Pick Any Two

Here’s a fun look at how perfectionism has finally, after a lifetime of slow buildup, completely stalled out any designer aspirations I’ve ever harbored.

This morning I was looking over my uhhh rather lengthy list of projects I’ve fiddled with, on and off, for the past several years. Many of them are now in the low-hundreds of pages, as in maybe playable even. But I don’t want them in the world. And I couldn’t figure out why. So I talked it out with my wife, who is happily here at home (unhappily because she’s got a head cold) and is always my best, and kind of only, sounding board.

I think I’ve trapped myself by demanding too much of any given project. Basically I have three requirements, and possibly aiming for all three is either impossible or such a tiny dime-sized target that, no shit, I’ll never hit it (so why bother, wah).


This one seems like it should be #1 and non-negotiable, right? Haha you’d think so! But let me proceed with the other two.


This one seems like it shouldn’t even be on the list, right? Oh but it is. A lot of that is because of the segment of indieland I travel in. There’s a nontrivial amount of hype, discussion and celebration of the transformative opportunities of roleplaying games.


This one is probably the product of my endless lifelong journey to learn literally everything there is to learn about this thing of ours. And right now I feel like, honestly, there’s not much left. But it’s also left me sort of struggling to just enjoy a game, because I can’t help but deconstruct it. And that means it’s also a necessary creative agenda.

So here I am, looking at my list of shit. And of course not a single damned one of them is engaging and meaningful and innovative. So my ego and my insecurities say, meh, don’t bother. Throw in the towel. Let smarter/better people aim for that tiny dime-sized target.

Having said all this out loud to an actual human being, though, I’m working on how to unravel myself from this impossible thing. Maybe…maybe I can pick any two. Every combination has some merit:

Engaging + Meaningful but not innovative? Shit man, I’d play that myself. We’re kind of between major innovations right now anyway.

Engaging + Innovative but not meaningful? A tiny bit harder for me to swallow, but also not. I’d put Circle of Hands or Imp of the Perverse in here. I’d totally be proud to have my name on either of those titles. I think I’ve let indie culture embed but is it transformative in my head too deeply.

Meaningful + Innovative but not engaging? That might be a designer ego trap. Or at least it is for me. Maybe I feel like “engaging” isn’t really that hard. But then again my efforts to create more specificity in my more-advanced designs (Monsterknights specifically) has proven far more difficult than I thought it would be.

Yeah. I think that last one trips me up a lot, for indiegame-culture reasons. I honestly don’t hear much hype or celebration on the “is this fun?” front, you know?

Enough navel gazing for now. Just some thoughts about how I’ve let a lot of outside cultural stuff invade my head space.

0 thoughts on “Pick Any Two”

  1. To paraphrase Chuck, anything you finish is better than everything you don’t. There’s a whole set of skills after you stop typing that still need to get exercised and refined!

  2. If you must design games, just accept that if you’re really really really phenomenally smart/good your first game will be a middle of the road, average thing. Your ego is right to throw out all those aspirations as unrealistic, but wrong to not identify the actual goal: making a first game that’s not a complete disaster.

  3. There’s a saying — it was presented as an old Yiddish saying, but it might not be — I encountered recently, that goes, roughly: “Better an ugly patch than a beautiful hole.” Much the same sentiment, I think.

  4. Three things:

    1. Yes, I feel all of this so hard.

    2. Productivity is also a lie sung sweetly by capitalism/existentialism and well-meaning people, including (in this case) Chuck.

    3. No, I don’t know how to successfully combine 1 & 2 either.

  5. The Generation Ship thing fits with the Chuck quote quite well. The deadlines coincided with the birth of my second kid, and I had to abort playtesting. There’s a LOT I’m not satisfied with in that. I seriously considered saying “this isn’t good enough, I can’t do it”, but I sent it in anyway.

    It’s definitely not 100% what I wanted, but I’m not embarrassed by it

  6. I don’t know if this means anything BUT this is my gut response, so…

    Letting go of needing validation from other designers was huge for me. Like yes, it’s obviously nice, and I definitely engage with other designers for many reasons, but saying “I’m the only person I need to satisfy with this, and if it has the mysterious alchemy to find an audience that’s ideal, but I don’t need to impress anyone” made it a lot easier for me to start viewing my games not as precious jewels but as stages in a journey. Some are big and get a lot of traffic, but most are small and I’m the only one who passes through, and that’s fine!

