0.8 is just *so* overdue at this point that it needs to be done, and released, ASAP. And thanks :). I will, and you too.

  3. Sounds like you’ve been under a lot of stress (to put it mildly). I know how hard that can be, and you know it’s bad when it starts affecting your health. But allow me to say: *Congratulations!* You finished your book (on an interesting and timely topic), and soon you’ll be living in beautiful Canada. Hopefully you’ve made it through the worst, and things improve for you fast. But you sound like you’ve got your problems well in hand. I do admit that I was a little worried at the long silence, so I’m glad to hear you’re ok.

    And good luck getting on Steam…the summer sale has been brutal on the servers, and even more brutal on the wallet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHZWsPNTMNI

    • Thanks crowbar! Yeah, things are definitely looking up, and I’m really excited about getting the final bits of the book finished and moving to Canada and being able to totally focus on my own work, effectively make my own hours, this kind of thing. I am 100% confident I’m through the worst, and I do have things in hand; and I appreciate the worry about the silence. I hated not being able to post anything, but it was the most I could do for the last month to keep things ticking over, and to start moving myself towards a slightly more healthy work-life balance. And oh wow, so many games! I’m thinking of posting reviews of what I wind up playing alongside the game dev entries; might be a nice and fairly easy way to get the blog back to a weekly thing…

  4. Mark, I’ve been following your blog for about a year now. I enjoy your game and, in many ways, your writings even more. I look forward to each post. I can certainly understand your sense of exhaustion and the feeling of burnout. I published a book back in 1999. It took six months of my life and every bit of energy and spare time that I had to give. At the end, I ended up taking a break for a while but came back energized and ready to pursue other projects. I have every bit of confidence that you will, too.

    Keep both your chin and the great work up!

    • Hi Wyn – many thanks for posting, and I really appreciate the kind words about the game and my writing! I can’t wait to get back to weekly blog posts; they used to be such a good way for me to air ideas, keep in touch with the community, keep new concepts flowing through my brain, and it’s that kind of purpose I really want them to fulfil. And I appreciate the info about your book – congratulations (18 years belated!) getting that done, and I now completely understood how much time and energy it takes up. I’m definitely past the worst of it, and it’s now just final editing and filling out the bibliography (urgh) that needs to be done. Almost there :).

  5. Hey! Great article! Let me know where you are moving in Alberta and I might be able to help prime the pump with getting that social life back on track.

    • Thanks Pat! And all being well I’m moving up to Edmonton, probably in late October? I’m going to be at TwitchCon in Long Beach doing lots of interviews with streamer, so I think logically I want to move either immediately before, or immediately after, that. Not sure which makes more sense yet, though, but probably late October :).

  6. i always enjoy your posts, and i’m excited to hear that The Witness is on your to-play list. it is a wonderful game.

  7. I am reminded of a social experiment conducted in Eastern Europe where babies were given no socialization by humans besides the required feeding and care. Every single one of those babies died.

    Sounds like you’re not ready for the hermit life.

  8. I’m ashamed of it, but the first thing I felt when I read the headline was relief. To me, you’re the epitome of these people who achieve at a rate that doesn’t even seem physically possible. So good to know you’re human! (Even though it still feels likes you are 5x more productive than the average PhD student; while also writing an very ambitious game on the side and beating records in demanding games).

    Given the above, I have no productivity advice to give you. But I do have credentials as someone who has struggled with low motivation on an ongoing basis and dealt with it healthily. (Note: I wouldn’t call what you’re going through “burnout”, which is basically full-on depression. I have no useful alternative name to offer however.)

    I’m a bit afraid when I see you conclude that you need to make time for a bunch of things. Sure, but have you considered you might not be able to do everything that you want? I like the follow excerpt very much (source: http://davidcancel.com/a-startup-founders-priorities):

    > Achieving perfect work/life balance is impossible — for starters, there simply are not enough hours in the day for us to exercise, walk the dog, have meaningful interactions with our kids, read a book, learn something new, eat good food, help others, meditate, nurture our relationship with our spouse, be sexy, drink a good wine, watch a great TV show — oh, and do our full-time work. You won’t ever be in perfect balance and you’re going to drive yourself, and the people around you, nuts if you’re always trying to get there.

