Indie Game: The Movie, and the fan art that changed my life.

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For those used to my usual blog posts: this is going to be a long one. It’s a heavily personal story, and is something I've held back on telling for a while now. To be fully honest, I wasn't sure how I’d even approach it, so I just never bothered. I was dealing with personal issues that prevented me from organizing my thoughts and making the effort needed to write this whole thing. However, with the public release of Indie Game: The Movie, I feel like now is as good a time as ever to tackle it. I am sorry if this is not the most well-written of stories, but I’ll certainly put as much of that B-grade college writing skill to use as possible. This is the story of how I went from being in a severe, crippling depression to a completely revitalisation of my outlook on life, friends, and future--all because I have an unabashed love for videogames.

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It’s 2AM on a Sunday night (or Monday morning, if you’re a jerk about it) and I am sitting in front of my TV attempting to beat the last level of Super Meat Boy for the 500th time. I’ve been at it for close to two hours. I’m no longer wearing a shirt because I am sweating too much. My girlfriend is in the other room, infuriated that she can’t sleep because I keep yelling at my TV. My blood is boiling. I’ve never been so fucking angry at a game before, and yet I’ve never been so unable to let go of the controller. Figuring out the exact method to get over the smallest obstacle is intoxicating. After an additional hour of continued struggling, anger, venting, and perseverance, I beat the level. It’s finally over. One of the most rewarding and exciting experiences of my gaming life came to a close. Damn, what a great game.

SMB is all that is on my mind. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Shortly after the game’s launch, I sat in history class bored to tears and day dreamt of imaginary levels that I could be playing in the game. I needed to take the boredom out, and my fortunate position as an art student had a sketchbook and pencil already in my hands, so I got to drawing. Out of obsession towards the game and complete disregard for the Renaissance era of art, I drew a silly drawing of Meat Boy running and jumping off a platform. I even drew the game’s title card, because that was awesome to me. I finished it a few classes later, and showed it to my friends. They loved it! His silly grin is funny, and Dr. Fetus provided equal amounts of chuckles by flipping everyone off in the background. I loved the drawing. My friends loved it. My usual boredom in class had me checking my Twitter feed, scrolling through the enormous amount of praise Team Meat were receiving post-release. I told myself “You know what? I’m gonna show them the drawing. Maybe I’ll get an RT or something! Man, that’d be awesome!”, so I scanned the drawing when I got home and sent it to them. Moments later, I was greeted with this in my feed:

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I was ecstatic. It’s their first fan art link! They linked it to everyone who watches them, and they replied to me! They told me they think it’s awesome, too! I felt so giddy! Of course, much better and crazier fanart has come since, but I still felt so special. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have people you admire applaud something you did out of love. It was exactly what I could have asked for, and I was thrilled.

A year passes since then. I continued my studies, I continued to play video games, and I continued to be in a struggling relationship. My partner was having doubts, yet I was growing more attached to her day by day. I went from being in a serious relationship mindset to something I wanted to commit to. Yes, that kind of commitment. However, she did not feel the same. I still think I secretly knew this, but chose to either ignore it, or talk about it as if it were a temporary issue. Her insecurities are for another story, but it is worth saying that they are reasonable. Shit, they are insecurities I am surprised she did not develop earlier. Just... normal stuff. But stuff I would not have ever expected out of her. Unfortunately, the great Brian Altano (Brrapp brrapp!) rang true when he said: “I’ve seen people who enter and exit a relationship as two completely different persons.” The problems came and went, which brought severe tone and mood swings to our relationship. It was wonderful at times, stressful in others. I managed, because I loved everything about her, but I am not sure she was able to manage anymore.

She returned from a trip with her friends at the start of the new year. It was the 2nd of the month, and we got together after being away from each other for about a week. It was a dreadful experience for me. I missed her every second she wasn’t there. I unfortunately learned she did not think the same that night, as she said it’s time for us to part ways. Within instants, my entire world was pulled out from underneath my feet. Over the years we were together, I had grown to appreciate everything in life because of the color she added to it. Within a single night, a single hour through a single sentence, all of that was taken away. Any reason I had to enjoy life vanished, along with any hope I had for our future. Instead of staring at a path that branched off into different directions, I was standing at the edge of a cliff, and land mines suddenly popped up from the ground behind me.