  7. Really interesting.
    Riffing on some statements from above: Eloy Lasanta recently hit the podcast circuit promoting his Part-Time Gods of Fate 2e Kickstarter, and I heard a few interviews with him. He mentioned a few times how he is a much better designer now than he was a few years ago. It struck me because in my mind’s eye, there is only one Eloy Lasanta – this guy who puts out interesting, well-designed, nicely packaged games; I don’t see him as someone who went from newbie to seasoned indie designer who does things better now than he used to. But he says that was what it was like, and I believe him. He’s now been working long enough that he can notice when there’s a significant improvement to be made in an old product of his, and then do something fun/meaningful/creative with it. So… here’s my lateral solution to your puzzle of not being able to accomplish all 3 things at the same time… only strive to do 2 at the same time, with a hope to come back around after time has passed and capture the elusive third thing. (Of course, we don’t know if that will ever happen… and of course, it may not matter to you as much in the future that you never got around to making the fun, creative thing as meaningful as you wanted. BUT, you may be able to trick your now brain into moving forward with the project by the vague promise of perfection… someday.)

  8. Camdon Wright tweeted this a few months ago and it stuck with me:

    Proposal: Everyone should replace the word “perfect” with “imaginary.”

    Example include, “This dinner isn’t aa imaginary as I wanted it to be,” or “I can’t let anyone see my game until it’s imaginary.”

    Perfect is a lie that shouldn’t be chased. #CreateArt #MakeGames #Write

  9. (Edit: Trying to do four things at once. Misread something in the OP. Grr.)

    Pursuit of novel/innovative can lead you away from engaging and meaningful. It’s a nice-to-have but not a must-have.

    As far as the image goes, I’m Perfectionistic Concern. I’m a professional editor. ‘nough said.

  10. “I honestly don’t hear much hype or celebration on the ‘is this fun?’ front, you know?”
    This is…strangely true. My primary driver as a designer is whether something is fun/engaging to me. But I’m not sure I’m known for that as a designer. Maybe because innovative and meaningful are easier to discuss?

  11. Here’s something that just struck me, Paul Beakley — you’re a smart person. Smart enough that if you feel the need to spend time creating something, you should take it on faith that it will be “important” enough to see through. Even apparently frivolous things made by most people smart enough to make something have secret importance at least. Just let your things into the wild.

    Also, see my latest post — you get one last OH FUCK moment before decision time. Proofs. Bloody proofs.

  12. Paul Czege re: is this fun?

    I think this is because people seem to differ more on their fun preferences than on judgments of meaningful or innovative. So it’s harder to develop a shared reality within which to communicate.

  13. Sounds like you need to invest more time in finding a developer that can coach you in ironing out the kinks. Or even just give feedback and/or suggestions. But maybe you already have? Me personally, I know I need help if I get stuck. This whole lifting myself up by my bootstraps is bullshit if you ask me. I can’t do it. But talking to others will clear it up in no time, give me fresh perspectives, you know. But I’m that type of person that work 50 times better in a collaborative environment. If I go solo I get stuck. That’s just the way it is.

  14. Are you the kind of person that tends to work alone, or the one who talks about his work with other people? Because sharing your work-in-progress projects with other people could be a very good way to get feedback and maybe notice things you wouldn’t have noticed on your own ^^

  15. More seriously, if you have emotional blocks stopping you from getting things out the door, you might want to try the best tool I know for dealing with those, The Work of Byron Katie. Everything you need to apply it is available as a free download from the website.

    The one caveat I would add is that when you actually apply the technique you need to fully engage with fully feeling the emotions that come up while doing it. Try applying to five thoughts in a row and see how much lighter you feel afterwards.
    thework.com – The Work

  16. Was coaching someone the other day and I got them to work five thoughts. Their energy and mood was completely different after doing so.

    If you have a particularly stuck pattern, rinse and repeat. You’ll get there!

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