Hmmm……I’m trying to figure out a good way to put this.
Basically here’s what happened: after the launch of Stanley Parable, I became a bit depressed. Largely this is because in those months, SO much attention was directed at the game and at me personally. And while I could not even begin to put into words how utterly grateful and astonished and humbled I am by the enormous response to Stanley Parable (all of you are the reason I can now devote my life to this kind of work), those months after launch were intensely intensely stressful.
People don’t just play your game and then shut up, they’ll come back to you in force and really let you know how it made them feel. The vast majority of the response to stanley was extremely positive, some of it was also extremely negative. I had emails from people who told me I had forever changed the way they saw the world, emails from people who wanted me to know I was a spineless coward who should hate himself, emails from people asking for advice and for tech support and to look at their work and just talk about what they’d been up to, emails from fans and journalists asking over and over and over and over and over where the idea for the game came from, until the answers to those questions simply became stock and lost their meaning and even I began to lose track of where the idea had actually come from. Thousands of people asking you to carry some amount of weight for them, to hear them, to talk to them, to tell them that things are going to be okay, to not turn them away. I tried, I did the best I knew how to do, but after a certain point the many little requests added up and their collective weight broke my back. I couldn’t do it any more. I couldn’t talk to more people. I couldn’t continue to use other peoples’ opinions of myself to feel good about myself and about my work. Every time I turned to someone else’s opinion of the game, I felt less sure of my own opinion of it. I began to forget why I liked the game. I was losing the thing I had created.
So I withdrew. I basically checked out of the world, told people “I’m just gonna be by myself for a while.” I had never done that before. I spent a few months not really talking to anyone. It was lonely, but it was nice.
Then toward the end of 2013, news outlets begin releasing their Game of the Year awards, and Stanley Parable is back in the spotlight. Suddenly the personal requests start flooding back in again. Suddenly I am the object of peoples’ emotional baggage again. The GotY awards did not cause me to be depressed, they simply unearthed a depression I had been harboring and trying to bury since the launch of the game. But for whatever inexplicable reason, I felt depressed and anxious again. (part of what made the depression worse was that being given awards actually did not help me feel any better. “Is something wrong with me??” one tends to ask in a situation like this)
So: to help myself better understand and isolate the feeling of depression around the GotY awards, I wrote and drew a comic to explain what I had been feeling. It was simply the best expression I had for the thoughts and emotions that were running through my head at the time at the time, I just wanted to put it into some words to help make it less nebulous and unknowable. I wanted something I could hold in front of myself and say “This. This is what I am experiencing.” It’s nice to get it out of your head.
So I finished the comic, and read back over it, and thought to myself “There’s no way I can post this online.”
The point of the comic was purely just to clarify that financial and critical success does not simply make your insecurities go away. If you were insecure about other peoples’ opinions of you and addicted to praise in order to feel good about yourself, the dirty truth is that there is no amount of praise you can receive that will make that insecurity goes away. What fire dies when you feed it?
But if I go posting on the internet about how awful I felt receiving all these Game of the Year awards, no one is going to take that seriously. “Oh, yeah, we get it, real rough life you’ve got there. Sounds pretty miserable to be loved for your art. Maybe go cry about it into a pile of money?” And then of course I’m back in the problem I was trying so hard to avoid in the first place, where I’m stressing out about peoples’ opinions of me and forgetting simply to feel good about myself. I want to be able to like myself and my work, but it becomes SIGNIFICANTLY harder once people on the internet start asking you to feel ashamed of yourself. It’s really really hard to ignore.
So either I share this thing that is simply True, that is a representation of what I actually felt at this time, and risk being shamed for it, or I hide it away and continue to pretend that success means you never feel shitty about anything ever again in your life.
I’m going to post it here, but I also decided to write this preamble to contextualize it. If you do decide to read the comic, all I can ask is that you enter into it open-mindedly. You may not agree with or understand my feelings, but I guarantee you they are True, they are what I felt at that time. If you’ve read this and still think to yourself “oh come on, this guy can’t be serious, there’s no way that receiving game of the year awards would cause anyone to feel upset,” then I’d perhaps tell you that it’s unlikely that the rest of this post will convince you, and maybe now would be a good time to stop reading?
Obviously you get to do whatever you want, that’s how this creator/audience thing works, and no matter what happens I’ll be fine. But I want to stress that the weight I have carried is real and it is heavy. And despite my trepidation about posting this online, I really do want to share it with you. I want to be able to show you this weight, to put you in my head. I am compelled to. It is just in my blood. I have no other explanation. Thank you for joining me.