Pretentious artists

Note:  I posted this on a message board in response to a user’s opinion that the creators of hit indie games Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid were pretentious and overstating the struggle they went through in the documentary “Indie Game: The Movie”.  I wrote this not to have a go at that user, but instead to communicate to others why artists often come across as ‘pretentious’ and more than a little frenzied.  It’s worth noting that this all came out at once in sleep-deprived state on a gaming board, so please forgive the language.

I see a lot of strong opinions online regarding a certain kind of person who makes things, and how they act regarding their own work. They’re often seen as pretentious, and I guess they are, to an extent. I haven’t seen Indie Game (yet), so I’m certainly not excusing any asshole behaviour towards others, but I do think the blasé dismissal of these people is a bit unfair. What I’m about to say may seem confrontational, but please bear with me:

Unless you’ve actually spent a significant amount of time creating something hugely personal, you can’t really understand what these people are going through.

Like I said, that sounds confrontational, but it’s true. It’s not the same as schoolwork, or something you do for your job – it’s something that represents your beliefs, your values and your personality. And you know that one day people are going to experience it, and by extension, experience a part of you. You’re acutely aware, every single moment that you’re working on it, that if things don’t go just right, your audience might not get it and think it’s shit. And if they think it’s shit, it means you’re shit.

If you’re just jamming a song on the guitar, or throwing together a little game demo, or sketching some cartoons, it’s not really such a big deal if people don’t like it, because you weren’t really trying. But there comes a time when you decide you’re going to throw everything on the line and make something really valuable. You spend weeks, months, years on it. Your friends and family all know you’re doing it, they all know how hard you’ve been working, how long it’s taking, and while they have faith in you, all they really have to go on is your word that “it’s gonna be really good when it’s done, I promise”. Not “good” as in “kinda cool”, “good” as in “you’re gonna be really proud of me and want to share it with everyone you know because it’s so good”.

So you draw on the material you know best – yourself. For the first time, you’re not going to try to please someone else, or try to be cool, you’re going to be the hardest thing to be: honest with yourself and the world. You put so much of yourself and your hopes, dreams, insecurities and fears into it that the end result simply has to justify the amount of effort you expended upon it. Because it’s you on that screen, or in that recording, or on that page, and if the one time you gave it all you had and put yourself and everything you believe out there for everyone to see and they weren’t remotely impressed… well, I guess that means you’re worthless after all and all those years you spent dreaming of being a video game designer and telling yourself that one day you’d make something genuinely good were really just the delusions of a poor fool.

What I’m saying is that whatever you’re working on becomes the most important thing in the world, and it has to be just right or all those months or years you spent making a fucking video game will have been wasted and you’ll have let everyone down, especially yourself. It’s not about “making a good game”, it’s about proving to yourself and the entire world that you’re actually worth a damn even though you’re not a fucking doctor or engineer or something else that’s respectable.

So yeah. Next time you see some crazy-eyed creator rambling some nonsense about how they’re struggling, go easy on them. They’re under a lot of pressure, from the worst, most critical boss in the world: themselves. And they don’t get to go home, pound a couple of brews and forget about their shitty job, because that boss follows you every fucking second of the day.

3 Comments on “Pretentious artists”

  1. hoorayham says:

    I remember when I saw the film thinking how ‘frenzied’ they are – but it’s the exact same stress someone would get running their own business. They pour their heart and soul into it, and if they fail then they have to admit they’re shit at what they love – the ultimate killer. I never saw them as ‘pretentious’, though to succeed in that arena I believe you do need that self-belief that what you’re creating is good, and people need to experience the finished product to appreciate it. Good reply, I hope the original poster ate their words 🙂

  2. A4man says:

    Have you seen the movie yet? The guy who made braid seems like a humble guy.

  3. […] I’d simply copy and paste something suitably lengthy that I’d written elsewhere, like my defense of pretentious artists. Occasionally, though, I’d spend a couple of hours attempting to write something decent, and […]

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