• Andrew Jonhardt

How I deal with burnout

I've been a mess these past few weeks for reasons personal and covid19-isolation-related. So, I'll be writing today's post on how I deal with burnout, in case it helps someone.

First, I'd like to set a starting point, so here's a definition of burnout from Psychology Today:

"Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress."

It can be odd to think of passion projects as stressful, but really anything that can be called work can also be stressful. This is doubly-true when one is forced to interject work into what would otherwise be relaxation time, something any indie designer with a day job will have to do.

Stress can be managed. I've been failing to manage mine, and woke up last weekend completely unable to look at my project.

I've been in this position a few times now. I was exposed to the feeling of burnout repeatedly while working on that card car racing game awhile back, and I've developed a solution that works for me.

The trick is not to completely stop working. However, hammering your head against your main project while you're burned out is typically a waste of energy. Instead, I took an idea I was still excited by, but hadn't had time to work on before, and started setting it up.

I didn't finish a basic prototype. Finishing wasn't the point. The point was to give an outlet to a small frustration, the kind associated with focusing on 1 project at a time, while using the project as a fresh lens for my processes. There's always some small way to change how you do things for the better, and I find burnout helps my receptiveness to change. It also helps that new projects are exciting, and can thereby be re-vitalizing.

The funny thing about burnout is that it rarely changes how I actually feel about something. I still want to make games, and I still want to finish Mask of Undying. In some ways, this lack of change actually makes things worse by making me increasingly frustrated that I'm not working. A self-reinforcing loop is created where I want to work on my main project so I can finish it, while being unable to so much as open my main project, but still really want to finish my main project... It's usually far, far better to step back instead of entertaining this loop.

I spent the following weekdays not working at all. No tutorials, no programming, no after-work designing, nothing. I took care of chores and exercise, and tried not to bleed too much negativity on those closest to me.

5 weekdays isn't enough time to fully come back from burnout. I considered taking this weekend off too, and ended up doing a little sprite work anyway. Art, as a form of pure expression, is rarely stressful. Besides, I really need to get better at pixelart.

I have no freaking idea how to make a blob monster look good.

I've got a week off from my day job coming up before my next blog post, and I am hoping to complete a true basic prototype for Mask of Undying that week. The prototype will include:

3 enemies

1 boss

5 traps

2 tilesets

Health and death mechanics

If I do successfully complete all of the above, I'll finally be in a position to determine if anything about my idea is fun.

The reason I've never tested my idea on whether or not it's fun is simple: I was single-mindedly focused on finishing, and I worked on components I wanted for the final game haphazardly as a result. You'd think I'd know better than to work in this way. Some lessons must be re-learned repeatedly, I suppose.

There's a chance I may dislike my game after prototyping it. There's also a chance that I could be so excited by it that I decide to try and share it early on itch.io for feedback.

My next post will be June 7th. Until then.

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