what follows is a talk my friend sam gave at a gave developer microtalk event. the talks of the night, expectedly, dealt with coding and development and the act of creating. mercifully batting cleanup, sam's talk, generically lableled PROCESS, blew the lid off the tenth floor of a twenty-five story building.
I still have a viola, purchased in a sprint of optimism two years ago, stashed under my bed gathering dust. The first game I launched commercially took half of the bank account with it, and never gave it back. And, despite all my wanting, I still cannot touch my toes.
and in case i need to paint the scene at this point, i will. imagine a room-full of wet-eyed techies rising from their chairs to give a thunderous ted-worthy applause. pulling that many people accustomed to sitting all day from their chairs is no small feat. in fact, the next day i asked for my speaking contract to have a clause added that states i will not speak seven days before or after a sam coster talk. i don't need the comparison.
I've failed at everything I've ever found success in. So I know a thing or two about failing, and also about not failing. And it struck me a few weeks back that there's a strong thread between what I do as a game designer, and what I do to not fail. And it all comes down to one idea:
If you'd ask the dictionary about it, the dictionary would say something as uninspired as:
a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.
The definition I'd supplant it with is this:
THE GIFT OF THE GODS THAT WILL AID YOU IN THE COMING BATTLE FOR A MEANINGFUL LIFE.
Slight hyperbole, but you get my point. A process is an ordered task list that gets you from envisioning your future to living it.
Now, I'm certain that most people are driven. That most people have lofty goals about what they want to achieve in their time here, and about the legacy they want to leave behind. I think there is one primary problem standing between myself, or you, and achieving those great goals. And that thing is fog.
Fog is the veil of uncertain action that hangs between where you are and where you want to be. Fog is the thing that enters your mind when you declare a goal but don't know how to start.
And Process is your fog cutting device.
Process let's you line up tasks like little dominos and knock them over without much effort until finally you reach the last one, your end goal. With a properly honed process, completing that last task takes the same amount of effort as did completing the others. A simple, poke.
How many of you have played Diablo 3?
For the uninitiated, Diablo is a hack-n-slash adventure that sends you over a few continents and eventually to hell or heaven where, surprise, you confront the Lord of Terror and the namesake of the game, Diablo, and beat his face into the ground using all the power you accrued along the way.
The function of games, and the potential of Process, are on grand display in Diablo 3. Because while players know that their MEGA goal, their entire purpose in playing through this gory lootfest, is to kill Diablo, the first task they get is quite mundane. In Diablo 3 the first objective that pops up on the right side of the screen is to kill the undead prodding the gate of the city.
Taking a birds-eye view, the vast majority of the tasks in Diablo 3 share one striking thing in common with that original objective :
THEY AREN'T KILLING DIABLO.
In fact, they're killing everything but Diablo. The game should really be called "Kill like 10,000 monsters and then one slightly larger one you might have to drink a potion to defeat also his name is Diablo I guess."
And that's the interesting intersection between process and great game design - they deliver you to a MEGA goal as naturally as if it were just another tiny domino ticking down the line.
Now, imagine if, upon booting up Diablo 3 and entering the world for the first time an objective flashed onto the right side of your screen : KILL DIABLO. And as you meandered about the town, talking to people, poking zombies with your short sword, that objective never changed.
Most people would get lost in the fog. Most people wouldn't kill Diablo.
And this is EXACTLY what happens in the real world, because the real world is not intentionally designed. Many people make daring declarations like "I'M GOING TO OWN MY OWN BUSINESS'" or "I'M GOING TO BE A GAME DEVELOPER" or, even, "I'M GOING TO EAT FEWER HOT POCKETS."
But either they don't or cannot define the series of small tasks, the process, by which they can reach those goals. And so the fog, that ever present cloud of demotivation, traps them.
Last November it wasn't Diablo as a Mega Goal that flashed up on my screen, but cancer.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4b Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. I was so deeply ill that had I ignored my exhaustion for another few weeks, maybe less, I would be dead.
The week following my diagnosis, before treatment began, was the most terrifying and uncomfortable week of my life. Not because I was adjusting to the news, but because I didn't yet have a process in place for how I was going to get my metaphorical level 1 n00b from the edge of my sickly Tristram to the lair of that cancerous Diablo. I was encased in Fog while the whole world fell to pieces around me.
I met with a doctor. She changed my objective from KILL CANCER to GET LAB WORK DONE. From DON'T DIE to GET FIRST CHEMO. From FEND OFF DEPRESSION to TAKE NAUSEA PILL. She helped me see the undead at the gate.
On the night of that 6th and final treatment I equipped this pair of green socks, the rough equivalent to a set of epic boots my then girlfriend, now Fiance, Diana, had given to me. I received the final chemo easier than any of the others. And as I walked out of the hospital that night I took hold of the bell stationed in the chemo ward, the one you only get to ring when you complete treatment - with a final slam I plunged my dagger into the heart of Diablo. As the sound rang out across an empty hospital I gasped at how simple this last task felt. It was just another domino.
To process something is to break it down into a series of actionable tasks. It's a simple, powerful idea that can carry you from Earth, to hell, and back again.
What can it do for you?