It has unfortunately become more prevalent in the creative fields – especially in game dev communities, so it’s time to talk about burnout, a very real and potentially very dangerous issue that has plagued many of my friends and affected me personally.
What is Burnout?
Burnout can take many shapes, but generally it’s when you feel physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. This is usually caused by excessive and prolonged stress and can make someone have reduced motivation and lower productivity in both their work and everyday life. You are left feeling lost, hopeless and resentful.
Burnout can also manifest physical symptoms like back aches, headaches and loss of appetite. All this can compound to make you lose sleep and feel generally unwell. Burnout also causes people to withdraw from their friends and loved ones making recovery extra difficult.
This is all very real and has been researched and documented by national mental health organizations like CAMH.
Dealing with Burnout
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure. There are many ways to keep burnout at bay, but the key thing to acknowledge is it’s not explicitly a matter of how much you work. There are many individuals who work longer hours and deal with their stress without issue, and there are those who can’t muster more than a few hours of intensive work a week due to the impact it has on them. What works for one person may not work for another, so keep that in mind when trying to figure things out. These suggestions can help prevent burnout, but also work at mitigating while being impacted by it.
Becoming over stressed with work demands can cause you to neglect what you’re putting into your body, even sometimes forgetting to eat altogether. A healthy diet that’s comprised of mostly fruits and vegetables will net a positive impact in many areas of your life, but also help your mental health and state of wellbeing. Keeping hydrated is also important.
This may seem reductive considering the previous suggestion, but once again regular exercise helps keep the body and mind healthy and can help combat burnout. This is especially true in the game dev world, as our jobs often require being sedentary for long periods of time. It doesn’t take much, 20 minutes of light activity like walking a day is enough to make a significant impact. It also helps break the monotony of the day and if you’re able to get outside can brighten your mental state.
This is what it mostly comes down to. If you are working constantly and don’t give yourself time away from your projects, you’re setting yourself up for burnout. Spend time with friends or family, or socialize with your coworkers on the job. Social support is the best way to combat burnout, although with the pandemic it’s been difficult to maintain those relationships. Read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, play a game, do anything that takes you away from your project and nourishes the other parts of your life. You may want to “ride a wave” of anticipation for your game and work quickly to release it, but games take a long time to create and refine, even with an easy to use tool like GB Studio. Which brings me to my next thought:
The Game Boy was wildly popular and had one of, if not the longest lifespan of any console, but it was released more than 30 years ago. Games, game development and the gaming community at large have long since moved forward and don’t focus as intently on playing games for the Game Boy. What you are creating with GB Studio should be seen as a hobby first and foremost, something that is a form of self expression and a creative outlet. If you are able to bring in some financial benefit, it’s a bonus. Yes, we’ve seen some wildly successful modern Game Boy projects, but those games are an exception, not the norm. Setting expectations of creating a “hit game” is one sure way to set yourself up for disappointment, pushing your motivation and mental state down further. Even modern indie games are a hard market to succeed in, ask any developer who’s released work on Steam, Itch or on Consoles.
This article itself is an example of putting life before production. It was slated to be released several days ago, but I have prioritized the other areas of my life that needed focus. This has been the culture that I’ve tried to maintain at GB Studio Central from the beginning. It is a community based project, and contributors are able to submit articles when they want – not when the business demands it. No game or project is worth putting your health in jeopardy. In the end, it’s just a game. It should be fun and if producing it is detrimental to your health, where’s the fun in that?
What If It’s More?
It’s important to recognize that prolonged exposure to stress can lead to more severe mental health issues. Last year after months of dealing with the effects of burnout, I developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is largely caused by chemical imbalances in the brain that result from the body trying to deal with the effects of stress hormones. In order to get better, I needed professional help which included medication, which I am still taking. This is the message that I want to relay to our readers, too many times we think that what we’re dealing with is something trivial and will either subside on its own or it will be a burden to others and not worth seeking help for. Your friends and loved ones want you to succeed, and asking for help is how it will get better. You may not need a course of therapy to counteract the effects, but you won’t get better unless you talk to someone about it.
If you are concerned that you are experiencing burnout or other mental health challenges, reach out to a loved one or a friend, and/or speak with a medical professional. We’re all in this together, and these last few years have been extremely detrimental to the overall mental health of a large portion of the population. Your game can wait, we’ll be here to see it.
Audio Engineer, Mac Technologist and Video Game Developer. Managing Editor of GBStudio Central. (he/him)