Don’t Miss This Talk About Developing Games While Depressed

Way back at GDC 2011, game developer Michael Todd (Electronic Super Joy) stood up to talk about depression and game development. Haven’t seen it? Luckily, it’s still available for free in the GDC Vault. If you’re a game developer who copes with depression, you should definitely give it a watch — especially if you work on your own.

Todd doesn’t take much of the 22-minute talk to talk about his own story or experiences with depression. Instead, he focuses his time almost entirely on the strategies that have allowed him to be productive when his depression tries to make that impossible. If you’re responsible for planning and producing your own games, his tips could be invaluable.

He hits five key points:

  • Choose highly rewarding projects. Motivation is a struggle when you’re depressed. A project that excites you is more likely to keep you going, and you’re less likely to forget why you started in the first place.
  • Stop trying to be a perfectionist. It’s all too easy to get fixated on one small problem and lose track of the big picture. Todd suggests a few ways to get around this.
  • Focus on shorter projects. We often start to hate our creative projects as they near their ends. Keeping things short leaves you in that bad head space for less time and lets you enjoy more of the fun parts.
  • Measure your hours. Depression lies, so correctly estimating and judging your own productivity can be next to impossible. Using tools to measure your productivity will let you make adjustments based on information, not optimism or self-recrimination.
  • Design a game that suits your abilities. What parts of game development do you love? What parts do you drag your heels through every time? Plan your next project in a way that lets you do more of the former and as little as possible of the latter.

At the start of his talk, Todd quotes a fellow game developer who chose to remain anonymous:

Productivity is an integral part of the “downward spiral” of being depressed, there isn’t cause -> effect but rather being unproductive and being depressed reinforce each other cyclically.

By that logic, finding ways to be productive despite your depression is a great step toward working your way through it. Todd’s talk offers very solid tips on how to do just that in far more detail than we’ve mentioned here, so go take a look.

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