Hobbies are the things we do when we’re not doing the things we must do. They are electives that are chosen because the topics excite us, that allows us to push ourselves for the sheer joy of discovering what we’re capable of, and are the types of activities that we enjoy even when they frustrate us.
I have a hobby collection problem. I have too many interests to achieve proficiency in any of them. Some of them I have tried, and some I have not but am wholely convinced that I would really like to. I choose my hobbies less because the process is interesting and more because I feel that achieving the end result would be pretty awesome. Each hobby is guided by this desire to reach that goal, and it’s been enough to sustain my efforts when the going gets tough, at least initially. There always seems to be some point in the journey where progress isn’t being made, and doubt creeps in. Why am I doing this? What exactly do I expect to accomplish with this effort? Is it worth it? Will anyone care? Do I care? There always seem to be periods of intense self-doubt which results in an abandonment of the project for a while. In between, I take up another hobby. The cycle begins again.
This is kind of a heavy introduction to a less morose examination I was thinking about in the car today. I have what I would consider three primary hobbies right now: development, game development, and visual effects. These are the things that fill my news feeds, my social media timelines, and are subjects that comprise the bulk of my online searches. In realizing this, I have come to understand that each hobby occupies a very specific level of possibility and accessibility.
Development — general development of desktop applications or utilities, or even staid online tools — has an insanely low barrier to entry. So low, in fact, that they teach “coding” to kids in first grade here in the U.S., if not sooner. While other areas of U.S. education lag behind the times, academics seem to understand that knowing how to code is going to be an incredibly valuable skill in almost any profession in the future. While this is great for kids and the future of our society, it kind of sucks for me, someone who has been “coding” for over 20 years now. My industry has gotten to the point where what I do is no longer as “mystical” as it was when I started. There are people 1/4 of my age who are better at what I do than I am. While I made the mistake of “doing what I love” every day — i.e. turning it into “work” — I at least got in on the ground floor before I had to fight tooth and nail against a rising tide.
Game development used to be fairly black box, despite it being a specific branch of development. My first “game” was copied from the back of a computer magazine, line by line, on my family’s Timex Sinclair before I was 10. Despite the feeling of accomplishment I got from doing that, I never expanded on it to really learn how to make games. I didn’t even really pursue programming until after college. I kick myself in the ass on occasion for not having done more sooner, but time has caught up to me and now game development has gone from something “mystical” to something completely attainable to almost anyone — even those without programming knowledge. The results are wildly all over the place because game development, while more federated, is still very time and skill intensive. It’s just more accessible now than it ever was but still requires some very specific, non-common knowledge.
In stark contrast, we have visual effects. We are just now entering into a time when visual effects are filtering out of the enclaves servicing Hollywood and into the realm of semi-professionals. There’s a long way to go before the means and the reasons to learn visual effects reach the point at which game development sits, and I don’t think I’ll live to see VFX reach the point where general development is right now. Part of the reason it’s growing is that the barrier to entry is dropping courtesy of smartphone video, although such tech is considered “in a pinch” equipment or a sign that a project is “experimental”. One doesn’t need a $50,000 camera, a boatload of lighting and sound, and thousands of dollars of post-processing equipment and software to create good looking videos, which is good because it’s next to impossible to have a “hobby” in visual effects without spending an absolute crap-ton of money. There’s are a surprising number of free or low cost or open-source tools that are being released, but the cost creeps back in courtesy of stock resources or effects packages, sound design, etc. which can be bought a la carte and which adds up quickly for even a simple scene.
I think the overall trend here is simply time. Programming has been around for several decades as a hobby and as a profession, and game development has really just started making its way into the hands of the public over the past decade or so. VFX, with it’s prevalence in the public eye of massive Hollywood spectacles, plus the dissemination of “behind the scenes” vignettes courtesy of the Internet has made a lot of esoteric operations better understood by the general population, and that’s given a lot of people an urge to want to try it for themselves. The good news is that given enough time, what was once considered sorcery will be as common as sunlight, but the bad news is that I don’t think I’ll live long enough for all of my hobbies to reach that point.
Footnote: This post’s header image was taken from another site’s post entitled “Why you should never give up on your hobbies“, so thanks for that Google Image Search.