I wrote what was going to be a brief post-mortem about my experiences at GDC. It ended up being more of a post-mortem about my life as a college student than anything else. If you're interested in reading only the GDC portion, start reading past the line of asterisks! ********
For the past two or so years, I’ve really struggled with what I think about the quality of my work. After the first year of college, I was really confident about my skills as an artist and animator. I was receiving the right encouragement at the right time by my teachers. I would spend most of my day life drawing, sketching ideas, blocking out simple animations, and watching movies to study motion. I even passed my first year animation class with what was probably the highest grade of my entire year.
In my 2nd and 3rd year, I began receiving feedback that made me rethink all that. I let the negative comments get to me because they came from a teacher, so if a teacher thinks I have failed as an animator, I really must not be cut out for this kind of job. I was disappointed in myself for not having “thick skin”, for taking the negative criticism seriously, for letting it cut me so deep.
I blamed myself a lot. I was obviously too soft and sensitive. I should be able to take harsh criticism and not let it phase me. At least that’s how I thought.
I feared failure. I wanted to take care of my feelings and keep them intact, but at the same time I was afraid feeling too much would make me weak. I was trying my hardest to ground myself in my intersecting identities as a way to support myself and keep going, while at the same time having conflicting feelings and doubting the value of my self-expression as an artist and person.
“7/10 won’t get you a job” “Why are you so slow?” “You can do better than this” “How are you not getting this? Everyone else is!”
Passive aggressive comments really made quitting a very appealing idea. It really hurt me to receive nothing but vitriol every time I submitted a project. I started caring less and less and so the quality of my work began to decline. I just barely got away with passing grades in a class where I struggled to motivate myself to do good work.
Why should I even try, if it’s going to be garbage anyway?
But for some wild reason I didn’t quit. I can think of three main reasons why I didn’t:
1) I was in too far and wanted to at least walk away with a diploma after all the debt I put myself in
2) I felt like if I failed college I would be even more of a disappointment. I moved from the most depressing city in Canada (Winnipeg) to Toronto just to study game development. Failing meant going back to that city where I usually experienced nothing but sadness
3) I had others tell me I was worth something and that I shouldn’t give up just yet. I felt supported by my community. While the one teacher thought my work was garbage, my peers gave me the positive feedback I needed to not give up
Toward the end of my second year, a teacher I’m closer friends with told me to keep going. He told me I was worthy, both as a person and an artist. I tried to hold on to his statement for as long as possible to try and get by.
It didn’t improve wildly by the third year. I was still having a lot of the same issues.
One improvement was that in one of my classes, I was able to get the only A grade so far in my third year. I was mildly surprised as to why I received that grade. Even into the second semester I continued receiving A’s in this class, even after the teacher gave a disclaimer that they would be grading our work according to industry standards. The class also happened to be one where we were responsible for coming up with our own original ideas for a cinematic, so I was free to do what I wanted. I began to think that maybe, my work was good. That there had to be a reason I was receiving A’s in this particular class.
Third year also brought along a lot of pain and heartbreak I had never experienced before, more in relation to my work within communities than an animator. Friends leaving, being taken advantage of by people familiar to me who I never thought would want to hurt me. Now not only did I think my art wasn’t enough, but I fell further into the trap of believing I wasn’t enough. That I didn’t have enough love or feeling for myself or others, that I wasn’t qualified to lead community groups and projects that require someone who is empathetic and sensible.
Yet during this, I made a lot of new friends who supported me and continue to support me, whereas I might’ve outright quit if they weren’t there. It’s easy to feel alone but I am overcome with emotion when I realize that in my toughest times, there are so many wonderful people who are present and tell me the right thing so I can keep going.
The fact that I had been selected for the IGDA scholars program was beyond me. I felt some of my hard work had paid off and materialized in the form of this award, but part of me still hung onto those negative comments. I was very anxious. I was afraid attending GDC would confirm my fears that my work is garbage and I should find a different field of work ASAP.
My assumptions are usually wrong.
When I demo’ed some of my work at an IGDA networking event at GDC (huge thanks to the IGDA for organizing this, and for MOLLY who encouraged me to go anyway when I wanted to back out because I didn’t think I had enough work to show) I received only positive feedback. I never thought that would’ve been possible. There were people who liked my work and that made me really happy.
I was also lucky enough to meet some very lovely folks from GaymerX (Matt Con & Phil Jones) who made my night go from a nerve-wracking mess to a very happy outgoing one. I was also on the verge of a panic attack that night (unrelated to the event or conference itself) and was even luckier to have friends who were there to make sure I was doing alright.
Even outside of this networking event, I still received some very nice comments from designers and people I greatly admire. They would look at my business card and with a pleased smile go “huh, that’s neat”. It seems small, but it made me incredibly happy that people who make amazing things thought my work was interesting. After years of thinking I was worthless, of being told I was worthless, I finally felt like I was so much more than that. As the week progressed and I attended events specifically meant for the scholarship I was part of, I began to realize how lucky I was to have this opportunity. Bumping into developers and artists who I've admired since I got into game development was incredibly surreal and fun.
I also made a lot of friends at GDC, some who don’t live in my same city and who I miss a lot. I felt sad leaving them, but so happy I was able to meet people from outside my community.
It’s a lot to unpack, but I think my biggest takeaway from GDC is: I am not garbage. I feel a lot more confident about my work. I’m not as afraid about approaching people whose work I admire, or who I think are better than me (and now I realize I should stop thinking that way). GDC felt like a tidal wave of emotion that swept me over so now everything after it feels less overwhelming. I am feeling so much right now, and I am more than happy to accept these feelings fully and not push them away like I may have a year or two ago.
(I feel like the combination of college and GDC has aged my mind so much but I still have to remind myself I'm still pretty young with a lot more experiences ahead of me.)