Cynicism is a Loaded Gun, Handle with Care

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Cynicism is a Loaded Gun, Handle with Care

July 9, 2012 Uncategorized 6

We all know the world is full of assholes. Insecure and defensive humans trolling forums and tweeting us 140 character of passive aggression. We know as well as you that they are not worth worrying about. No, it’s you. A Parent. A Friend. A Lover. You’re the one we should be worried about.

I want to be clear about who I’m referring to here. Which cynic I’m talking about.

I’m not talking about the the bespeckled forum troll, the overworked and underpaid game reviewer or unfathomably successful youtube critic. I’m not talking about criticism (constructive or otherwise).

I am talking about the well meaning friend. The fearful parent. The unconvinced lover.

People we love, look up to and depend on for strength. Those few we are entirely defenseless against.

I’m writing for hopeless optimists everywhere, like me. Hopeless because we know exactly what odds we’re fighting against.

And we still wake up, every day, to fight them anyways.


My Very Dear, Cynical Friends


You mean well. You’re only saying this because you care. You don’t want to see us disappointed. You believe that what we are doing is so hopeless that you feel the overwhelming need to protect us from inevitable despair.

Translation: you don’t believe in us.

Think about that for a moment. Because it won’t feel good to admit. If you had faith in us you wouldn’t be pointing out the impossibility of the task we’ve set ourselves. You wouldn’t be questioning our choices or gently teasing us for misguided nobility.

And in that moment we know you’re dangerous. You are inside our defenses and you have our undivided attention. We can’t protect ourselves against you.

When you tell us it’s hopeless, that it can’t be done…you give us one less reason to wake up fighting. You have just reminded us that we’re doing this alone.

We can take the slings and arrows of professional and popular critics. We’re building up a resistance against that.

What you just gave us is a slow poison. It will kill us.

The moment you subtly try to steer us off course or nudge us off the path it becomes starkly clear that you never believed we could do it in the first place.

What kind of damage does that do? When someone you love, respect and admire has just signaled to you that they have no faith in you?


“Suicide High”


It was my sophomore year of high school. I had just discovered theater and with it budding social skills. School transformed from a confusing and awkward torture to an intriguing puzzle. As an introvert (seriously, I know it’s hard to believe) this was like a Peter Parker “spider bite” moment – I had super powers! If I could figure out what people responded well to, I could get things done!

Every day I looked forward to class, not for the subject matter (we all know by now how useless the American K-12 education system is) but for the opportunity to develop these fascinating new talents.

I had always looked at beautiful popular girls and witty charming guys with envy. They made it look so effortless! They walk into a room, smile and have the love of student body and faculty alike. Theatre and improv gave me the gift of social skills and it felt like a whole world of opportunity was opening up to me.

And then the first one died.

We read about it in the paper over morning coffee and heard about it on school intercoms.

Valedictorian. School cheerleader. Killed herself last night.

We didn’t talk about it because we didn’t know how. The story didn’t fit the trope, we hadn’t seen this episode before, didn’t have a practised response. She was so happy, so full of life and so positive. Full of optimism for the future.

It was obvious to everyone that knew her that she was going to do great things.

The next day there was another one.

The day after that two more.

Newspapers dubbed us “Suicide High“. It wasn’t teenage suicide that made the headlines. That’s sadly common enough that it become a narrative technique, a “sudden twist” in dramatic late night television.

What made these deaths newsworthy was how unbelievable they were. We could not believe. These were the most popular, successful kids at school. They had fan clubs…and they weren’t even old enough to drink yet!

We learned later that it wasn’t a broken heart, failed test or missed opportunity that killed these kids.

It was loving parents.

Parents who cared so much about their kids, who loved them so much, that they felt the need to be cruel to be kind. These kids went to school every day with strangers telling them how amazing they were. They came home to “that was pointless”, “what were you thinking?”, “you idiot!”.

Fear and insecurity makes assholes of us all.


You Are More Influential Than You Know


Here’s another story, a few years later.

I had graduated high school (mostly because I didn’t have anything better to do at the time) and was pouring my afternoons and evenings into a career in theatre (read: waiting tables). I had stayed on stage and as a funny looking, energetic girl, found a niche for myself with quirky character roles and improv dinner theatre.

I was also illustrating heaps at the time because I was good at it and it was a way to pass the time between scenes.

One day a very dear friend of mine leaned over and said “hey, I know some folks doing 3D right now that are not as good as you…you should totally think about getting into the animation industry”.

That same friend invited me to visit Australia with them and within a year I got my first job as a 3D artist.

Nearly 8 years later, after an amazing career in both film and games, I’m sitting here writing this now because of that moment when someone I cared about showed faith in me that I could do more. That I was capable of being more than an unpaid actress waiting tables by day.

