Safety Makes Practice Possible (Gamkedo and Learning Martial Arts)

Feb 28, 2015

I’ll open today with a 4 minute video about the connection between lowered risk and practicability, plus a bit about why I call my training Gamkedo:



My mission is – and has long been – making videogame development something that more people can safely get into doing, enjoying, and growing through. Just because there’s no risk of neck injury or broken bones does not mean that game development is without risks. However: how much risk someone takes on is totally up to each learner, each creator.

Learned correctly, severe disappointments or lost investments from projects that we give up on do not need to be any part of getting into game development. Aside from how we may rationalize our failures after the fact very little of value comes from getting mired in avoidable humiliation, frustration, or regrets.

The Stockholm syndrome many of us feel about the time that we wasted while building a personal Tower of Babel doesn’t actually mean that starting what we can’t finish is at all a healthy, constructive, or efficient way to learn anything of lasting value.

We hide our own embarrassment in acting like it’s just some sort of hazing ritual or macho rite of passage for new developers to grow through, and they either stick through it and recover after or… many simply don’t, and we never hear from those people again. That messy phase we so often find ourselves apologizing for only pushes countless talented, interesting, and capable people further away from achieving the dreams of theirs that we would all benefit from their seeing through.

I believe that game development can be something that anyone in the world who has an interest in doing it should be able to safely learn. Getting to that point though will require lowering the risks involved not just financially but also the risk of having nothing to show after tying up so much time, or feeling hopeless that without funding nothing worthwhile or of substance can be made.

The recent news about engines like Unreal Engine 4 being free or Unity 5 coming out with all engine features in the free version is great for game developers everywhere, but there’s another side of it to remember. Without a coherent system for learning practical techniques many people have perhaps just gained a better firearm with which to shoot themselves in the foot.

A weapon used without preparation or discipline is a danger to its bearer. If the comparison seems overstated I’d like to emphasize that most physical wounds heal, but we only get one life, one future, one shot at how we use our limited flexible time. The risk of years spent ineffectively is neither abstract nor imaginary. I’ve seen good people fall down into that pit and not climb back out, and I find myself wishing it was something that a simple hospital visit could cure.

I’ve developed and now fully redone a general and thorough self-guided course for the new developers that I’m unable to work with directly. It’s the best that I’ve been able to craft yet into a self-contained form. I’m proud of it. I believe the approach there works better than anything else that I’m aware of. I created those materials because anything else I could point someone toward didn’t say many of the things that I believe need to be said about learning how to make games.

Yet still I am customizing a lot of what I do for each person that I’m training. As I do so, every day I’m watching for patterns, overlap, and opportunities to anticipate and better explain earlier or more clearly those many important questions that inevitably arise later.

People assume that the main value I offer as a trainer is teaching people technical skills or design practices. It’s not. I do teach those, but those are things that can also be learned (perhaps less quickly) through fiddling, reading, and videos. The harder, more valuable, and personal part of what I do is about routinely managing expectations to help maintain a healthy balance between boredom from merely treading water or the disorientation and disappointment from falling short on unrealistic leaps. I watch the road, since everyone’s path is at least a little unique due to each person starting with a different background and moving toward different goals.

Merely writing warnings about the risk, as I did on Gamasutra some time ago, has the problem that those people who read it and recognize its importance and share it are the people who are already experienced enough to no longer need to hear it.

My current aim is building a training approach that can help more people better know exactly what they don’t know yet and which concrete steps they can take toward knowing. This has turned out to be harder than expected or hoped, and in any case far more complex than troubleshooting individual cases. This is an issue that I am working on every day through refining my training practices and materials. Progress is being made. This is important to me.

Until that’s further along though, for people just getting started: when plotting your own path for practicing game development, build in stepping stones. Build confidence and refine skills by first making what you’re already capable of making but have not yet learned through the detailed work of making. Learn by preparing for and then taking on those challenges that you can be certain there’s even a way for you to prepare for.

Please just don’t become another one of the people who give up and bitterly sit off on the sidelines shellshocked for years due to having sustained a severe injury to the morale, or who falls behind from an unreasonable (and often avoidable) financial setback from having first tried to learn through direct commercial-scale experimentation. It’s easiest to fix most huge mistakes before they happen.

Find ways to practice safely.

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