Sometimes Shit Just Doesn’t Work

A year or so ago, I was ready to hit primetime. I was about to go big.

For one, I successfully Kickstarted a visual novel. I found an amazing artist, and we even got enough extra funding to get a musician on board. Production hit a few snags here and there, but we completed production and delivered on our KS promises. The game had gorgeous art, beautiful music, and an unconventional story for a visual novel. I was (and am) so proud of what we created.

But that’s not all. Only a week or so after I successfully funded my visual novel, I got accepted to Stugan, an amazing retreat for indie game developers in Sweden. I’d never left the country before, and now I was going to spend two months in Sweden! I was going to meet influential people in the games industry! It was a dream come true.

I learned a lot of stuff at Stugan: How to name your company. How to promote your games. How to set up a a web presence and a press page. Neat coding tricks and best practices. I felt so legit! I had a webpage and everything. I was going to start a company and become a serious presence in indie games.

There were a few hitches in this plan, though. The biggest one being money. As in, I don’t really have any. I’m disabled and live on a teeny tiny income. I make less than $800 a month. At the time, I was based in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is the most expensive place to live in the US. I say I “was based in,” but that’s a grandiose way to put it. I was one step away from homelessness.

Lots of people have crashed on couches until they got back on their feet. The people that bounce back typically aren’t disabled. Between narcolepsy and leg pain that put me in a wheelchair, I wasn’t about to stage a miraculous comeback into financial stability. The people that bounce back also, typically, aren’t part of a marginalized population that faces 14% unemployment and 44% underemployment.

Basically, the odds were really stacked against me. I tried anyways. And I crashed and burned.

When I returned home from Sweden, the couch I was crashing on was no longer available. I had to move, and it had to be somewhere I could afford. It also had to be a place that wasn’t completely horrible to trans people. (There isn’t any city that’s good for trans people. Less horrible is the best you get.) In the end I picked Portland, Oregon.

I did a poor job of promoting my visual novel during this time, so it didn’t sell that well at all. My other project, the one I developed at Stugan, collected dust. I stopped writing, too. I stopped talking to friends. I basically disappeared.

I was too stressed from the move. Not just the physical act of moving, but also transferring my medical insurance, finding new doctors, reestablishing necessary medical treatment, and restarting medical testing that got interrupted by the move. I left the most stable, supportive circle of friends I’ve ever had in my life. I was all but alone, save for a couple acquaintances I knew from online, in a new city. My leg pain got so bad I couldn’t exercise. Regular exercise was what kept my narcolepsy symptoms manageable. Stress was at a peak, which also worsens symptoms. The sleep attacks got worse and worse. It felt like someone was injecting me with tranquilizers every day. The only thing I had the energy to do, apart from going to doctor appointments, was play videogames and post on Twitter. My behavior devolved into a series of compulsive loops. I’m diagnosed with OCD, but this was the first time I’ve ever felt like I had no control over it. I would lose entire days to OCD.

All the while, I continued to barely survive on that teeny-tiny income. Which dropped when I moved to Oregon. I didn’t have money for food at the end of the month. I skipped meals. I panicked at the end of every month, worried I was about to become homeless again.

Then, the last straw: I had to drop my company website, because the domain cost too much. Goodbye, patchworkdollgames dot com. Those were a nice couple months we had together.

It’s good to dream, and to pursue those dreams. But sometimes it just doesn’t work. Now I find myself reevaluating my life plan. Where do I go from here?

There have been some positive changes recently. My leg pain is improving. I discovered some simple tricks that help. I’m scheduled to see a physical therapist, to get some official tricks that help. Maybe my legs will eventually work like normal. Right now, I’m just happy I can take a shower without experiencing debilitating pain.

I found a medication that helps with a bunch of my neurological/psychological problems all at once: panic attacks from PTSD, OCD compulsion loops, and muscle weakness from the narcolepsy. I feel hopeful again.

But do I want to resume my path where I left off? It would take a small miracle to get my finances to a point where I could found a company for real, even as a sole proprietor. Frankly, I’m not that excited about making games that appeal to “gamers.” They tend to fly off the handle over the silliest things. The culture there is way too insular. On the other hand, more experimental games don’t sell that well. I don’t want to be another Tale of Tales. Maybe I’ll continue to make weird arty game-like things on the side, and get a day job. I’m not sure yet.