Now those of you who know me know that I’ve fought hard to get to where I am now. But I don’t think I would have been able to keep fighting if someone hadn’t opened my eyes to what was possible.

And I bet you can think of a few moments in your life where you can tell a similar story. When a friend, teacher or relative introduced you to your own potential. Made you realise you were worth fighting for.

It takes two seconds to destroy a life.

And it takes two seconds to open our eyes to a new one.

Every one of us has enormous power to influence the lives of the people who look up to us.

It’s hard to be positive. It’s easy to be cynical. I know.

But you will rarely be given the opportunity to recognise how much you can hurt others. We are better at hiding that than you give us credit for.

Every thoughtless word said in anger is a loaded gun placed on the table between you and someone you love.

Think before you speak. Please.


To all you community organisers who put hours you don’t have into running events and invest money you can’t afford to spend into growing the industry you love; To the successful indies who put your reputations on the line to publicly stand up and speak out to change the culture of your industry; To every kid who was ever told “Give up, don’t bother, you’re not good enough”. I love you, I believe in you, keep fighting.


6 Responses

  1. Daniele says:

    I totally agree with all you said – even if I consider myself a cynical optimist. Oh, and those you mentioned are not loving parents, but self-focused assholes, in my humble opinion 😛

    • Epona says:

      Hrrm…it’s such a tricky distinction. Because it often does come from them genuinely caring – just having absolutely no idea how to a) actually help or b) how to help without doing damage.

      More often than not they have NO IDEA the psychological damage they do. None.

      Every year I meet the families and loved ones of folks I coach and train. Of the artists and game designers I work with the ones who have the hardest time getting past self confidence barriers will always have a parent or spouse who’s contributed to their low self esteem. Without fail.

      I’ll meet these folks and they’ll say something shocking like “I had no idea he could finish anything, how did you get him to work?” and right behind them you see the artist in question die just a little bit.

      Then I’ll snap with “I didn’t do anything – they were amazing and a genuine pleasure to work with – I can’t wait to see what they do next. You should consider yourself lucky that you know them in your life”, and these parents are nearly always surprised, even offended that I didn’t commiserate with them over their struggle.

      Therapy wouldn’t be such a lucrative profession if people were aware of how easy it is to damage the folks closest to them.

      • Daniele says:

        Hrrm… you’re right. Yesterday I had to deal with a very evident specimen of one of those loving parents (a father of a friend), and I suppose that my desire to kick him reflected in my disposition towards the matter.

        Now that I’m more objective, I still believe it’s a matter of excessive self-focus and missing empathy (quite obviously), but as you say it doesn’t mean they don’t love their children/mates/friends. It’s interesting how love and care don’t come necessarily together. A lot of people love someone else, but don’t care for him.

        I also noted that the damage such loving ones deal is kind of related to the “social” difference between them and their loved ones. A mother who struggles all day to earn money to feed her children, and to gift them with a better “social” life than hers, even if self-focused and maybe harsher (not to mention that she would have a bigger right to be self-focused), will usually deal a lot less damage than a mother who is socially at the same level of her children. It’s obviously not always like that, but in my experience the damage dealt is classist, and inversely related to the social gap between the loving and the loved. If you think of it, it kind of sucks, morally and politically 😛

        Uh, I’m seriously derailing/overthinking here. Sorry. I suppose I’m not yet over my desire to kick that father 😀

  2. This post really hit a chord with me. I’ve persoanlly been in the situation as well, where the only comments I recived were what wasn’t done right.

    Feedback is important and at the same time it needs to be constructive and balanced; it needs to recognise whats been accomplished and praise that  success. The areas of opportunity can then be framed in that success and how to make it even bigger. “That’s an awesome thingy Katie, I really like how it does x,y & z. Have you considered adding in this blue button, I think that would be awesome because you could then press it and do this other really cool thing” 

    I had to once explain to some one I worked with, that saying  “No offence but ….” doesn’t negate the offensiveness of the comment that comes afterwards. As a starting point this can be summarised as the power of ‘the and’. By default, making sure feedback doesn’t contain a but will help keep the tone constructive; or make it really obvious that the feedback isn’t positive at all. 

  3. Timothy Best says:

    Beautiful article. Wonderfully written.

    Even putting on a lens of pure gritty-eyed realism, I think there are two key things that these loving cynics miss: 1) the person might very well surprise them, 2) that even if that person doesn’t succeed in the way they hoped (in the time frame they hoped), it’s not a loss. What better way to spend your time and learn about more about yourself than being engaged in something you love?

  4. Alan White says:

    Another great peice. I find your best entires on Indiebits are the ones about yourself! This one is something I already beleive strongly in. I think of it in terms of “Forever supporting no matter what”. What you write just reconfirms how the smallest most tiniest things can really down someone.

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