Hey buds. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationship with the things I create and the people who interact with them. People throw around the term “imposter syndrome” a lot and I guess that’s what it is, but I’ve got a lot of conflicting feelings and I don’t want to reduce them down to some catchy phrase for the sake of containing it in some figurative box because I’ve never heard anyone talk about quite the same kind of nuances I’ve been dealing with (at least not within my social circles, which pretty much all consists of different flavors of creative-types). I figure a lot of you guys here make stuff too, so I’m wondering if any of you can relate to these feelings. If not, I still think it’ll be useful for me to try and articulate this stuff.
A couple months ago I released a game, which I made the decision to never directly promote here. Part of that was because I felt gross thinking of you guys as an “audience” to “promote” to, which is definitely a true belief that do I hold and will continue to hold, but I also realized another part of it was that I’m afraid of having people I respect check out something I’ve done because there can only be two consequences: you either like it or you don’t, and both of those are equally freaky to me. This is what I’ve kind of been reconciling with lately, this idea that someone liking my work feels “wrong.”
My game isn’t terribly popular or anything, but it seems like the few people who have played it really resonate with it. On one hand, this is amazing. All I want to do with my life is make things that can mean something to someone, so it’s incredibly fulfilling to see that it’s happening beyond some comments on YouTube saying “this is great!”. It’s amazing that my friends helped me pursue something because they believed in the vision, and now that it’s released, even people who have never heard of us are able to appreciate that vision too. I’ve been in Discord servers where people mention Commonplace as their 2022 game of the year without even knowing I was there (is that the first time I’ve addressed Commonplace by name on the forums? That feels wrong, too. It feels gross). It’s the most fulfilled I’ve felt in my entire time spent creating things (which is just about my entire life), and yet, it doesn’t feel good. It feels like a trick. It feels like I’m getting away with something, or these people are just being kind to not hurt my feelings (provably untrue), or that if people played more “Good Games” they’d see that Commonplace isn’t really that special after all. I guess this is the part they call “imposter syndrome,” but whenever I hear about “imposter syndrome” it tends to be nothing but these bad feelings. What’s strange is, for example, when someone mentions how much they like the game, it’s both the good and the bad at the exact same time. I’ll read the nice things people have to say about Commonplace and it nearly makes me cry because I’m so glad I could do something that means something to someone, but at the exact same time it feels so wrong that I get sick to my stomach. It’s like I’m not letting myself accept that, y’know, maybe I actually did a pretty good job here? I feel embarrassed, I feel guilty, I feel ashamed. Someone is expressing how much they enjoyed my work, and I feel ashamed about it. Something I poured so much of myself into is being validated and I feel sick about it.
A long time ago I understood that nothing I’ll ever make could even come close to being a fraction as good as the things that inspire me, but I still haven’t exactly come to peace with it. I also understand this is a perspective basically every artist has by proxy of being the one who creates things. I’m not going to be inspired by my own work because it’s born of already-existing inspiration; using that as a gauge of quality, and therefore comparing my work to work I enjoy, is fundamentally flawed and I’m acutely aware that it is. But I still do it anyways. I guess this might be the reason it feels so unreal when people are inspired by my work. I just can’t comprehend how it’d feel to appreciate my work on that kind of level (which now that I’m thinking about it, understanding that people can have such drastic values from me is something I touch on with my therapist from time-to-time, though it’s normally more along the lines of “I can’t focus on anything because I can’t understand why conservatives think it’s okay for cops to kill people.” (in case it wasn’t clear, I am on the autism spectrum (can you tell?) and one of the ways that “manifests” for me is by how intensely I need to understand things – hence this post, I guess (oops!! I didn’t necessarily mean for this tangent to go in that direction – though I guess if anyone can relate to anything mentioned in these parenthesis, we could talk about this too))).
What’s really concerning to me is that I’m already feeling this way after such a small reception to such a small project. I’m working on some other games right now that already have some pretty large user-bases (like a couple thousand per), and I can’t imagine how it’s going to feel when my work is implemented into those games for so many people to see. Then I think even further to the future, and I’ve concluded: the absolute worst thing that could happen to me is to become famous. All I want is to be “successful” enough to live comfortably off my work, but I’m sure even that is still gonna feel kinda awful. I can’t imagine if one of my games took off in a major way and made some kind of actual cultural impact. I don’t want to imagine it. Some of my other game designer friends talk about how cool it would be to become “The Next Toby Fox” but to me that sounds terrifying. I’m already having a hard enough time with a handful of nice reviews on Backloggd Dot Com…!!!!!
Re-reading what I’ve written here feels pathetic. “Oh no, people like your thing too much and that feels weird for you.” I want to tell myself to just get over it, but I’m imagining if one of my friends came to me with these kinds of concerns about themself, and I wouldn’t react that way. I wouldn’t call them selfish or annoying, I’d want them to feel better. So I’m trying to show myself the same kindness by allowing myself to talk about how I feel. Anyone else ever catch yourself doing these double standards about how you treat yourself vs. how you treat others? Anyways, thanks for hearing me out.