The world is not a perfect place; to say the least. Permanency is unattainable, and for the most part, so is control. Most of us wake up every day and try to hold onto something stable. Whether that stability manifests itself via habits and routine or creating goals that we know we can reach, we all strive to feel like we have power over something. Truth is we have limited control. We live our lives attempting to wrestle the steering wheel out of the maniacal hands of fate. We can keep fate from careening off of a cliff, but rarely can we make it stay on the road.
I should preface this paragraph by saying that I spend most of my time at home. This should be my sanctuary. However, thanks to bad luck, my sanctuary is falling apart, literally. This bears some harsh lessons in control and permanence. Within the next few weeks my house will be torn apart from top to bottom. My wife and I may need to find a place to stay while this is being done (hopefully it doesn’t come to this). Needless to say, this is a situation that no one wants to go through.
As a contractor stood in my kitchen explaining the extent of damage he found, my wife listened, I fretted away at details in Maya. I was listening, sort of. While he enumerated all of the issues he found, I debated over how to stage a balcony to create an interesting shape along the street face. Admittedly, this was pretty irresponsible; I never said I was a good adult. The contractor continued to explain deprecation of materials as I stared at the building I was modelling and it triggered a thought.
I want to be a level designer. More ambitiously, I want to design entire worlds. The question is: why? As I cut and weld edges for my, now, perfectly placed balcony, it occurred to me that this balcony will never collapse. No matter how dilapidated I make my city, it will always be what I make it. Outside of this world, things are falling apart and there’s only so much I can do. Inside my city, every detail is mine.
This gives me a sense of control albeit an illusory and fleeting one. I can shape what materials were used to build the city, what type of people live in the city, and how they live. I can make it as perfect or run down as I choose and it will never be anything other than what I want it to be. This is a stark contrast to the insanity that is reality.
Have you ever played a game that gave you a decent amount of agency? We’re talking about a game that allowed you to make decisions that would change the world. Think about the feeling these games give you when you make a decision that alters the course of the canon. It feels good to be able to shape a world without any permanent consequences, doesn’t it? Take that feeling and amplify it and you might have an idea of how it feels to create levels.
The issue is that the worlds I create aren’t real. They’re a temporary escape. As much as I’d love to live in these worlds, I can’t. Eventually I have to save and exit the program. The most I can do is create them to not freak out about my house caving in, how ridiculous the real world is getting and how predominantly helpless we are in this universe. Life doesn’t have revision control. I can’t revert to a previous save. This might seem like a bleak outlook to some, but I don’t think that’s the case.
Remember earlier how I compared fate to a crazy driver? I think that gives fate a little too much credit. In all honesty, fate is ambivalent. It doesn’t care what happens to you or me. That’s just the way of the universe. No one is problem free. My issues will pass and new ones will arise. Stress ebbs and flows. I’m thankful for so many things in life. Lately, I’ve been exceedingly grateful that I’ve been able to take up game design as a craft. In the midst of arising chaos, it helps to have a healthy escape. If nothing else, it leaves me with the consolation that while I may not be able to live in a perfect world, at least I can build one.