I’ve been playing Sims 4 recently. A lot.
In this edition of the game, you choose an Aspiration for each of your Sims. Something they want to accomplish within their lifetimes. Because I’m a masochist, I chose “Bestselling Author” as the Aspiration for the sim who looks uncannily like me. I have my little digital avatar sit down at a computer and type away while I’m sitting at a computer, watching him. It’s very meta. In fact, I’ve got the game turned on as I’m writing this. It’s like a fucked-up digital reflection, where only one version of me actually getting real writing done.
But I digress.
Whenever your Sim does a new activity for the first time, you get that “Skill” added to your repertoire. Play a video game? Boom, Video Game skill. Cook? Cooking Skill. You see where this is going. You’re able to level these skills up pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before my Sim was going from writing Children’s Books to Fantasy Novels.
Levels and Such
The Skill level system in Sims isn’t particularly complicated: do something and you get better at doing that thing. It does resonate with me, though. I design games way more than I write fiction, so describing real-world things in game terms is definitely not a new thing in my life. You see it a lot online, too. People talk about “leveling up” in particular areas of their lives.
We don’t have any meters or charts or Achievements to track that stuff, but it’s obvious to me that the idea resonates with people.
Also, the Origins Game Fair is this week.
I went to Origins for the first time six years ago. Back in 2010, I hadn’t done much game design of my own. I was tinkering with the beginning of what became my perpetual work-in-progress, Shadows of the Collegium, but mainly I blogged about tabletop games on Troll in the Corner. In fact, I went to my first Origins on a press pass, same for GenCon that year. 2010 is the first time that I met game designers and had the inkling that they were people just like me.
It makes me think about leveling up.
Before I went to my first gaming convention, before I blogged, before I had any idea I’d try to make game design a huge part of my life, I wrote fiction.
Well, sort of.
If you’ve ever seen someone describe themselves as an “aspiring writer” then you’ve got an idea what I’m talking about. In my experience, “aspiring” writers (or game designers, or artists, etc) are people who spend a lot of time thinking about the creative activity, or wishing they were better at it, or doing just about anything other than the activity.
I’d sit down at my computer, depressed that I didn’t have anyone reading what I’d written, expecting each thing that I wrote to be perfect from draft one. I took a small stride forward when I joined the now-defunct This is by Us writing community. It was still largely the same, though. When I wrote something, I’d not even stop to spellcheck it, I’d just post it, expecting the entire site to laud my creativity and skill.
I got better, but not by much.
It Takes Time and More
It takes practice.
And every time I see or hear that word, I picture Allen Iverson.
But it’s true. To get better at something, you have to do it. But that’s just the beginning. We’re not Sims. We can’t just do something over and over again and have it come out the way we want it to. Sadly, I can’t sit down at my computer after taking a “Thoughtful Shower” and write for hours while my mood is “Inspired.”
My Sim can write a book a day, probably more if I neglected his other needs. He began by self-publishing them, earning a small amount of money per day. As he leveled up, he automatically was able to submit the books to a publishing house, and eventually, to literary journals.
Real life? Doesn’t work like that, but there’s still a takeaway from the Sims:
You’ve Got to Put in the Work
There’s no guarantee that writing more or designing more will make you a better writer or better game designers. What is guaranteed is that if you don’t write more or design more or sculpt, draw, whatever more, then you definitely won’t get better at those things. Success in any field, but especially in a creative field is based on capitalizing on circumstances, being willing to accept edits and critiques, looking for opportunities, marketing, promoting, and a lot more stuff in addition to just trying to get better at doing all of it.
I look at Simple Six and the deep dive I’m doing into it for the posts that usually occupy this Monday spot, and I see gaps. Flaws. Inconsistencies. I wonder if I’ll ever use it as the system for a game design again. I wonder if I’ll change it, enhance it, shore up what I see as weaknesses in it, things that I couldn’t have spotted when I first made it.
And I have no idea what I’ll do with it. What I do know is that I’m a better designer than I was when I first wrote it. And when I go to Origins in a few days, I’ll be going not as a blogger, but as a game designer, getting to hang out with the people that I (still) idolize even though I’m lucky to call some of them friends.
We don’t have actual levels, but we can get better.
Put in the effort.
Finish the draft.
Playtest the game.
Refine the design.
Show off your work.
Write, design, submit, and write again.
Because trying might not make you better, but you surely won’t get better unless you try.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Sim’s new partner just caught the kitchen on fire making breakfast after their first sleepover. Have a great week, and hopefully I’ll see you at Origins.
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