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'How Do You Stay Motivated?'

After working in games for nearly 30 years, I still love games - making them, playing them and designing them. Someone asked me, "How do you stay motivated?" and this is my answer.

Brenda Brathwaite, Blogger

October 9, 2009

5 Min Read

I found this question in my email:

"How do you stay motivated?"

This month, it's 28 years for me in the game industry. I started on the Apple ][ working on the Wizardry series at Sir-tech Software, and I still remember the great wonder I felt at seeing color on a computer screen for the very first time. I remember creating a secure, locked place in the office for a new IBM prototype machine, and going to shows where I'd see Richard Garriott again and again, he with Ultima and me with Wizardry. Before that, I taught myself to program on a VIC 20, and re-wrote the movement rules to a paper-based game because the encumbrance rules bothered me. I ended up re-writing the whole system.

So, my first answer in reading this question was another:

"How do you stay in love?"

In an industry where people burn out and the passion wanes, I still feel as in love with games as I ever have. Maybe more so. It may be perspective or age or an awareness of my history and what matters to me. It may be that I am looking at something I've known all along with brand new eyes. It may be a deep understanding of what brings me true joy.

This is how I stay motivated.

I found something I loved deeply.

For me, games aren't my job. I breathe them. I think it's astounding that I'm paid to make games and to talk about having made games. As is apparent with Train, Siochan Leat and The New World, I make games whether I am paid to or not. I can spend all my time in the space of games and never run out of things to do, to say or to explore.

There is an important distinction here, though. I love to make games as much as I love to play them. It is not a one-way gig. I have made games all my life and the process, the thinking, as you undoubtedly know, is so much different. So many people come through the industry's doors with visions of Hollywood hoping to meet their favorite star, but the play isn't the design, and it's not the same thing. If you are thinking about being a game designer, you should already be one. I was making games before I knew it was what I wanted to do. If you're not making games, start now. Just go. Screw it up. Make something terrible, but make it. You'll get better with time, with mistakes, with experience.

I surrendered.

In 1989 when I finished college, I stood in Atlanta, GA facing a certain, stable future with IBM after a very successful interview arranged by my alma mater. This future, this path, was what I was supposed to do.  It was the path I thought I was genuinely on. When I got home, I talked to Rob Sirotek and said I wanted to stay. I still remember my words word-for-word: "I just want to keep making games." For me, acknowledging the importance of these things in my life and giving into my obvious passion for them - despite what the future held - remains the most important decision I have ever made. There was a tried and true path, sure, but there was also an alternate path that I had evidently been preparing for all along. I chose the one I loved, because I knew that it was where I was supposed to be. I have never regretted that decision. Not once.

I find new things to fascinate me.

Think of games as a person for a moment. Where do you start with them? How many layers is your fascination?

There is still so little I know and so much I want to learn. There are years that I wasn't there to consume what was released, and whole genres I don't grok. There is a world to be explored, topics I've never even touched, and conventions that I probably still hold dear that could be broken for the new. And, AND, aaaand, as I delight in trying to learn what is before me, games are all the while making and revealing more. I think of all the things that are being written and shared about games on a daily basis. I will die before I exhaust my fascination. I show up, stay current, interested and engaged.

I play.

I said tonight that I am generally a ridiculously happy person. I like to laugh and enjoy exploration. With games, I get in there and mess it up. I let myself and my ideas go. What if? Break the mechanics and try something new. Be inspired by the work of others, and be comfortable in taking chances and pushing it some. Have fun and be positive about it, even the stuff that seems like it's going wrong. My strongest lessons have come from my biggest mistakes. Make fun of your own work loudly and mean it. Praise yourself, too.

Most importantly, surround yourself with people who share your passion. Motivation is a reflection sometimes, and you will see it in the passion of others around you. Game designers need other game designers. I think this is the single most important thing you can do.

I stay motivated because I love games. And, AND, aaaand, it is no work, no work at all.

[You can find me on twitter at @bbrathwaite]

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Brenda Brathwaite


Brenda Brathwaite is an award-winning game designer, artist, writer, and creative director with 30 years of experience in the industry. Before founding Loot Drop, Brenda worked for a variety of game companies including Atari, Electronic Arts, Sir-tech Software, and numerous companies in the social games space. She has worked on many Facebook games, including Cloudforest Expedition, Ravenwood Fair, Critter Island, SuperPoke Pets!, SPP Ranch, Garden Life, Rock Riot, and Top Fish. Brenda served on the board of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and presently chairs the IGDA's Women in Games Special Interest group. Brenda was named Woman of the Year by Charisma+2 Magazine in 2010 and also was a nominee in Microsoft's 2010 Women in Games game design awards. In 2009, her game Train won the coveted Vanguard Award at IndieCade. She was named one of the top 20 most influential women in the game industry by Gamasutra.com in 2008 and one of the 100 most influential women in the game industry by Next Generation magazine in 2007. Nerve magazine also called her one of the 50 artists, actors, authors, activists, and icons who are making the world a more stimulating place.

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