My friends sharing stupid garbage like this with me to make light of the situation... it helped. A lot.
My friends sharing stupid garbage like this with me to make light of the situation... it helped. A lot.

The following days after that night did not help, either. It is, unfortunately, only in a dire situation that you will truly know which friends will always be there for you. An entire social circle abruptly closed when everyone who was friends with my girlfriend abandoned communication with me, with some even developing extreme hostility towards me. Fortunately, I had a very small group of friends who did stick by. They were there to talk to--to help me, and distract me. Some there to talk me out of very serious discussions regarding suicide, and others there to make me laugh, despite an unshakable urge to hate everything around me. Even with the few remaining friends I had left, never had I wanted so many people to leave me alone.

The real struggle I had to face was realising that I couldn’t rely on someone to fulfill my own happiness. I couldn’t have a single person be the center of my world, leaving myself and my friends out to dry. Having spent two years as happy as I had ever felt, it felt alien to me that one could enjoy life on its own merits. That I could enjoy a movie, or a walk outside, because of what I took from it, instead of what the person I loved took from it. I couldn’t understand it and, even when I had it explained to me, refused to because it just seemed crazy to me. How could I not want to feel happy through the channeled happiness of someone I truly cared for? I spent weeks thinking like this, hoping that the situation would somehow find a way to fix itself. When a semblance of acceptance would cross my mind, I would fall asleep at night and wake up from dreams where my girlfriend and I were still together. That everything was fine, or that things magically repaired themselves. I would wake up from a world I desperately wished existed, and would refuse to get out of bed because I knew the day had already started ruined. Nothing was clearly going to make me happy that day, so why even bother getting out of bed. My subconscious was actively trying to depress me, no matter the effort I made.

School started near the end of January, forcing me to actually get off my ass and approach the outside world. Everything reminded me of her. I suppose that comes naturally from spending almost every day with a person. I dislike how stupid hard it is to move on when things as trivial as a bus stop or street sign remind you of someone.

The depression continued for another month until my friends and family told me I should seek counselling. My past experiences with therapy were sub-par at best, boiling down to an overpaid housemaid telling me “Well, just get better.” Fortunately, the wonderful educational system here in Quebec (thanks to the tuition fees we pay--hurr hurr social commentary) allowed me to see a professional psychiatrist for free, scheduled on my own time in between classes. My plan was to go into the meetings and try to get my work, school, and home life back on track without really touching much on my relationship troubles. I suppose it is no surprise that I was trying to piece myself together as I explained what happened with my ex-girlfriend 20 minutes in.

This silly style I've made for myself... born out of a dumb joke between classmates.
This silly style I've made for myself... born out of a dumb joke between classmates.

Counselling continued on once a week for two months. One of the key things I needed to do to recover during that time was rebuild my social life. I had spent the past few years shutting myself in with a single person, failing to realize that there were other people I could connect with and open up with. I got closer to the friends that stuck by me, and opened up a bit more to the friends I had at school. I closed myself off from them for the longest time, fearing the complexity of having to juggle between time with friends at school and time with my girlfriend. I love them and they are great people, but that is something I know now because I made the effort to get closer. I was rebuilding, and it did wonders. By the end of April, I was already starting to forget things like her address or what kind of clothes she’d wear. The process was, finally, beginning.

During this time is when I also started talking with some fellow Giant Bomb users, Ossi and CommodoreGroovy, about a project they were working on. They’ve been wanting to make this game for some time, and they needed an artist. We all hang out in an IRC chat pretty often, so I was asked if I want to be the guy they need. I have this free time now to chase my ambitions, so why not! I mean, shit, this is kind of what I had always dreamt of doing. Now was certainly a good time to start, especially if it’s with a group of friends I trust. We continued talking, and I was eventually onboard. Radical!

