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Diary of a First-Time Designer – #10 Driving School

First-Time Designer Issue 10 - Driving School

Join me on my continuing multi-part series as Martin and I attempt to turn our jumble of half-conceived brain sparks into our first fully functioning board game.

Part 10 – Driving School

Keeping up the momentum is hard, especially when there's so much good telly on at the moment.

May was a busy time for us. Aside from regular play-testing, meetings and tweaking, we decided to release one blog entry each week. Our thinking behind this was mainly to bring the articles in line with our progress as they had so far been written a month behind. This was particularly pertinent in light of the UK Games Expo approaching, as we didn’t want to leave it too long after to write about the experience.

Things were winding down at my work as the project approached the end of its lifespan, so I was gifted a decent amount of free time to get on top of everything. I wrote four or five blogs in a couple of weeks and I’m so glad I made notes from the start. I also got into the habit of taking pictures to accompany the entries and started planning content.

I realise writing about this very blog is a touch ‘meta’ but I thought it might provide an opportunity to talk about discipline and motivation.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, there are countless alternatives to doing what we really should be ‘getting on with’. I think it’s particularly hard for us geeky lot who are continually tempted by awesome content like video games and fantasy and comic book based TV shows. As someone who is easily tempted by a night (or a day!) of binge-watching, I can easily lose myself in other realities when I am ‘nagged’ by my responsibilities.

As our designing and blog-writing hit its stride this month, I was particularly surprised by my desire to keep on top of things. During one week in particular I noticed how I made the decision to work on the game for one Sunday and three evenings rather than watch 16 hours of TV. That 16 hours allowed me to write three entries of this blog series, redesign our gaming board and tweak several mechanical elements. It felt satisfying and I have started to re-frame how I see time staring at a screen. I fully appreciate the case for recreation but I have recently realised some of my old activities are pretty much a waste of time; they contribute little towards my future development.

Part of my drive relates to my impending unemployment but a large aspect of it is about how much time I have already spent designing the game. I’m sure it amounts to hundreds of hours at this stage. I feel compelled to continue because, if I stopped, those hours are wasted.

I had a chat with my friend Mike who works nights. He said that he completes most of his work within two hours of his shift starting and just watches YouTube for the other five hours. He commented on how much more productive it would be if he was to apply this time to something more worthwhile; like designing a game or even learning a language.

This approach seems quite common in our hobby: prizing immersion in fantasy over reality. Perhaps we’re all just big kids but I’m sure we have our reasons. Ask yourself how much time you waste each week.

Your definition of ‘wasted time’ is up to you but I’m sure we can all identify at least four hours a week where we weren’t doing anything productive that contributed to our future. That’s 16 hours per month and nearly 200 hours per year. You could design half a game on that!

Don’t worry, I’m not going all Tony Robbins on you but I have learned in my life that taking action brings rewards. As someone who suffered with crushingly low self-esteem for much of my life, in addition to the accompanying symptoms, I could quite easily have settled for a safe and mundane existence. My turning point occurred in my 30's when, out of desperation, I reached out to someone I trained as a counsellor with. That conversation formed a Community Interest Company called Hear2Listen that now supports young people with overcoming their personal issues...including low self-esteem.

Building a company has been the hardest thing I have ever done and took me to the brink of my own sanity. Now, six years later, the company is thriving and on the verge of significant growth. It has also acted as something of a safety net for times like now, where I faced unemployment from my 9-5 job.

So what does that all have to do with designing a board game?

Creating a company out of nothing but a couple of laptops and a phone allowed me to see what I was capable of. It fostered a belief in myself and my abilities. When the idea of designing a board game popped into my head, I thought, why not? Now I know how to build something from scratch as I’ve done it before.

I am now convinced that you can create your own opportunities, you just have to take action. Since I started on my designer journey I have formed essential contacts, become a writer, created something for people to play-test and learnt all kinds of design tools. None of this would have been possible on my couch, staring at a screen that spewed forth other people’s hard-earned creative content.

Finally, this endeavour has provided me with an opportunity to share my experience with others who struggled, as I did, with issues around self-esteem, body image, depression, anxiety and self-belief. They are common in our geek community and I think they unite us. The Board Game Trading and Chat UK Facebook group is known for its supportive ethos and emphatic approach to all facets of mental health.

For anyone doubting themselves, struggling with negotiating the rough waters of life and social interaction or just unsure what to do next, there is support within our very community. I have been amazed by people’s generosity and touched by how many people have come forward in support of LAST STAND.

One might assume a saturated market would give rise to a lot of ‘famine thinking’ but I have found quite the opposite; a thriving community supporting each other through challenging times.

This new-found belief in myself spurred me into organising more public play-tests.

Next time in the First-Time Designer series – Two Town Tables and the Might of Phones