Here is a list of things I wish my game mom told me. My game mom never told me these things because I didn’t have one. I had many aunts and siblings and cousins (mostly thanks to Dames Making Games) who offered so much valuable advice. Some I listened to and some I wish I did. Some of what is below are behaviours and actions I see around me that I try to avoid. A lot of the stuff won’t be applicable to a lot of people. Like any advice, take what works for you and leave behind anything that doesn’t. This whole list is mostly to remind myself when I need to be reminded, messages from Current Kara to both Past Kara and Future Kara.
– Apply for everything – everything that is free. Art shows, game festivals, talks, publications. Be specific and careful with applications that cost money. Ask others who know it if you have an actual chance.
-But try not to spend all your time applying for stuff because then you’ll never have time to produce stuff.
-And omg don’t take on more than you can handle without your well-being going down the drain. Be honest with yourself about work boundaries and then set them.
– You aren’t the first person to do anything. Appreciate the history. Stay away from “newness.”
– Just fucking release a game. Make a twine game one evening and release it. Do the most simple mechanic with some weird art and release it. It adds to portfolio, but it also keeps creativity flowing.
-Or have a creative practice beyond making and releasing games.
-Nothing will be perfect. Aim for “good enough.”
– Don’t be afraid to be weird. Actually, embrace it.
-When you’re in the process of making, do not fucking worry about if it is a “game.” It doesn’t matter.
-When applying for grants, exhibitions, sales, fuck labels. Call your games games when it works for you and call them interactive art on art grant applications. Who gives a shit.
-In the idea formation phase, when you explain your idea to someone and they don’t seem enthused, it’s ok. Trust that you know what you’re doing and enjoy experimenting.
-Make stuff more than you talk about making stuff.
-Try not to source other games when creating game ideas. You’ll end up making something insular and esoteric and only about games. Pretty much everything else is more exciting than a videogame about videogames.
– When women doing similar work to you get praised, it’s amazing and changing the landscape for you.
-Other women are not your competition. In fact, no one is your competition because it’s not a competition.
-Community is so important. It’s very hard to do things alone.
– At game events, be prepared for sexist comments. Maybe think a reply for if/when someone asks you if you “programmed it yourself” (when they don’t ever ask the dudes around you). Or, when you’re not standing directly beside your game (and sometimes even then) you get questioned as to why you’re there, what you do, your belonging being questioned.
– At festival booths, men will try to tell you about their own game rather than talk about your own game that you’re there to show off. Don’t be scared to cut them off, or at least softly direct the conversation back to you. You’re here to talk about yourself and your work.
– Comments will be made about your appearance. I don’t have any advice for this because it’s unavoidable. No matter what you wear, it’ll happen.
– Work with other people but don’t be dependant on other people. Being indie/alt/art often means having no money and time spent elsewhere. Give as much money as possible to others but still value your own time.
-Be suspicious when there is money but you’re not getting any of it. Don’t believe the rhetoric that artists just want their work out there and that’s payment enough.
-The Banff Centre has a good list of Canadian, international, and travel grants: https://www.banffcentre.ca/funding-suggestions
-Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council now have videogames as a box to check for what media you’re working in. That’s great but chances are the people reviewing your work won’t know anything about videogames (and maybe even think they are lesser art.) Avoid using terms like mechanics unless going deep into their meaning.
-Canada Art Council has funding for travelling to exhibitions (but need to know 10 weeks in advance, or cross your fingers that you get the money later)
– Come up with a few-sentence spiel about your game to repeat and repeat at festivals and to the media. By the end of day 1 at festivals, you’ll have a solid and streamlined pitch, but sometimes my first morning is me stumbling over what the game is about. Maybe write something down before the day.
– At exhibitions, have conversations with people but always be paying attention to your game/art piece. Don’t be afraid of being rude by interrupting them to get back to work for a few seconds, resetting the game or getting people set up.
– People will criticize it and offer “suggestions” to your face. For the most part it’s men who think they know gaming better than you do. Sometimes it is really helpful. Listen intently then decide. Sometimes I say “yeah maybe,” “I’ll think about it.” Often it’s things I’ve already thought of and decided against. Sometimes it feels nice to explain to them why you didn’t go that route. Sometimes I like to argue about it. Sometimes it is the best idea ever and I say I love it and I’m doing it immediately. Be honest. It doesn’t serve you to flatter everyone while disrespecting your own decisions.
– If you and a friend both apply for a grant/incubator/fest, and they get it and you don’t, be happy for them. Them doing well does not take anything away from you.
– Be careful when you mention other people’s games in an interview. I try to give examples of other games I like or have inspired me, but sometimes it’s turned into being quoted as shade.
-People will not respect you. This includes people you work with, people you admire, randoms listening to a talk. Make sure to have a good supportive circle, but foremost, respect yourself.
-Trust your instincts about working with certain people.
– In teams, even with friends, delineate roles and money, if theres already money or you plan to sell it. Contracts are necessary always, friends or not.
-It might feel like you’re doing a lot of things you don’t want to do. Take time to really reflect on whether you need to be doing them, whether it’s really worth it.
– Believe that you have valuable things to offer.
-Try not to burn bridges. But try not to be a doormat. Good luck.
-People want to help. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving money to patreon or working on a game with you. Take help and ask for help from those you trust. It could be picking a better font, a mini lesson on an art style, feeding cats while you travel to a workshop. Even when indie, not every decision has to be made alone.
– Don’t compare your work or work ethic with others.
-Traveling will be lonely. Try to make friends in lots of different cities so you can hang out with them when you’re there. And be there for them when they come to your city.
-People are not just resources for you. You’re also a resource for others. Help as much as you can. (And no one is just a “resource.” Respect them as a whole person)
-Be in control of your sales from your game. Start your own developer sites even if it seems easier and faster to use someone else’s existing one.
-Don’t be guilted in to sharing your skills because “you’re a marginalized person and marginalized people need to help each other.” We do need to help each other, that’s why we need to be paid for it.
-Barter. Trade things, skills, meals. Exchange photoshop lessons for unity lessons.
– There will be a shitton of harassment and abuse going on around you and to you. Therapy, close friends, family will be necessary. Look around to see whose side you are on. If you’re not with the trans women, queer people, gender non-binary folk, and/or people of colour, reevaluate your position.
-Self care is eternally important. Value your wellbeing before any game, event, plublication. But don’t let self care become neoliberalist and isolating. Care about others, especially those that have less privilege than you.
-There is a small benefit of not being fully “in” with the scene. It’ll be creatively freeing.
– Being somewhere in between academia, indie games, and art will actually be beneficial. These are three streams of resources, communities, and friends.
-Don’t just talk about games, even to games friends.
– Always seek out marginalized folk to work with, especially when you have money for a project.
-Get someone else read and explain contracts to you.
-People will try to make you feel not worthy, but know that you are.
-People will want you to be something you’re not and make games that aren’t what you would make. Sometimes you’ll want to too but you’ll disappoint yourself if you try.
What do you wish you knew before getting into whatever you’re doing?