With Respect to Motivation

There are a lot of things I could say, or rather ask myself about my motivations. In particular, why do I write, program, paint, or try any other thing I want to attain proficiency in. This is the sort of thing I sit down and try to write about every now and then, but end up trashing the document.1 If you’re reading this now, then I’ve at least succeeded in not trashing the remainder, which I no doubt believe to be garbage as much as the next attempt at introspection.

Before anything else, there is the obvious reason I and presumably all others do most anything: because it interests us. This is odd though, because how did anyone decide what interested him or her? With certain things, we can look at them and say “that’s interesting, I want to do that.” Take skateboarding, for instance, you could look at someone on a board and immediately decide that’s something you have to do. If you can see it happening and imagine yourself doing it, chances are you could consider it an interest.

Not all interests are like that, though. You can’t rely on seeing everything interesting. For that, there is my favorite question: “how the hell does that work?” If there is one question that has driven me to pursue something more than anything else, it’s that. This question has led to programming, the creation of game art, possibly writing2, and lately I’ve decided I must know about typography. I won’t get into what I know about each, especially given I’m still waiting on some books to arrive for the last subject, but I will say that raw curiosity is a greater driving force than any other aspect.

The desire to learn something is probably driving my motivation the most. This doesn’t mean I just enjoy learning all things – I’ve found this out the hard way. Turns out I have a hard time caring about sociology. Overall, though, learning is a joy that cannot be lessened over time. There are so many things to study and cram into my skull that I’m certain I will not run out of material any time soon, at least not within my lifetime. For example, I would eventually like to take a great deal of time to study mathematics. Not because it would benefit me in some tangible way3, but simply because I want to know more.

Learning benefits me in more ways than anything else. There is the satisfaction mentioned before, but also the knowledge and skill (where applicable) gained. What could benefit anyone more than knowledge and skill in an area? The ability to think something and accomplish it is not simple, and the more you have available to work with, the better your chances of meeting your goals. I would not be where I am today if I had not learned to create game art, had I not finally decided that I must know how game assets were made4 – I could see them to start with, but I had to know how it worked, why games were able to look the way they did. Learning that in turn led to programming, because I couldn’t stop at the surface. The best part of both game art and programming is that I continue to learn about the two, even after many years of practicing both. Writing is the same, there’s no point where I can just stop and announce to everyone, “I know it all, there is no more to see.”

Once I have learned something, I can then use it to learn more – maybe about something new, maybe expanding what I already know. The simple point of all of this is really that learning drives a great deal more for me than anything else. I imagine the same is true for others, be they musicians or programmers or engineers or what have you. Every act should result in a little more knowledge or a little more skill. If I get more than that, great, but anything without one, the other, or both would seem only hollow.

  1. Since I doubt many of us write on paper anymore – at least not at length – we probably don’t get the visceral pleasure of crumpling paper and tossing it in the direction of the nearest trash can, only for it to miss. What a shame. [return]
  2. I say “possibly” here because I’m admittedly unsure of my reasons for writing. I attribute it to a number of things, curiosity in particular, but writing is often a way to satisfy curiosity. It may be that writing allows the satisfaction and therefore becomes a necessity, but I don’t know.

    A reason I often use when explaining why I’m a writing major is that writing is simply something I am not good at. A number of people will tell others that I am lying about being un-good, but it’s worth keeping in mind that my personal standards for excellence are far higher than most. If I don’t meet or exceed those standards, I must remain un-good.

  3. A complaint I tend to have with many college students is that they seem to be studying the wrong things. A computer science student, for instance, might not actually enjoy computer science. These situations seem to come about due to the necessity of money. It is unfortunately the destiny of all people to either work or try to sustain themselves in another manner (your call on what alternatives are “good” and “bad”).

    Many students might pick the most supposedly profitable field to study in – usually based on an article in, say, Forbes for example, that lists off the top N most profitable degrees. This can get one salivating at the thought of a prospective income range, especially one that is vastly greater than his or her current income. The problem with this reasoning is that choosing an area you do not like, sitting through four years of it, give or take a year for most students, will make you unhappy. Further, continuing and ending up working in the field you so dislike will only deaden your soul or will.

    Maybe these students know this and accept the consequences in exchange for relatively stable living. It certainly tempts me to think that I could just sacrifice some happiness in exchange for a slightly improved chance of stability, but I’ve already dealt with unhappiness and have no interest in returning to a similar state by choice. Instead, I chose to do what will allow me to remain sane and what I enjoy and most importantly what I can improve. There is never a point where I can stop improving my writing and myself through writing, and to that end, I feel I’ve made the choice that is right for me. However, this is just a footnote, so I must go on with the original purpose of this writing.

  4. I probably didn’t call them “assets” at the time. More likely, I simply set a goal to make stuff for games. What I saw in games, then, was the visuals – I knew something was going on to make them work and that it was more than just art, but I went first for what would let me see my work.

    Initially, modding for Doom 2 and Quake 1 gave me the best results, but Quake 3 is where I really began putting forth the energy to improve my work. I still believe Quake 3 has some of my favorite art, and I’m increasingly disappointed that the methods used to create game art have left the “old ways” behind despite how amazing the technology I get to work with now is. On the upside, the present is far better than the past when considering the terrible things one had to put up with 10 years ago.