100 Days of making SPREY – 50
Today I want to share a lesson with you that I just learned. It is very special and it is okay if you don’t find meaning in it today.
At least in some creators, there is something like two souls, two hearts fighting each other, and it can be a source of great confusion. There is one that is sensible and wants to fit the mold society set as normal, such as having a stable job and would settle for just enough to get by on good, honest, and societal recognized work. Then there is the outrageous one that howls in disappointment and despair when you do the sensible thing, one that hates you when you comply, one that wants to go explore the void without a map and without a safeguard to ever get somewhere. Both hearts have their place and your life will most likely be a balancing act between both. But what if your wild heart eats you up for shunning it entirely while the docile heart eats you up for real or perceived irresponsible behavior such as following an artistic passion without compromise?
In a very simplified way, the human brain is a simulation machine. And when we cannot predict what the outcome of a decision we make is, we do not like that. Going off into the void is vague already as a statement. What is this void that artists talk about? Where is it? What will I find there? Will I find anything there that is valuable enough to make a living when brought back to other people? If I am not successful, can I go back in time to still become something socially acceptable? Can I still make something out of my life?
We hate that. But our wild heart still wants us to go there and to explore.
Then I found an answer I did not expect in places I did not expect. My good friend game developer Martin Chow introduced me to the works of Japanese game developer Kenji Eno. This man was so far ahead of his time, it is incredible. So far ahead many of his contemporaries did not understand him – and now, as the biggest irony of all, some of his works look dated to a viewer like me from my time, but then I realize they look dated because he was one of the first. Others became famous with more refined products in the same vein later. I would call Eno a champion of the void, of „the other side“. That is when people cross their personal void and come out on the other side with something. He did not buckle down under social pressure or the pressure to succeed in the games industry and still kept to his original, authentic creative vision. Apparently the pain to comply and bring sacrifices to fit in better was bigger than the pain of not knowing if he would find any success society understands as success ever. But the journey was not a bright-eyed wonderland, it cannot have been. The pressure of society and the piercing stings of doubts and fears never leave us creatives alone. My heart breaks every time when I think about disappointing my parents by not becoming something. If I am to believe the Kenji Eno documentary I will link down below, he went through the same thing. „Oh, he was once a good boy. A gifted child. But look at him now.“
But then, what was waiting on the other side for Eno, through the void?
When I first looked into a walkthrough of Eno‘s game D2, I found myself captivated. I did not like everything I was presented, but I knew I was witnessing a piece of art. And even now I feel like experiencing D2 felt like reading a heavy novel and left the same sort of deep impact that still echoes on. You do not have to like D2, it is flawed, but you have to acknowledge that it is art and cannot help but respect the artistic expression.
But will you personally find something that is like this and has this impact? You cannot know. Even if you tried to emulate Eno entirely, you might end up with something else. And in the worst case, indeed, you could spend your lifetime in the void, where everything is scary and insecure, and return empty-handed except for the experience of having lived that life and having created. From my own limited experience I can tell you that creations change you when you push through with them and finish your creations. But what about material success, your docile heart might ask now. We have been talking about artistic things until now.
Let‘s look at Mr. Eno‘s case. He is clearly underappreciated for what he did and has probably never made insane amounts of money. His lifestyle was not glamorous, in fact, he was a workaholic until the very end. But Eno‘s successes were big enough that he could sustain a family. And he got to live out his authentic artistic visions and moved a lot of people. And overall, he did what he want. This seems like a pretty good outcome.
Does this relax your docile heart a bit? There is so much ground between smashing success and absolute defeat. You might come out somewhere in the middle and it might seem and feel weird, when you can‘t even tell whether you are on the success or failure side, but it is not as scary as imagining the outcome as one extreme or the other and nothing in between.
Kenji Eno is a champion who went all the way into the void and returned. He brought something back that moved and inspired many other people in turn and has inspired this blog entry to help other creatives, too. So Eno‘s story might be some food for the simulation machine that is your brain, if you are struggling with doubt and confusion about your wild heart. This is where it is pointing you towards. This is what could be.
Kenji Eno documentary: