Create From Empathy

I’ve said in the past that the two motivations for creating anything are spite and horny. You either are mad that something doesn’t exist, or that something that does exists wasn’t what you wanted, or you had a deep and personal want for something so you made it because of that. Sometimes the thing you want is just the experience of ‘hey, can I even make something in the first place,’ sometimes you’re horny for praise, sometimes you’re horny for being seen as productive, whatever. It’s a want or it’s spite.

Once you’re making, though, I’d like to encourage you to try and build what you’re building out of a sense of empathy.

When I teach students about how to make things, whether it’s a board game (as a structured object) or something like an instagram account (as an ongoing practice) it’s very easy to get caught up on thinking of an audience as literally the people on the internet who find the thing. This is something I have to try and uproot like a tree stump, every time.

Your audience are not ‘the people who see your work.’ It’s not your followers, god help me it’s not your impressions on a tweet. Your audience are the people who, if they see your work, are likely to like it. They’re the people who will respond to your work if they ever get to see it. When you stop thinking of them as people who are responding to your work, but rather as the people who would respond to it, you can stop worrying about ‘why am I bothering’ but instead ‘how do I make sure this work is as good as possible for the people who haven’t found it yet?’

First of all, there’s a lot of stuff people create without thinking about how an audience might experience it, or participate in it. If you’ve made fifty pages of worldbuilding, that’s fine and good to have, but how many of those pages are going to be useful to the person you’re hoping will read it?  Should you present them fifty pages, unorganised, or is it worth your time, is it respectful of their time and feelings, to go over what you wrote, and see if you can introduce ideas better?

Second, there’s a member of your audience you should have some empathy with, which is you. When you find yourself disinterested in making more of the thing, that’s someone you should listen to. When you find yourself tired, or sore, or bummed, and the urge to create isn’t overwhelming that, if you’re not playing with ideas, if you’re not finding yourself engaged with it… have some empathy with yourself.

You might just not be in the mood for it right now.

And if you’re never in the mood, maybe you don’t want to do it. Take what you learned, and move on.

We often think of our past projects and ideas and ostensible commencements of things as some kind of failing, some kind of moral weakness. This is pretty silly, and it’s a lot like trying to make people feel bad for unfinished games in their Steam library.

We’re all just here, playing with pieces.

So be kind to yourself. And to the people you want to share with.