Somewhere in the tail end of April, my friend Paul and I went to see The Raid: Redemption (which was fucking awesome, by the way) and as we left the theatre, I noticed a sign advertising a one-night only screening of Indie Game: The Movie, on May 3rd, at the movie theatre we were just in. I flipped. Finally, my chance had come to see the documentary I had heard the Giant Bomb crew, along with other game journalists, raving about after seeing the premiere US screening in San Francisco. I let one of my friends from class know, since we both share a strong love of all things indie. We bought our tickets in advance, the conversation to do so prompting another friend from class to ask if she could join. May 3rd eventually rolled around, and the three of us stayed after class downtown to wait for the movie’s screening at 9PM. We met up with another friend from class along the way, who we invited to see the movie with us. It’s late, we had a long day, why not go see a movie? He gladly joined, and we were off to the theatre.

An accurate portrayal of the first five minutes of our showing.
An accurate portrayal of the first five minutes of our showing.

The screening of the movie was a special event across all of Canada. They were showing the movie in person in Toronto and projected it in other movie theatres across Canada... via satellite. You know, the most reliable of technologies. It baffled me that they couldn’t just use broadband or something, since we were plagued with A/V breakup the whole night. The movie was, thankfully, still watchable.

Indie Game: The Movie is great. It is a well-executed, directed, edited, and structured documentary about the trials and tribulations of independent development. I’m not a movie critic, or a critic at all, really, so I’ll avoid that stuff. All you need to know about the movie from a critical standpoint is that if you have any kind of interest in games, especially game development, you should watch it. If you haven’t already, that is.

The drawing that started it all.
The drawing that started it all.

About half-way through the movie, the focus switches to Team Meat and the release of their game on XBLA. The reception is universally positive and the movie accurately reflects it. Silly clips from Giant Bomb and incredibly high scores on aggregate sites are all displayed on the screen. The scene continues on to show Edmund staring at his monitor as he excitedly remarks about “this fan art they just got”. The camera cuts away to the monitor and shows a Twitter post. My post. Full screen. I saw, for the first time in my life, my artwork across a 22-feet tall movie screen. I fucking instantly lost it. I flipped out, shouting “Oh my god!!” as loud as I could without alerting the entire audience. I glanced over to my right and saw my friends also flipping out, recognizing the artwork. My heart was racing. It was beating faster than I could count. My coat got really warm all of a sudden. Way too excited. I just saw my artwork on a fucking movie screen in a fucking movie about fucking video games holy shit fuck shit.

I continued to watch the movie, wearing an uncontrollably excited grin on my face the whole time. It begins to close out, turning to Edmund once last time to finish the Team Meat chapter. He talks about the surreal experience of the game’s development and how he wishes that he can do to others what those who inspired him did for his work. That if he’s able to inspire someone from the work he does, then it’s worth it all. The movie cuts to the artwork again, properly displayed across the full screen once more. The Team Meat chapter ends, and I sat in my chair just completely speechless. Well, speechless in both mind and body. I couldn’t really talk during the movie. … You know what I mean, shut up.

As the movie ended and we all get up to leave, a man tapped my shoulder from behind me and asked me “Hey, was that really your artwork? I saw you flip out when they showed it.” I excitedly told him yes, that I drew the silly thing in history class this one day. He smiled from ear to ear and said “That’s fucking awesome, dude!” and gave the best high-five. My friends and I regrouped in the lobby from the disorderly exit, and we all instantly jumped to the art. I was standing and pacing, unable to contain what I just saw as they all shared the excitement of seeing a friend’s art in a movie. One of my friends, Kaifu, was flipping out and took it out on me by hugging me, as did my other friend Marysa. We started leaving the theatre with smiles across all our faces. I opened the door to the outside world and after taking a few steps on the sidewalk, I closed my eyes and just thought about what had happened. I thought back on everything I’d been through for the past few months. How shitty I’d felt, how much self-loathing and regret and pain I put myself through through because of stupid actions and stupider reactions. I thought about all of that, the movie, the hugs--all within a split second--and I breathed in. I took a deep breath in, and I said: “The air has never felt so fresh.”

I spent the next few days intermittently thinking about what had just happened, continuously realising how much more insane the reality of it actually was. Not only was my artwork was in a movie, but it was in a Sundance award-winning movie. Fucking whoa. (Mind you, my art had nothing to do with it winning the award, but still holy shit.)

