Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Why Crunch is Awesome

Erin Hoffman | 2 Nov 2007 21:07
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In a way, the crunch experience itself is when - and frequently how - a lot of developers come into the field in the first place. Don't tell the game universities this, but the fact is people who really want to make games for a living just go ahead and make games. And whenever you engage in something creative, there inevitably comes that moment, usually in the isolation of deep night, when things just start working. Some piece of code you've been pounding on for weeks finally clicks into place, some level for the first time really starts to come alive, some infuriating piece of AI finally stops floating upside down and does what you told it to. It works.

When that happens it's hard to stop. And the really insidious thing is that the deeper the problem, the greater the addiction to solving it becomes. Anyone who has worked with web programming knows this; something's broken, it really shouldn't be, and you just want to try one more thing, and then you note with dread the fact that the sun is starting to rise.

Like adrenaline, when crunch is running full bore, it attains a certain - brief - Zen-like quality. No matter what else is going wrong with your life (and the longer you stay in a crunch-prone environment, the deeper these problems become), in the immediate moment there is only the problem needing to be solved and the willpower you can apply to it.

No healthy studio approaches crunch with less than trepidation, but most studios also approach it with a well-meaning attempt to make it as comfortable as possible, and this, too, leads at least initially to a semi-celebratory atmosphere intended to raise morale in the hopes of solving problems faster and ending the crunch sooner. Meals provided, toys purchased, luxuries promised all heighten the inclination to focus on the present, not the past or the future.

Although the moment can't last, the charge of that kinetic problem solving state weirdly positive. As the pressure increases, so to do the triumphs, and each success is a bonding experience for the team. Regardless of the source of the stress, in the moment, it is real, and the same principles that drive U.S. soldiers to form emotional bonds with bomb-defusing robots bring teams together under stress and mutual assistance. It creates heroism and with it bravado. Who will crack under the pressure? Who will stand it and survive?

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