My wife Katie’s field of research centers around agency and identity. She bounces a lot of ideas off of me, which naturally results in my contemplating how I am affected by those things. It’s certainly helped me to wrap my head around my attitudes towards social media, and the way I operate my business. So today I want to ramble a bit about identity, social media, and stress as it applies to me and, by extension, creative people in general.
Stress is the disconnect between the way things are and the way you think things should be. When people have an idea of who they think you are as a person, they develop an expectation that you will be that. There are cultural ideas about what a person in a specific occupation should be like. Much of this centers around not only how you should present yourself, but in the way you ought to do your job. Writers are like this, publishers do that, game designers are required to follow the establish steps of such-and-such.
So, I’m publishing tabletop roleplaying games with no art. I’m not doing crowdfunding campaigns. There are games in the pipeline that aren’t fantasy or other acceptable genres. I’m working on things inspired by creators like Jonathan Ames, Paul Auster, and Wes Anderson. People tell me I’m doing it wrong. Sometimes I wonder if they’re right. Most of the time, I realize that folks are just confused about what I’m doing. They don’t get it because I’m not doing what every other game designer is doing, the way that they do it.
Identity, Social Media, and Stress
Getting people to accept a new paradigm is difficult. It’s easier to leverage the resonance of their perceptions, with a few variations from the norm. You can be quirky and eccentric in order to stand out from the pack, within reason. You still need to be, for all practical purposes, virtually interchangeable with the other members of that pack. It’s like a high concept pitch. You have to present people with something familiar and relatable — but with an interesting twist.
This reduces your identity to being largely performative. You put on a mask, pretend to be what they expect you to be, and play along. The problem is that this reinforces their definition of you, while undermining your own sense of identity. It also strips away your agency, because you’re doing what’s expected rather than what you want. Think about actors who get typecast, because the audience loves them in a certain role. They don’t want to accept them playing someone else.
As you cede your identity and agency, you also begin to lose your efficacy. You aren’t doing your job as well as you could. There are a few reasons for this. The amount of time you’re spending performing the accepted identity is one. Another is that you aren’t doing things in the most efficient way, or at least not in the way that works best for you. The work is conforming to the expectation of how the work is done, which undermines your ability to do it well.
I Gotta Be Me
This is why I’m not longer on social media as a private person. I have business accounts. It’s easier for me to perform a company standard than a personal identity. It’s also why I’m no longer credited as the author on new Dancing Lights Press products. The company name is there. I have removed my personal identity from the work. I have a need for the work to speak for itself, and for me to quietly live my life behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.
Yes, I’m aware that on some level what I wrote about recently plays into that as well. For a long time, my public persona was an important part of my identity. When my real life became a higher priority for me than my performative identity, people left. They were interested in the character, not the person. I no longer have the time/energy/strength/emotional stamina to perform a palatable personality on the internet. Is it the best way for me to deal with my issues? Maybe not, but it’s what I’ve come up with and for the moment it works for me.