    Removing competitive gaming from the equation is probably a good move — but this is likely to remain an ongoing problem, one that requires a systemic solution. I’m deeply convinced that the first step is to be kind to yourself. You just completed a book: that’s a tremendous achievement. And while maybe you didn’t felt that good while finishing it, well at least your learned something, and now you’re already taking in the lesson of that. Actually, that’s not even kind, it’s just plain true. But even if you end up messing horribly (as I have a few times with failed projects), you just accept it and move on.

    I’ve heard a few smart people* said that it’s better to find balance over your years than over your weeks. Of course you shouldn’t sacrifice your health or social life, but maybe for other endeavours? I have my own big project on the side (if you think URR is stalled, I wonder what you would think about that one), and I find the pill very hard to swallow, so I don’t know.

    (*) e.g. http://www.raptitude.com/2013/12/find-balance-over-your-years-not-your-days/

    Like Igor up above, I find that doing small projects helps me keeping motivated. Having a huge thing fail feels terrible. This has to do with momentum I think. Momentum is a hell of a drug. Maybe the book was just dragging for too long and you lost momentum?

    • Wow, thanks so much for this amazing comment. Firstly: hahaha! Don’t be ashamed, I’m just amused :). I’m way more productive now than I was as a PhD student, I think, not withstanding the last few months, of course. I do think I can get back to the kind of healthy high-productivity I had this time last year, however; it’s just this unhealthy high-productivity that needs to be avoided. (Which had, in fact, given way to unhealthy decreasing-productivity…)

      I agree a perfect balance is impossible, but there are things I am willing to ditch from my life per se, and things I am not willing to ditch. The things listed in this entry are things I am *not* willing to ditch, but I have no issue with other things; back when I was a “healthy workaholic” with work/life balance instead of an “unhealthy workaholic” with none, I had no problem there. There’s always enough in life to occupy ten, a hundred lifetimes, and one does have to prioritise; but in these last few months my prioritisations were just too few, and too narrow.

      You’re totally right – I have learned a lot about writing books on the back of this. The next academic book I write, for example, is going to be co-authored, which will take off some of the pressure. Years and days: *yes*. I totally agree. From my time playing poker I’ve always understood that life is always a question of the long-run, of the long-term, of not agonising too much over one particularly good or bad day; and although I knew that, I’d forgotten it, in a sense. However, lastly, I don’t think it was a question of the book dragging on too long – it was definitely the crunch that it got “pushed” into at the end that caused the problem. Spacing it out more is another thing I will have to do in the future!

  9. Hey Mark!

    Reading this post reminded me of being back in that frame of mind back in university myself. Let me tell you, as someone that failed to notice what you noticed about yourself, that catching it this early and making leaps and bounds to combat it is exactly what you need. I missed the signs and it fucked me up, so seeing that you were able to notice them and act upon them is great. Congrats on that.

    I read in another comment and your reply about the plan to write shorter, more frequent blog posts, and think it’d be a great idea. A good way to churn out little information packets on weeks like that might be as simple as annotating a commit log of that week, giving us patch notes as such. I, personally, adore patch notes in games. Not a clue why, I just love reading about the progress and leaps a team/person makes on a project. They really make the project seem alive and also gives you insight into how the team/person is.

    They might be as simple as “- Added eighty new name parts to the name generator” and you then following on with “didn’t think there were enough Welsh inspired names, so I took a few of the old ones, and deleted the vowels” or some such. You don’t need to go above and beyond on each post, we all appreciate you and what you’re doing, so as long as you’re having fun and feeling fulfilled, we’ll be happy with the posts you make and the updates you perform on the game.

    Food for thought. Hope you the best in the coming parts of your life, my man.

    • P.S. I realise that noticing you’re already burning out isn’t exactly early, but it’s a damn sight earlier than I noticed.

