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Mindful Game Dev

One year ago I took my first step on a great and mindful road by starting meditation. As a celebration, I humbly gathered thoughts and wanted to share them with fellow devs.

In a couple of days I will celebrate an anniversary. One year ago I took my first step on  a great and mindful road by starting meditation. During this year I approached several traditions, went on a week-long retreat, and sat everyday on a cushion for at least twenty minutes. It brought so much to my life, to many of its aspects, including to my activity as an indie game dev.

As a celebration, I humbly gathered thoughts and mixed them with some wisdom I garnered from the various teachings I heard, and wanted to share all of that to you, fellow devs.

In touch with the body

Game dev is an activity that needs a lot of focus. For me it's especially true with programming. Sitting on a desk chair, in front of two screens, for hours, can be very absorbing. Our mind is constantly working, and even if that can be very rewarding, I try to remember that my working tool isn't only my mind but also the body holding my brain.

Every twenty minutes or so, I stop looking at my screen or simply close my eyes, I focus on my body and ask myself: "Am I okay? Am I hungry, or thirsty, or uncomfortable, or in pain?"

As everyone else, I tend to forget about my body if I'm involved in a strong mental activity, but sometimes my overheating mind can affect my body. They're connected. Staying in touch with my body allows me to be better aware of what's happening in it.

Let motivation arise by itself

Meditation allows to spot mental patterns. Personally, I know now that I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself and to create a lot of guilt around procrastination.

Motivation is a hot topic in game dev because we are passionate about video games. For many of us, creating video games is a dream come true. So we put a lot of expectations in our daily job, and when we're down and don't feel like working, we might think "If I'm not motivated by making video games, nothing will motivate me."

But life is always changing. We are always changing. What drives you today maybe won't tomorrow. What we call "motivation" can take many forms.

By learning how to listen to myself, I learned that the highest I put my expectations, the higher my guilt is, and the more I hurt myself. I try to observe how and when the guilt arise and when the expectations grow. I learned that motivation isn't a flame, it's a river. It takes many forms, but moreover, it's something that will slowly push me toward a deep, inner goal and not something that will give me the "strength" to stay in front of my desk for endless hours.

It's okay to fail

Game dev is paved with failures. From bugs to bad reviews, during the lifetime of a game, we experience many deceptions. And for many of us, failing at making a game isn't an option as the game must ship, so we just can't drop.

Well, meditation is a practice of failure. Actually it's the practice of focusing on something (breath for example). Of course we all eventually fail at staying focused, even very experienced practitioners. What we truly learn is how to forgive ourselves while failing. We learn to fail better. To welcome failure with benevolence and love.

So that's what I try to apply to my game dev life. I fail, a lot, in many ways, and every day. And it hurts, it's normal. But I try to forgive myself, every time. Telling me it's okay I failed isn't somebody else's job. It's mine.

It's okay to succeed

Game dev is paved with successes, as well. Well, I mean, they happen, sometimes. When a playtest goes right, or when we finally sold some games on Steam, it can feel very rewarding.

What I learned from meditation is that, even if those moments are wonderful, we don't have to strive for them. I don't have to wait for them to happen. Life, and game dev, isn't a waiting for something to happen. Every day and every experience should be worth living. If I keep comparing every moment to this one moment of bliss, everything will feel bland or worthless, and that's not right. Meditation teaches us to not reject failure, but also to not craving for success. It's called equanimity. It's a great teaching because every moment we spend defending or desiring is not spent just living what's happening right now.

It's okay to think

As I said before, game dev is a demanding and absorbing activity. I can't compare it to many other jobs, but I know it makes my mind busy, a lot. As a designer and a programmer, my mind is my main tool. Therefore, even when I'm not actually designing or programming, the momentum I created while working tends to keep my mind busy and heating up. I train my brain to analyze, find solutions, find ideas.

But this tendency can also make me running in the void. Inertia makes my mind continue to work on anything while I'm actually doing something else.

What meditation teaches me is how to be more skillful at catching those moments where I just got lost in my mind. At first I thought meditation was actually against thinking. But that's not true. It's okay to think, it can be very powerful in many situations. But sometimes thinking won't help at all. Actually, most of the time it won't. Meditation helps me recognize those moments when I'm thinking and it's not helping. And meditation teaches me how to let thoughts come and go, and not to grasp everyone of them everytime.

Enjoy the ride

I think the most valuable skill you get from meditation and you can directly apply to game dev is patience.

Game dev is long, soooo long. It's even longer than that. And the fact that it's long often collides with the fact we so much want things to happen. We WANT to play the game we're working on, we WANT it to be good and beautiful and interesting.

But, as I said before, the journey should be worthwhile, as worthwhile as the game itself. Some things take time.

Conclusion

In no way this post is a list of Do's and Don'ts. It's my experience, and maybe it'll give you the spark of curiosity to try to meditate and learn from the many resources available on how to live and work mindfully.

If that's the case, here's a non-exhaustive list of sites and apps that may help you get started with this great journey:

  • OMM is a great app. It's free (you can donate for a cause while using it) and it includes 30 days of guided meditations, by an amazing instructor, Martin Aylward.
  • Headspace is an app I regularly use. It's kind of gamified and has a nice appeal. Andy is a great teacher and offers a wide range of meditation techniques.
  • Conscious2 offers a large library and has a paid membership for a wide range of courses.
  • Insight Timer is an app that not only offers a timer but also a huge library of guided meditations.
  • You can also search your area for a MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program which offers a solid knowledge and autonomy for mindfulness meditation.

If you want to give me feedback about this post, or discuss mindful game dev and meditation, you can reach me on my e-mail at jerome.bodin[at]gmail.com or on twitter @bodozore

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