I remember the first time I sold an article. It was in the spring of 2003 and I was in the Journalism and media programme at Gothemburg university. I had just finished my first on-site practice at a newspaper, a full two weeks of real journalist work where I went out and interviewed people on the town about such important matters as if they thought the cold spring would make strawberries scarce for midsummer, how many liters they planned to buy and whether they liked strawberries at all.
I had done a whole day at the feature desk, writing about a school play, and gotten some pretty good feedback on the piece (“hey Filip, this is pretty nice”). So once my time at the paper was over I went to the feature editor and asked to do an article about webcomics.
In 2003 this was a new and edgy topic – comics that could be read on the internet for free? You’ve got to be kidding me!
The editor said yes.
I got paid 1000 Swedish crowns for it, about $100 at the time. It was a pittance, by Swedish standards. It was more than a third of my monthly stipend at the time. It was an amazing, fantastic, ludicrous amount of money that I got for doing what I loved.
That last part is still with me. I got paid to do what I loved.
It’s been over ten years. Webcomics have boomed, daily print newspapers have folded, the financial crisis in 2008 has killed off the freelance market in Sweden. I’ve moved on to other, more secure work. But that feeling, that warm glow of getting paid to do what I love, it’s still with me.
I have a steady salary and am doing well for myself. I write for fun, for pleasure. I design for fun and pleasure. It should be enough.
It’s not. Somewhere, deep down inside, there’s a spot that craves that recognition, that voice or mail or message saying “yes, we will take your creation”.
It’s not a question of getting published, I think, but of someone or something bigger than me saying that my work is good enough, that it matters, that people enjoy it, want it, approve of it, and my extension, of me.
Yes, this is stupid. But there is nothing greater than the validation of someone buying your work. It’s a validation that strikes a triple blow to all the doubts one might have about one’s craft: yes, others like what I do, yes, others are willing to give me money, the most precious thing in our capitalistic society, for what I do, yes, I could be doing this for a living.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the differences between being a pro and a semi-pro, and that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a pro. This is true, I don’t envy the pressures of making a living in an uncertain market, one where it is easier to cut the freelancer than the employee.
And yet, there’s no greater validation than acceptance. I crave that acceptance. If I didn’t I wouldn’t spend time attempting to publish my work, my games. I would simply write, or design, and put it in a big box marked “greatest games EVAH!!!!!”. I would not risk rejection, people telling me that, sorry, your game isn’t for us (read: we hated your game and now it will burn in hell where actual game designers will compare it unfavorably to Monopoly).
But that spark of acceptance, that feeling of “yes, I am a real writer/designer/artist”, that goes beyond amazing.
I’ve met designers who are addicted to mechanics, or themes. People who would design train games no matter what, even if they can only play them with their three friends and no one else would ever be interested in their detailed tables of the derailing probabilities of the 2-6-0 Mogul vs the 4-6-0 Ten Wheeler*.
I’m not like that. I design because I can’t stop doing it, I can’t turn off the ideas. But I develop because I want that acceptance, that external confirmation of my craft, my worth.
This is what has been happening with Ikura lately. People who play it like it. Not the polite “oh, I liked it, let’s play something else” but the “this was an interesting game, let’s play again”. I have demoed Ikura to death, more than I have demoed any other of my games. I have played it more than any other of my games. I should be deathly tired of it.
I’m not. Because I still crave that recognition, that acceptance.
One of my mentors once said that there was no greater feeling than having a reader call and say that they liked your article. It doesn’t happen very often, mostly people contact the paper only when they disagree. But when it does happen, it is golden.
And it is the biggest ego boost imaginable.
* I am aware that the Mogul was a single locomotive and not a class and that the Ten Wheeler was a class and not a name. I am totally not a train game geek.