    • Hey Conor! Many thanks for this really kind and appreciated message (and the follow-up) – I’m sorry you had a similar (but it sounds worse?) experience, and this is one of the reasons I’m glad I noticed when I did. I mean, of course I wish I’d noticed even earlier (don’t be all…) but now is better than never. And yeah, I think a short weekly update is definitely the way to go, even if it’s tiny, then intersperse those with the odd longer essay. I have two really long blog posts all-but-finished, but I want a few weeks of coding updates before the big ones go live. Many thank for the kind wishes – they really mean a lot, and I’m confident I’ll get back to normality in the coming weeks and months :).

      (And I also agree, I really enjoy patch notes too!)

  10. Not sure if I’m being friendly or an asshole, but I doubt anybody seriously expects you to finish URR as conceived. It’s a rather ridiculously ambitious project, especially for one person, so putting it on backburner/hiatus is pretty much a given.
    Take care.

  11. Hey! Glad to hear from you again, since I admit I had begun to worry we’d never see .8. I actually do have faith, though, that if you keep going we will eventually get something really spectacular. In particular, I bet that, once there’s a version with any gameplay at all, you’ll be surprised at how people start spreading it. I have a ton of people who I know would love it, and as soon as there’s something to download, I suspect they will all become devotees.

    • Hey – I really appreciate this message :), and I really think we will too. I’m so excited to see where 0.8 goes (and, indeed, today is my first day back to coding!). And I don’t blame you for worrying; there was never a shred of doubt in my mind, but the internet is full of people who say “oh, yeah, I’ll finish X” and then never do, and it’s hard to convey the truth of matter when you *actually will*, but that fact can only be transmitted by words :/.

  12. I’ve been following you with interest and admiration for a few years now, though with a few exceptions I’ve mostly abstained from commenting. Since no one else appears to have raised this point, and I don’t think they will, I just want to be the one voice that honestly believes it’s a terrible waste of your time, determination, and intellect to spend so much time and energy on academia. From an idealistic perspective it’s great — but today, in practice, it’s really the one place you want to be if you wish to spend your time speaking into the void, and have all your efforts amount to well-cited nothings. To say nothing of the ever-expanding swamp of administrivia. You’ll be over this particular episode of burnout, but the academy will continue to frustrate you for the foreseeable future.

    Obviously I don’t expect you to agree with me (I’ve been following you long enough to have a good idea of how hard you’ve worked for your PhD, and all the academic work since then), and believe me when I say I only write this comment out of the greatest respect for you. Heck, this comment is intended to be more atemporal than it looks. As you say, life’s all about the long-run. I’ve been following this project since… what, 5 years ago? If I’m not dead by then, I’ll be around in the next 10 — and I’ll see you then!

    I SHOULD SAY, of course, that if you are more pragmatically inclined — if you view the tenured position as a means and mandate for you to do whatever you want with your time, with full control and no obligatory social climbing and administrative obligations; as an avenue for living the life of the independent tinkerers of (say) the 19th century, then by all means, pursue that goal with infinite zeal. And I wish you all the best.

    • Firstly: please don’t worry, I’m not in the *least* offended. I’m actually really glad you’ve raised this point, and when I read your message, I genuinely paused and thought hard about what you were saying. I deeply appreciate that you posted it, and your appreciation of me/my work means a lot to me. However, having thought it over, I don’t think I necessarily agree the academic picture is quite that bleak.

      Firstly, I’m not convinced academia will continue to frustrate me. If one counts the start of one’s PhD as being “in academia”, then I’ve been in for five years, and I can honestly say the last six months have been the only truly frustrating period, and some of that was of my own making. I don’t feel it’s a long-term pattern, and I honestly think the next two years are looking extremely bright. Secondly, speaking into the void: that feeling has very much gone away since I’ve started to repair things in just the past few weeks. I know thousands of people have read my academic work already, and when I think *rationally*, that feeling disappears. Equally, I think the work I do to try to connect my academia work to my more “public” or “popular” profile also helps a lot here. Thirdly, the tenured position… I wouldn’t say I see it entirely like that, as in that isn’t my single and sole goal or reason for being in academia, but that’s certainly a part of my interest. In the last five years I have gradually gained more and more research freedom for myself, and that looks set to only continue up at UofA. Additionally, the pros – the travel, the ability to basically “think for a living”, the enjoyment of teaching, the enjoyment of research – are, honestly, huge for me. I really do love all those things (and the life of the independent thinker certainly does appeal to me a little further down the line). The downsides exist, but they don’t bother me unduly, when things are going as they normally do.

