Acceptance

I have started and abandoned several posts over the past few weeks. I knew I needed to write something… but what story did I want to tell? An angry tirade about being screwed over? A scathing tell-all about what really happened inside 38? A self-pitying plea for a job? So many emotions inside me, a turbid swirl screaming for an outlet.

So this is what I’ve come up with.

It has been nearly a month since all of this began. Try to picture that; a month ago, everything seemed fine. Over the past 30 days, so many rugs have been pulled out from under me and my colleagues that I’ve lost count of the threads. We’ve lost our income, our insurance, our camaraderie. It’s been one slap in the face after another, and 38′s bankruptcy keeps finding new ways to hurt us all; just yesterday, we found out that our 401K funds are frozen for an indeterminate amount of time. I have no doubt that things will get more painful before they get better.

Emotions? Had ‘em all. Screaming rage, blinding tears, pity for myself, pity for others, defiance, numbness, fear. To an outsider, I can see how some of this might seem silly. It’s just a video game, right? People lose their jobs all the time–suck it up and find another one.

But it’s just not that simple. I’ve spent nearly six years of my life building this company and working on this game. I’ve forged some very deep, personal bonds with the people I’ve worked with. Over this time, my life has changed in profound ways. I’ve seen my child come into this world. I nearly lost her and my wife in a fatal car crash. I’ve held my mother in my arms as she lay dying. And through all those things, I’ve been helped and comforted by Curt Schilling and my teammates at 38.

Work was tough and the pressure relentless, but so, so joyous as well. I got to work hands-on with R. A. Salvatore, taking the framework of a world he created and building it into something huge, ambitious, and wonderful. I watched amazing artists undertake the most startling transformation of concept paintings into game assets that I’ve ever seen. Stories born as mere fragments of ideas were coming to life all around me in a studio full of people who embraced their role as storytellers.¬† It was immensely gratifying.

And then it was gone. The poultice ripped away, a mortal wound left to fester. The grief is very real; this may sound melodramatic to those of you on the outside, but this experience feels much like the death of a dear friend. I’ve said before that shipping a game after years of work makes you feel like you’ve been through a war, and the people you fought alongside are the only ones who really know what you’ve been through. In this case, to work six years on a dream and have it almost come to life, only to lose it suddenly, is a very real psychological trauma. Despite the dozens of articles written on the demise of 38, the only people who really understand are the ones who make up this now fractured fraternity that was once a great team.

It’s been hard to find the time necessary to process it all. As soon as the downward spiral began, we were plunged into a frantic period of resume building, job fairs, phone calls, and unemployment filings. The week of E3 was the first stretch where things got quiet–disturbingly quiet. For me, not yet having secured a new job, that’s when the anxiety really took hold.

Even after growing numb to the headlines and news broadcasts, little stings come along with clever ways to hurt me. I still find myself looking at my phone for new email. It used to be that pretty much any hour of the day or night, there was something to read: a bug report, a piece of art to approve, some copy to review, a silly thread on our miscellaneous list, or a NSFW link from a cohort. The absence of that 38 mailbox aches like a phantom limb.

I’m still angry about lots of things (did I mention being screwed out of thousands of dollars?), and I still get so very sad when I think of all that could have been. But mostly I’ve reached acceptance. Not an acceptance of being at peace–I don’t think I can ever be at peace with what happened–but more an acceptance of resignation, the realization that things are so utterly fucked up as to be completely beyond my control. There’s simply nothing I can do to save the company, to save the story of Amalur, to recover anything that I’ve lost. All I can do at this point is to look out for my brothers and sisters, the comrades I’ve been in the trenches with for all these years. I can try to help them however I can, even as I scramble to find my own landing place. Because if there’s one truth I’ve learned over all my years of work, across the many careers I’ve undertaken, it’s that the connections you make with good people end up being the greatest treasure.

I have lost something that I deeply loved. I’m constantly surrounded by reminders of that loss, both in the abstract sense, in stories online and in the media, and by the literal presence of boxes surrounding the desk where I write this post, boxes filled with the books, toys, and bric-a-brac that used to decorate my office at One Empire Plaza. The body doesn’t feel cold yet, but I have to bury it and move on.

And that’s what I must do. I have to let go. That doesn’t mean the emotions won’t be there–those demons will swirl around inside me for a long, long time. But I have to look forward, to restore belief in my talents and abilities, to focus on building a new future. To be sure, it won’t be the future I planned six years ago–that dream is gone. But it will be something good, something new to love, something new to believe in. Because I’ve learned a private truth, a truth I probably tried to deny for a long time: I’m a person who needs to believe in something bigger than myself.

Despite all the pain, this lesson is a positive I can carry with me for the rest of my days. And that’s a tangible blessing, a gift to help me smile through the tears.

Goodbye, 38. Goodbye, Amalur. I have loved you more dearly than I can ever say. And I will let you go.

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