When I got home the night after the movie, I sent an email to the filmmakers, James and Lisanne. I contacted them telling them I was at the screening and that I was absolutely ecstatic about seeing my art in the movie. Three days later, I got a reply from James. He’s thrilled! They had actually tried tracking me down, but Twitter unfortunately auto-deletes posts after two-three months so tracking down the post (if you are not, you know, the guy who posted it) is near-impossible. They were thrilled to hear from me and made the changes to the movie, putting my name in the credits for the DVD/Steam version. (Oh no, now you all know my real name. Drat!)

Holy shit holy shit holy shit.
Holy shit holy shit holy shit.

Then I got another email from James. He had missed a part in my email, which he felt like re-reading. I wrote in my letter:

The movie was amazing, and I can't commend the both of you enough on just how much of a moral boost it was for me. Both as someone who was really waiting for a feel good moment after losing someone incredibly important earlier this year, and as someone who aspires to one day play the role of those featured in the documentary.

I would honestly really like to direct-quote the email he sent to me, but I feel like it would invade a certain amount of privacy I’m not comfortable doing. What he did write, however, was striking. He was unbelievably happy that their movie was able to help me cope and recover with a difficult situation, because the drawing I posted on Twitter was a part of helping him cope with a difficult situation of his. He told me he had learned of some unfortunate news the morning of the shoot, and that the flood of positive reactions topped off with my fan art “helped turn that scene into something of pure joy & inspiration”.

Fuck yeah ampersand.

I sat in my bed, re-reading the emails over and over, realising the reality of the exchange I just had. Not only was my drawing in a movie, not only did I get to see the true, live reaction of Team Meat towards my drawing, not only did I get to experience complete satisfactory bliss of seeing something of yours on a big screen... but my drawing was also able to affect someone. They created an emotional attachment to it, because they associated it to something that truly helped them. Nothing could have prepared me for realising just how incredible that is. Even now, it still seems kind of crazy to me. Not that anyone who would do such a thing are crazy, but that it could happen to me.

And that’s not the only massive realisation I had. What Edmund said at the end of the movie... it struck a chord. That he wishes he could inspire someone to do what he does through what he loves to do. I sat in the cinema listening to him realising that I am that person. I wouldn’t be working on a game now if I didn’t get the moral boost from the movie. That drive to do something great. As soon as I heard him say those words, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’m an artist. I love to draw. I love to draw pretty things. I love to draw silly things. Most importantly, I love to make people happy. I want to be like Edmund. I want to be the artist who pours his soul into something he loves and believes in. I want to make people happy through something I love.

I wouldn't have this piece of concept art to post if it wasn't for IGTM.
I wouldn't have this piece of concept art to post if it wasn't for IGTM.

All of this is thanks to Indie Game: The Movie, and none of this would have happened had I not drawn that silly fan art. I have a direction ahead of me, now. I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve recovered, I’m happy, and the future has never seemed so bright. Google themselves don’t have the storage space required to store all the “thank you”s I would need to accurately convey my feelings towards James and Lisanne, Edmund, Tommy, Phil, Jon... all of them. They are inspirations to me, and this entire experience will stick with me forever.

After months of crushing unhappiness, I feel complete. And for the first time, it’s not because I’m eating delicious chips.

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Edit: I figure it's worth adding -- the original drawing is no longer in my possession. I've mailed it to James and Lisanne, so that it can be in the hands of someone who holds a true emotional connection with it. It is a better home for it than the bottom of old sketchbook. I also had to pay back their kindness, as they were wonderful enough to send me notebooks, a t-shirt, a poster, and a special edition DVD copy of the movie. :]

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Second ninja edit: Thank you so much for your kind words, guys. I've been in tears for the majority of this evening from just how incredible, supportive, kind, and caring some of you really are, both here and on Twitter. I love you all.

Also, I will be attending the Otakuthon 2012 convention in Montreal this year. I will have a table at the artist's alley, and will most likely be wearing a black hat with a blue NASA t-shirt. If you see me, say hi! Shit, mention you're from Giant Bomb, and I'll give you a discount! :D

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