On talent, failure, and giving up

by Gil Hova

Note: There’s no huge announcement behind this post. I’m not giving anything up, or experiencing any setbacks. Perhaps failure is on my mind because I’m about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for my first self-published game in a month, and this stuff is on my mind. Maybe I’m just in a reflective mood. Maybe I just ate some bad fruit.

In any event, I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, and I felt like sharing it here. Nothing more!

If there’s one thing I absolutely believe in, that’s to believe in no absolutes.

Here’s an example. No one likes to fail. Too much failure is a problem. Too much failure disheartens us. There’s a point when you realize the mat of the boxing ring is more comfortable than any other position you could be in at this moment. And all the pep talks in the world won’t get you back onto your feet.

I’ll be honest: The idea that “if you put your mind to it, you can do anything” is complete garbage. No one is good at everything. There are some things in this world that you and I just will never be able to do.

I found a bunch of things I couldn’t do when I was a kid at school. Sports. Foreign language. Singing. I just couldn’t do them at any level of competence, regardless of how much time I put into them. My life became immediately better the moment I gave them up (or in the case of foreign language, the moment I was allowed to give them up, which was when I passed the mandatory state test by one point).

It’s not self-deprecation to realize you can’t do something well enough to be competent. We are all mortals; we all have our limits. Acknowledging them, and working around them, is huge.

If there is something in life that you can’t do, then the sooner you realize you can’t do it, the better. Giving up is not always a bad thing. It doesn’t always mean admitting defeat. For me, it usually means gathering reinforcements.

But, on the other hand…

I’ve seen people discuss “talent” in the past. Like, a person either has an innate talent at something, or they have no ability. I’ve seen people quit new creative endeavors almost immediately after starting them, claiming they were “no good at it”. They figured if they didn’t feel like a natural at first, what’s the point?

One thing that is important to me is failure. This blog was originally named “Fail Better”. Failure is at the core of iterative design. It’s all about failing, and failing quickly. It’s about exploring the ways you fail. It’s about embracing failure, and figuring out why you’re failing. Because if you do that enough times, you find yourself not failing.

I recently cracked open a box of my oldest game designs from 15 years ago, and it stunned me how bad some of those games were. What was I thinking? If I knew how bad those games were back then, would I have continued plugging away at designing games?

If you’re a game designer, and you’re feeling the boxing glove of failure repeatedly striking you in the abdomen, you can take some time to reflect on your life decisions while you’re lying on the mat. It’s part of the process.

If you feel like you’ve had enough, and you’ve given things a fair shake, no one will blame you for staying on the mat.

But don’t decide on that nap too early. Getting up is part of the process too.