So, Things Have Happened
For one, this:
I have a piece of paper now! Supposedly this makes me a person worth hiring and/or is symbolic of the fact I know a bunch of things now. Hooray! Let's never do it again!
(she says, starting a doctoral program...)
The reeeeally big thing that's kind of impossible to overstate is the fact I got funding. For 5 years.
BUT NOT JUST ANY FUNDING, OH NO
The particular grant I got was a fellowship, as in a just-do-your-own-research-and-don't-worry-about-TAing-or-RAing-or-attaching-yourself-to-someone-else's-projects-funding. Which is kind of crazy, and it lets me really focus on learning and making original things over the course of actually getting a PhD rather than having to deal with teaching undergrads how to write for loops or begging some vague, yet menacing government agency to feed me every couple years. And the fact it's not a research assistant based funding thing means I get to define my own projects instead of working on a professor's for part of the time and my own part of the time.
At least, as I understand it to be so far.
It's an unprecedented amount of autonomy on someone else's dime, which is faaaantastic and I have no idea when anything like this will ever happen again. But now I need to like, do the actual work of figuring out What's Important™️ in terms of my research, which is almost definitely going to be an iterative process.
The other thing that happened was I started the Delaware Games Collective, an organization "dedicated to building a community of game makers, developers, and artists in the state of Delaware". I've typed that line so many times over this past month or two it's starting to grate on me, but it's something I think is important. I wrote about it for Disturbance, a local zine in the northern Delaware area, copy-pasted here for your convenience:
Kickstarting Delaware's Indie Game Dev Scene Hi! My name is Alina, if you've been to La Pata Fria, I live there. This month I started the Delaware Games Collective, an organization dedicated to building a community of game makers, developers, and artists.
Delaware doesn't have a game dev scene, period. Occasionally you'll find one or two people working on a game in their free time, making something for academic purposes, or rarely running a successful Kickstarter, but there's not really a hub or even communication between all of these scattered groups. As someone in tech, I feel like I run in to a lot of coders who have made games for their cisc classes or as a way to practice their coding skills, or as a person who knows people I'll see artists and writers who've expressed interest in 'someday working in games'.
Someday can be today. We're long past the point where the only way to work on games is by getting into AAA (triple A, i.e. really big budget games, think EA, Blizzard, Nintendo, Activision, etc). Tools like Unity and Unreal have made getting started on your own games easier than ever, and it's amazing! Even now, 3D modeling as we know it is drastically changing with the introduction of VR tools like Tiltbrush and Blocks that make it trivial for anyone to make their own models in minutes.
Part of my inspiration for starting the DGC was seeing the indie games scene at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I was able to attend due to a scholarship from Glitch, a nonprofit in Minneapolis, which really focuses on empowering the new, the bold, and the small in their area. The entire experience and culture of having so many game makers in one space was incredibly inspiring, and I want to replicate that here!
I believe games are for everyone.
I believe anyone can make games.
They too, are art, and art can come from anywhere!
But they're also difficult to make alone, and the interdisciplinary nature of them is a really great chance to bring people with all kinds of skills and backgrounds together to make a common thing. I hope by starting the Delaware Games Collective, we can build up a culture of making and producing where there would otherwise only be consumption.
Check out our website at delawaregamescollective.org or donate at opencollective.com/delaware-games-collective ✌️
So that matters.
This is a thing I've wanted for a really, really long time, but I didn't always have a name for it. I tried making my first game when I was about 11, by making some character sprites and platformer level layouts in paint that I sent to some online friends over skype (hi red I love you). I didn't actually make a game until I was a junior in high school, when I made an infinitely-looping text-based choose-your-own-adventure game in my first coding class based on a writing prompt I found on reddit.
Between then and now there's been little scattered prototypes and things for classes and hackathons, really things made because someone else gave me an excuse to do so. In a way, this is giving me my own excuse to work on things, and hopefully make friends and allies along the way. I've discovered I'm pretty garbage at doing things because I want myself to, but the second you get other people involved I'm pretty terrified of disappointing them, which is maybe a character flaw but whatever we're working with it.
It's also something that's almost directly enabled by my funding for grad school. I've been anxious about having to eventually up and leave not only college, but the state for pretty much my entire life. It feels like all of tech, and art, and life is always in the somewhere else. In the city. In California. In the anywhere-but-here. Supposedly the state has a brain drain problem, and I think other people in addition to me feeling like this is why.
Seeing other people at GDC from little places making their own little games with their own little herds of people really helped cement the fact that you can, in fact, do this literally anywhere, especially today. I met people from all over the world, and they didn't waltz up to some publisher or existing studio with their game pitch and beg for funding, they just did it; if they needed funding, they kickstarted it using their own communities and by really selling it to an everyman.
So, why not here? Why not now?
I think this will also help me segment my artistic goals as a game developer vs my professional goals as a person who wants to run a small business eventually. Making money from your art is really, really hard, and in the process can corrupt or bend what you want to say and do with it in order to meet the fact you have to eat to live. I think it might be better (safer?) to try and work on more useful-to-other-people-things some of the time that turn into self-sustaining businesses separately or alongside things that I think are important. Of course, the long con is to retire early with minimal expenses in such a way that I don't have to work on things for other people anymore, but in the meantime I think compartmentalizing these desires will help.
If I wanted to go into games to make money, I would make slot machines. I'd make games that take advantage of human psychology, and compel you to spend money to progress every 30 seconds. I'd entice you with bright colors, frequent notifications, and paywalls. Other people do this, the mobile games market is kind of crazy and broken in how they exploit quirks in humans in order to extract as much cash as they can from people.
This feels soul-crushing. This feels wrong.
I don't want to. I don't want to have to in order to live.
So, I guess this is my way to build towards not doing that eventually.