Hello, and welcome to Dev Talk, the weekly iFanzine feature in which I ask a panel of indie game developers their opinion on a topic or current hot-button issue related to the games industry.
This week I posed the following question: “Game development strikes me as having the potential to be a pretty unhealthy job due to long, irregular hours spent cooped up indoors, hunched over a keyboard, staring at a computer screen. What steps do you take to ensure you stay fit and healthy, both mentally and physically?”
This is a great question. It’s definitely an unhealthy career pursuit which you have to be conscious of. I don’t think it helps that gaming culture in general seems to revolve around the encouragement of consuming energy drinks, greasy food and crappy sweets. This is such a strain on our health care system and I cringe at every trade show that seems to force this down people’s throats. Balance is the key I think. The psychological toll game dev takes is a big one for me, it can be very isolating and lonesome which tends to build anxiety, there’s always peaks and troughs with these feelings though. I try to combat this by skateboarding, eating greens and lean meats and surrounding myself with sound people.
On the physical side, a few things can help. Here is what works for me…
Ergonomics: make sure you have a good chair, and a properly placed monitor. Gel pads for the wrists are also pretty handy — I used to get really nasty carpal tunnel from prolonged periods of level design, or what I like to call “The Hot Key Claw.”
Manage your energy: be aware of your energy levels, and try to save the easy tasks for when it dips. I also like to have a 30 minute power nap at around 3:30 every day, so I can use my afternoon energy crash to rejuvenate!
Look after yourself: pretty basic stuff, but at the end of the day, only you are responsible for your own health! Get up and walk around every now and then, exercise in your spare time, don’t skip lunch, stay off the sugary drinks, and don’t have caffeine too late in the day.
The mental aspect is, I think, even more important. Making games can be extremely stressful.
Write lists: this not only relieves the pressure to remember things, but it can also remind you of what you’ve accomplished at the end of the week which is great motivation.
Communicate: talk regularly with other people on the team, particularly if your work (e.g. game/level design) requires a cross-discipline team. Even if you don’t need anything from people, just go and say hello. Also, regular communication with your manager (e.g. a bi-weekly 1 to 1) is critical to make sure that you are set up to succeed.
Empathize: everyone on your team is trying to make the best game possible, and they all have their own battles to fight. A little compassion goes a long way.
Respect yourself: It’s also vitally important to work in an emotionally mature and respectful work environment. Some studios like to focus on the game at the expense of the team, and this can lead to really bad burnout really quickly. If you feel your work is being consistently undervalued or that you are being set up to fail, you may be working in the wrong place.
The real issue here is the work hard/play hard culture. Around 2013 I plainly broke down. I spent Christmas Eve in the ER, New Year went by without a sound, and it took over a year to get me back on track. Not everybody will have it so bad but here I was: not first world, not well connected and devoured by passion and restlessness.
The main thing is the realization that indie game development is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep a day job, be patient; give yourself years, not months.
Now that we got this out of the way, well… you don’t have to work irregular hours. Sit straight at your desk, sleep as evenly as you can, exercise. I got myself a big screen and a good chair, but I still love hanging out cafes while I work.
Hunching over a desk does not inspire beautiful designs.
I think this is more a cliché than reality. Sure there are crunch times, yet game developers are by far not the only ones spending much time at work. I know quite a few people who regularly work for about 12 hours a day in web or other media agencies. By law, the maximum allowed in Germany is 10 hours.
This being said, everybody has it’s own ways of distracting after work. I’m spending my time with my son and girlfriend, in the mountains and doing sports. And of course: playing some video games.
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