Mega Update. Part II

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mega-update-II

This blog was written by Maki Yamazaki and has been taken from her personal website. It is the second in a series of three blogs updating her readers about all the many activities she has been working on. A full list of her blog entries can be found here

I feel like I’ve lost a month of my life to January 2015 – a month of filling in an intense grant form, contacting more people than I can really cope with and generally trying to make my application and project the best I could make it. I had help, of course. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this in a blog post, but I’m dyslexic, which makes it exceedingly difficult to do these things. I also suffer from horrendous short-term memory retention, an inability to retain focus (EDS* brain-fog) on many things, and chronic pain. All in all, nothing particularly conducive towards filling in large, complicated forms.

I feel very lucky to have not only had a kick-ass producer on board with the project, but also help from flip Artists, who have both been instrumental in helping me to edit, refine and complete the form. So if I mentioned you here and you’re reading this, thanks ever so much!

The proposed project was to extend and complete my earlier prototype game from the Nine Worlds 2014 game jam, ‘Pioneer[03]‘. However, sadly myself and the team were not successful in receiving a grant for this. Computer games as art, existing in artistic and cultural spaces (ie. large galleries) are rare occurrences. As a medium, it’s still in it’s early days of finding acceptance as anything more than entertainment. Which is a huge shame, as there’s plenty of fantastic examples in existence that challenge us on a deeply intellectual level, regardless of their ability to  entertain.

But if I sound dismayed, it’s only in small part due to this. Largely, it’s because computer games, as a media, are so often and overwhelmingly inaccessible. And yet here was a game with a pretty underrepresented perspective that could be made accessible in many ways that other games cannot. But without a budget, it’s very challenging to produce a game like this.

So the project, I say with a heavy heart, has been placed on a higher shelf; just out of my reach for the time being. On the flip-side, however, this means I have more time to work on other, less time-intensive projects.

Since January, I’ve been feeling quite burnt-out. Most of my time has been dedicated to being ill. However, one project that I’ve been working very hard to complete is the new website for Beyond the Binary. It’s only been released for a couple of days now, so please do check it out and let me know what you think!

Now, a while ago I wrote some stuff about how difficult it is being a wheelchair-bound musician in this post, and over the years I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on whether or not I’d ever be able to afford to do music full-time. The answer is probably a ‘no’. Or, at least, the odds are incredibly stacked against me.

This is by no means a resignation from the world of music, in case you were wondering. In fact, my experience in music (as well as with visual arts) has really led me to where I am today: as a games developer.

And gosh, is it WEIRD to say that! Me? A games developer?! When I was a child I used to dream of all the games I wanted to make*. Aside from being an astronaut, being a games developer was what I’ve wanted to be for the longest amount of time. And now, here I am at the tender age of thirty, after almost two decades of being involved in music and art, I find myself in full turn, making computer games.

So, my plan is, at the moment, to improve my programming. A lot.

I’ve been developing my own games since I was eight, but for a long time I had no easy way to learn to get better at coding. It wasn’t taught at my schools and by the time I was a teenager, I stuck to ambitions that I felt I could achieve: music and art. And, to be honest, I feel like I’ve come out of it all for the better. The only element that I feel has a lot of room for improvement is that elusive, magical and terrifying thing: code.

Through Twine and then Ren’Py, Pygame and Löve2d, I’ve slowly improved my coding skills. And now, I’m finally onto the really tough, chewy stuff: C++. So it’s really, really friggin’ weird to be slipping into it like a new pair of boots – familiar and yet rough – a thing that would once have sent me crying under my covers with frustration. And I feel like I’m really started to crack it.

I feel like this is a huge turning point in my life. In my application to flip Artists, I wrote that their support would be the most important move in my career as an artist to date. And you know what? I can say with deepest sincerity that it has been. Having a mentor (the awesome Niall Moody) and the support of flip has started to shift me into a really positive direction. I’ve begun to code really useful tools that I’ll probably be still using for years to come. I’ve been making things that, only a month or two ago, I had but the loosest of theoretical knowledge that underpinned it. I’ve gone from looking at C++ with confusion, to being in awe of my understanding. And I’ve only just really begun to dig into the really good stuff. In a years time from now, I imagine the work I’m doing now will look like child’s play in comparison. I’m starting to weave together 22 years of very patchy programming knowledge into something really, REALLY useful.

As difficult as it can be to wrap my head around some computer science concepts right now, it’s immensely fun and engaging, and it’s some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences that I’ve had as an artist, ever. Childhood-me would be overwhelmed with excitement at doing the things that I’ve always wanted to do. Teenage-me probably wouldn’t actually believe it. 20’s me would be proud, if very shocked.

So what does the future hold for me? Lots of games development, that’s for sure! I’m also incredibly keen to pass on my knowledge where I can. I love teaching, and I love showing people how easy it can be to unlock their potential. With luck, I’ll soon be having my first meeting with some friends setting up our group for women and non-binary individuals who want to learn to code, who want to get better at coding, or just want a friendly inclusive space to be around other computer-nerds. In my experience, so many of the spaces I’ve been in that focus on programming have been vastly-dominated by cisgender men. And often, I just don’t feel welcome at all. I feel like there’s little place for someone like me who’s non-binary, femme, and have little-to-no formal education in programming.

But there can be!

Anyways, I’ve talked a lot about coding and game development (asOMGitssoexciting*nerdflail*), so I should probably wrap this up and move onwards to talk about other things. Because of course, me explaining what’s been happening for a three months would never be complete without talking about all of the other exciting news that I’ve yet to mention.

Catch my final instalment of the Mega Update in Part 3!

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* Admittedly, I was quite a nerdy child: I loved dinosaurs and was excited by things like calculators, microscopes and making circuits.

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