Trigger Warning: This post contains adult language and self-pity - you know, like the rest of the internet.
I’ve had a hard year.
So have you, I’m sure. I’m sorry. Are you holding up okay? Do you have someone or something to hug in your lockdown bubble? Go to them. Go to them, now, and squeeze.
It’s going to be okay in the end, right?*
*I will accept a comforting lie in lieu of the cold indifference of the universe.
Forgive me for adding to the crapheap of pain that is 2020, but I need to wax meandering about the emotional toll of rejection. Because that’s what job-hunting in the games industry is: overwhelmingly, rejection.
Alas, this isn’t a post filled with sage advice. I have none, generally - and especially about rejection. Even after 15 years of looking for work in the games industry, I haven’t found a healthy way to cope with the constant onslaught of rejection. And it is very much constant, that rejection. Be it an outright “no”, a drawn-out “no”, or a “no” by lack of response, rejection is 99.9% of the job-hunt. And it takes a toll. It really fucking takes a toll.
It seems every single studio in the games industry turned me down this year. Hundreds of applications, hundreds of hours invested. I networked, I asked for feedback, I followed up, I was persistent, I changed my approach, I sought advice, I reworked my resume/LinkedIn/cover letters/portfolio/socials, I reapplied, I reached out.
I cried, too. A lot. Pretty much every day. I became terrified of my inbox - every alert held promise and devastation in equal measure. Schrödinger’s job hunt. When I open the box, will it be good news, or another item to add to the list of reasons I hate myself? Spoilers: the latter. Always the latter.
Getting rejected from my dream job was the absolute worst. It took two months from submitting a writing test to hearing “no”. I hoped, deliriously, every day of those two months. It seemed my luck might have been turning around. I’ve never felt a more visceral, literal gut-wrench over reading something than opening that rejection email. It was the final turtle-choking straw, the inconsolable defeat. Not enough whiskey in the world to drown out that failure.
Self-doubt creeps in. Bitterness, too. Scrolling through your socials, seeing your peers celebrate landing the very jobs that rejected you. Wondering what was so undesirable about you, wondering how you fucked it all up. “Was it one too many exclamation points in my cover letter? Not enough? Were my writing samples shitty? Am I just a shit writer? Is it my profile photo? Am I too heinous to hire? It’s because I like rhythm games, isn’t it? Or am I just too awkward to exist among other humans? I should just give up trying to work in games and go live on the moon with the astronaut poop, shouldn’t I?”
Objectively, I know it’s not any of that. It’s not personal. Probably, the resume robot threw mine out before my application ever made it to human eyes. Probably, someone was already earmarked for the job, and the posting was a bureaucratic formality. Probably, the project got axed and the position was closed. Probably, it came down to a narrow margin of skills, of which I didn’t have the edge. Probably, it’s who you know and who they know - which is why the industry is still 75% cis white guys, whomp whomp.
Doesn’t change how it feels, though. Doesn’t change the dead-eyed hours of questioning yourself, wondering if this is the end of the road.
That your career depends on the whims of someone you’ve likely never met making a pressured decision about a PDF representation of you… that’s a hoo-boy. That’s a big oof. That’s a lie-awake-and-pray-to-whatever-you-pray-to, begging that someone in a good mood with an open mind happens to open your application and decide, "I like your moxie, kid! You're hired!"
So little of it is in your control. So little of it has anything to do with you. So what can you do?
You can know you’re not alone, at least. If nothing else, this whiny, self-indulgent post of woe-is-me can serve as a nod of camaraderie to my fellow job-hunters: I see you; I hurt, too.
And you keep trying. You keep trying, because if making games for a living makes your heart sing, you fight for your right to p̶a̶r̶t̶y̶ have a seat at the industry table. Even when it seems like you don’t belong anywhere, like nobody wants you, like the whole of the industry is laughing at you. Even when you hear “no” 304 times in one year, adding to the thousands of times you’ve heard it over the course of your career.
Or, you give up and move to the moon and grow space potatoes out of astronaut poop. Logistical challenges abound, but at least it's a fun new something! at which to fail miserably.
Like I said, not a lot of sage advice here. Sorry.