I, Polymath

Everyone is told to specialize, to “pick one thing” and become an expert in that one thing. But for many creative people, specializing in a single field can feel like an impossible ask. There are too many exciting things out there, it seems, and you want to try them all! It turns out that there can be good reason to not specialize.

This is a topic, I have fought with more than once, going back more than a decade. I am now in my early forties, and I still unapologetically experiment and dabble. Not because I get easily distracted by the next shiny thing; I do tend to finish at least one project in whatever discipline I am exploring. It’s because I love learning, and finding patterns and overlaps between various skills and art forms.

This passion for passions is what led me to write novels, take pictures, code video games, and make music. It turns out that my kind has a name – several in fact: creative generalist, jack-of-all-trades, renaissance man, or polymath.

Mr. da Vinci, pictured above, is another famous polymath. Not bad company, right?

The times when I fought against it, were usually efforts to try and fit into the perceived expectations of a job market, a freelance client, or product launch. No single title seemed to stick. The closest I’ve come to a title that might cover it all is “storyteller”, given that conveying a story is part of all of the things I seem to take an interest in. It’s more of a theme than an actual job title, though.

You might say, that my specialty is the accumulated knowledge and high level overview that comes with studying many disciplines. Despite our specialist-centric society, there is real value in such experience. For example, it can, as the Dude might put it, really tie the room together, when you are working with several specialists. I am pretty good at herding and translating between groups of specialists, and I credit that to having varied experience.

The downside to being a polymath, is that I am not the worlds greatest writer, photographer, game designer, or composer. But I can communicate with all of the above with a fair amount of confidence and authority. This comes in handy when managing projects and events, hiring, scoping, and prioritizing when the specialists are too focused on their own issues to see the bigger picture.

After all these years, my advice to someone with many passions would be to not specialize in one at the cost of the others, but to seek the middle, where there is overlap between them. What are the themes and approaches that can be applied across your passions, and where do they intersect? For me, they connect thematically through storytelling, and pragmatically through cross-disciplinary communication and project management skills.

Little Victories

little victory
Celebrate the little victories. Sounds kind of corny, doesn’t it? Perhaps it does, but nevertheless it is something myself and my better half have been reminding each other of, when we’ve gone through rough patches, where Life doesn’t line up with expectations. Those times where it is easy to fall into a pattern of negative thinking, which affects happiness, productivity, sex drive and almost every other aspect of existing. It sucks, as you probably already know.

All of us experience tough times, maybe after losing a job or a loved one, or dealing with illness – experiencing adversity is just part of Life. There are countless ways Life can try to fuck you over, and if you let it, negativity can spiral out of control and suck ever more parts of previously mentioned existence down the drain. If you’re caught in a negative thought pattern, you have to fight back.

This is where celebrating the little victories come in handy. It’s not so much about high fives or actual celebration (those are fine too), it’s about being observant of the positive things surrounding you. By consciously observing the positive, I open myself up to seeing even more positive things, thus training myself to focus on a positive thought pattern, rather than a negative one. Instead of expecting to lose, I am reminded, that sometimes you win. This is why I like to celebrate the little victories.

What exactly constitutes a “little victory”? It can be whatever, really. Maybe you got the perfect parking spot, or got a thank you note from a client, maybe your dog finally rolled over on command, or you passed that level in your favorite video game. As I said, it’s about looking for something positive, so if you recognize it as such, you can count it.

In our household, we sometimes have exchanges that go along the lines of “I hit the perfect level of cream in my coffee this morning, it was so good.”, which is answered with a “Sometimes you win”. It has become a ritual, pointing out these tiny moments, and even when Life isn’t particularly tough, and things are just chugging along, observing little victories is a habit I never tire of.

Try it yourself, and see how many little victories you can recognize in a day. What little victories have you had today?

Inspiration and Game Prototyping

TL;DR: Get feedback on your projects, right from the prototype stage, and listen to inspiration when it presents itself.

I was watching The Walking Dead, when I had the idea for a game, where you are surrounded by increasingly large mobs of zombies, and you have to move around them, and take them out as they come at you. I imagined it as a top down game with a square level, kind of like Pac Manm, but in an industrial lot, or something along those lines. The idea flashed as a brief image in my mind, so not exactly a fully fleshed out game.

Sudden inspiration like this is something that should not be ignored. Even if the idea is simple. It might grow, after you plant it. So, the next day I made a prototype.

It’s simple enough. You use a mouse. Left click to move, right click to fire your gun (hold it down for continuous firing). You will die in the end, so it’s really just a matter of how big of a score you can get before you do. Explosive barrels can be used for extra points. There are occasional power-ups that spawn in, that may also help.

I call it “Don’t Touch”, because even a single bit of damage will immediately end the game. So stay alert!

The game made the rounds at the day job office, where a few coworkers “tested it” and gave me the best feedback ever: they went back for more, all on their own.

When people like something you make to the point where they want to keep playing it, and voluntarily offer up ideas of their own, that will feed even more inspiration.

When an inspirational feedback loop is created, and as a creative person, your job is to listen and take away all you can. Because most of the time, creative work is not done based on inspiration alone. In fact, the inspiration part has very little to do with writing a novel, recording an album, or creating a video game. It’s hard work, and if you want to finish your project, you can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

So when it does strike, pay attention. I am sure you are busy, I certainly am, and I really don’t have time to work on another game. Unless I carve a little extra time, I’d otherwise spend on playing Fallout 4.

Yesterday, fueled by the reactions I’d gotten, I added a new power-up mode that gives you a temporary boost in rate of fire. Like equipping a machine gun with limited ammo. Shred those zombies hard, 10 seconds at a time! I also added something I’d not yet tried implementing in a game – a killing spree bonus based on a timer. If you kill 3+ zombies in a row, you get bonus points. If you take too long, it resets.

I like adding things and tweaking other things, based on the feedback I get, plus throwing in a challenge for myself, like adding the killing spree.

I am not sure where this particular prototype will go. I’m fine with it entertaining myself and a few friends for a few minutes here and there. You can play it too, of course. Maybe when Torgar’s Quest is done and launced, I will turn it into something more.