      Now, naturally, academia has a decent amount of administrative overhead, which I hate. Equally, getting a tenure-track job is challenging in the present climate, and I understand that. And like I say, I genuinely thought hard about your message, and I’m *really* glad you posted it :). But academia is still, overall, something I really love. And besides… I’m not sure what other job(s) I’d be comfortable taking up. Indie developer remains an option and trying to subsist via Patreon etc, but I’d have to really shake up my entire existence to make that happen. It remains an option, but right now, the next two years in academia are looking really exciting, and really bright; I want to check those out first before I make any decisions :).

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  15. Well, after following this blog for a few years now, I feel that this is a mandatory moment in your life as you’ve been juggling between a lot of things lately. The burnout is real, I know it is even if I didn’t have this feeling myself (yet?). I don’t know why but I’m touched by this post, I wish you the best man. I hope you’ll get better.

    • I agree; this is a really good moment, and it honestly feels really, really great. And aw, I’m so glad – I’ve been very touched by all the support I got from everyone too. Sometimes folks can be surprisingly wonderful on the internet.

  16. Wonderful as it is, URR is _your_ project, and you owe “us” (people interested) absolutely nothing.

    Every major personal project has delays and changes its scope, but health and happiness and friends (should) go always before that project, no matter how important.

    You’re not letting anyone down, just having Your time to work on Your project. Capital Y. Yours.

    Maybe being a player of Dwarf Fortress has made me accept a game in development for 20 years, if that suits the creator.

    Take care of yourself!

    • Weeeelll… that’s good of you to say re: not-owing-anything, but I’m not sure I agree :). As you say, one has to get that life balance right; and haha, I know what you mean about DF! We’re still aiming for the 10 year mark, and not a moment longer. Thanks, my friend – and you too.

  17. Just wanted you to know you aren’t speaking into the void! I’m a Master’s CS student and gamer working in a games lab, specifically on qualitative PCG for creativity enhancement and did my honour’s on free-information exchange with bias during dialogue in games for use in dynamic quest line generation. I also did a short stint when I was younger playing semi-pro FPS, but nothing recording breaking ;). Your work and blog have been a great inspiration for my own work and if my grad student finances don’t get in the way I’m excited to read a copy of this book. It’s right up my alley for personal interests and my academic career!

    And as someone who experiences this burnout, anxiety, and frustration quite frequently, I know how good the small wins and finishing the chapter can feel. Here’s to a solid future in games academia!

    • Thanks for this message Connor! Whereabouts are you working? (If you don’t want to say in public, email me?). And wow, all that work sounds totally fascinating (and what FPS? I’m going to guess… Halo? CoD??). It’s absolutely *wonderful* to hear my blog/work has been an inspiration – that absolutely and deeply warms my heart. And I’ll be uploading a chapter of the book to the blog before it gets published, in case you want to give it a “trial run”, as I totally understand the finances issue! Thanks, my friend – and the same to you! Do hit me up by email if you ever want to chat about games academia and whatnot.

  18. Burnout is terrible. I’m glad you’re not on fire anymore!

    Another commenter mentioned ‘failing fast’ and I’d recommend it as well, except I’m not certain how to apply it to large projects with more-or-less fixed deadlines. I always try to finish the project as quickly as possible while aiming for just about acceptable. Once it’s kinda done, in a rough form, I spend whatever time remains tweaking or editing or polishing. But this all much more easily written than wrought.

    • Heh, thanks Kenny! Yeah, it’s tricky on big projects. For the projects I do after URR, I am going to try to create trial versions of them first, and test those, before committing to “full production”, as it were, but on such a huge thing with so many interlocking systems, it’s much harder to see how precisely one could implement that model…

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