I released my first (solo) Steam game in my forties.
I’d never really said that out loud before yesterday but there we are, it’s a thing that happened. I don’t think about it because a long time ago, I stopped counting years – now after a couple of close shaves and losing friends and family along the way, I wake every day, check I’m still here and I’m happy.
When you figure you’re never going to see 21 and here you are, decades later – it’s worth being thankful for every day. Who cares about years when there’s a new day to see?
I am not the oldest person in games. I’ve discussed this before (and in a rare case of past me and future me still being on the same page, I still agree with every word I wrote that day) but it’s worth remembering. There are people older than me in games doing the best work of their careers. Whenever I feel spent, which is more often than it should be, I think of these folk doing such amazing things, more assured things.
I don’t believe for a second you have to be old, to be mature, to write assured works. That’d be a rot. Just there’s plenty of folks who’ve had decades to hone their craft into something distinctly theirs and knowing that they can still churn out vital works keeps the black dogs at bay sometimes. Molyneux only knows that videogames are not ours, they don’t belong to us.
I joke about wanting a 30 Under 30 award because I’m just getting started. I made no games in my teens, made only the most tentative of half assed progress in my twenties, began in earnest in my thirties and found comfort with what I make in my forties. So what if I’m not under 30? You can still give me an award. Give me an award. Nobody gives me awards.
Code doesn’t come easily to me. I struggle with numbers and often code is numbers, but through persistence, with help, I wrangle my way to something that doesn’t fall apart. I write using Gamemaker and it’s been a long time since someone called me on it, said I shouldn’t do it. I often find making games way, way, way more excruciating as really, I don’t enjoy code either. It’s just a thing I need to do to make the stuff get out of my head.
I learn slowly, I fall back on the help of friends who’ve been so generous and understanding over the years. I make good things. I make good things with help and assistance.
I couldn’t say that for years but here I am now, old, and happy to say it. I make good things.
I don’t expect anyone to agree with my view of my own work, in all likelihood there isn’t a critique anyone could offer that I haven’t come down on myself harder over – or alternately could give a single fuck about – that’s just where I am. I am happy with my work as work for me. It makes me happy. I see a thousand flaws but I’m proud of it and what I’ve achieved.
I’m proud of it because I know what it takes me to write it in the first place. If only it were made whilst just being old. I have a face pain described to me recently by a pain specialist as ‘one of the worst pains you could have’, it’s almost metronomic in its regularity and I can lose hours a day to it. It used to be weeks and months but I’ve got to know my pain, understand what it’s up to. I still have weeks or months where the pain rarely relents for more than a few hours but I know in that downtime, when I’m not exhausted, I can get something done.
‘One of the worst pains you could have’ is an odd statement though. On the one hand it offers me the comfort that I’m not crazy, I’m not doing anything to make it happen. On the other, pain isn’t a competition to see who has the worst. In that regard, I’d sooner it just acknowledged as pain. (I also remain mildly convinced it’s only considered One Of The Worst by virtue of being slanted towards more men suffering from it, were it women or otherwise, I swear there’d just be an over the counter pill and an ‘off you fuck’ to boot)
So I am old. I am in pain often. When doing anything feels like it’s against the odds, I can’t properly express how satisfying it is to be able to drop a videogame into the world, more so one I’m proud of.
Of course, this means that long multiyear projects are out the window. I’m glad of that. I struggle to keep track of what I’m doing at the best of times, having to take long breaks due to pain makes it all the more awkward. I live with folks who have their own wants and needs and it all takes time away from making things. I’m okay with this. I realise it must be frustrating that I make slow progress for months, burst through some then slow again, anyone who works alongside me must find that lack of haste disconcerting but I get there.
I speak to people who worry they’re too old to get started, too busy, too ill. And maybe, I couldn’t say. That’s not for me to say. But I’m writing this to say that there’s ways of getting stuff you want to do out there, whilst being old, whilst being in pain, whilst having a life that can steal hours from you. It’s not easy and it took me a long, long time to find a reasonable balance but it can be found.
It can be frustrating, it can be difficult, it is difficult. I made small spaces in my life, found tools that removed frustrations and barriers, slowly worked towards a style that played to my strengths (you know, after spending years discovering what they were through a myriad of missteps) and papered the cracks over my weaknesses. I have been fortunate to have, in recent years, assistance to do things I’d otherwise struggle with but I know, where I cannot find help directly from real humans, we have marketplaces and so much help out there to be found.
There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do all the things. There’s no shame in only making small works, things that make you happy. Providing, as usual, you’re not hurting someone else. There’s no shame in starting later in life. Molyneux save me, I’d have made such nonsense twenty, thirty years ago – I was too busy getting into trouble, getting drunk, wearing make up and sitting by the canal watching boats go by. It felt too much like I had no future and nothing to prove, I’d have only made shite. I’m ok with me doing this now and not then.
Being old when you never expected to be old is weird enough in and of itself but it’s not a reason to not try to make games. There’s a hundred, thousand, million, willion reasons to go and do something else. Amongst those reasons is that making games is bloody hard. You’re not weird if you find it hard, it properly is hard.
I started late. I’m only just getting started. I feel like I’ve got such a long way to go too.
Maybe I won’t have time to get there. Maybe I won’t have the health to get there. These aren’t exclusively being old fears though, y’know? I give it a go anyway because it makes me happy.
That’s enough for me. Maybe it is for you too. However old or young you are.