I’m sitting at my desk, fingers poised to double-click on a Word document I haven’t opened in six years. On the surface, I’m not really worried about it. I mean, it’s just a set of words, right? But underneath, I’m anxious, scared of what I’m going to see. Also, I’ve got this strange lingering feeling that’s shouting no, don’t do that, that project is done!
I click the mouse button twice, confirm I want to update it to the newest file format (six years!), and before I can think too much about it, I hit File->Save As, and retitle the document with the word “Revised” as part of the title. Now I’m committed. Can’t go back. And to be honest, why would I?
People often talk about looking back on their old work with feelings of regret or shame. I’m learning, just today really, that I don’t feel that way. When I started going through that old game, I expected all kinds of feelings of regret and shame. After all, the game hadn’t sold terribly well. I knew that there were typos and mistakes that we missed when it went into publication. I also knew that I had a lot of baggage attached to it–copies in my closet still, my inability to market it–all of these things telling me that I was about to enter a major hellscape of my own creation.
It wasn’t that, not even a little bit.
The Bad Feelings, What Do They Want?
I’ve been cagy about the document I opened, but that was only to establish a sense of drama and mystery.
Did it work? Do things feel dramatic and mysterious?
Well, the document was the final version of Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone. The only I’d sent to layout. I’ve got a lot of emotions tied up in that game. It was my fourth Kickstarter, my first big game, and the start of me really getting in over my head when it came to games publishing. I’m still digging myself out of some of the holes that started with War of Metal and Bone. Those feelings, more than any others, are what told me that I would dread what I’d see when I began reading the game to do a revised edition.
Thing is, that scared part of me? The one that’s all trauma scars? It doesn’t know how much I’ve grown and changed in six years. I mean, it can’t. It’s stuck in survival mode, always expecting the worst, always expecting to be hurt by my overreaching. It doesn’t know that I’ve become a much better writer. It doesn’t know that I’ve found a voice for my games. It doesn’t know that I’ve edited other people’s work. It’s stuck, scared, telling me that I should leave well enough alone. And I get it. I learned in therapy to interrogate my emotions to find out why they showed up. This set of emotions is easy to read: it doesn’t want me to get hurt again.
I can’t blame it. The time leading into and immediately following the writing of War of Metal and Bone was extremely chaotic. I mishandled a lot of things. I assumed I could do any bit of publishing I chose to do (wrong), and I messed up a lot. All of those knockbacks and falls got rolled into how I felt about War of Metal and Bone. It’s no wonder that set of feelings doesn’t want me to feel that way again. It sucked!
For a long time, I was of the mindset that once a game was done, it was done. That’s it. If you wanted another shot at it, you needed to make a totally new version. I even did that with Iron Edda Accelerated. Thing is, games can be fluid. They can grow and change, the same as we do. I never thought I’d touch War of Metal and Bone again. Then it was featured on Roll20’s Indie Showcase. I had thought we were going to be playing Accelerated, but a friend had set it all up, so I went with it.
Y’all? War of Metal and Bone isn’t a bad game! In fact, there’s some stuff in it that wasn’t part of Iron Edda Accelerated that I’m really fond of. That experience planted a seed in my mind. I’d originally wanted to do a full, rules-inclusive version of the game. Fred Hicks, rightly, encouraged me not to. It would have overwhelmed me. Well, overwhelmed me more. Then, not long after that live stream, I started looking at Fate Condensed. It’s peanut butter and chocolate, y’all.
So today I opened up the document, renamed it, and started revising.
I remember the gripping fear I had when I first wrote this game. I honestly don’t think I’ve talked about that much, but I was terrified the entire time I was drafting most anything up until 2018 or so. That is going to get it own post, I think. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t scared when I started working. I found things that needed to be changed and I changed them. If I hit a gap, I covered it. If I knew there was going to be a future question, I added a comment. I treated it the way I’d treat someone else’s game: as something worthy of respect, and a thing that it’s my job to make shine.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve looked at your old work, go check it out. Even if you don’t intend to revise it like I’m doing, it’s super helpful to see where you were, and just how far you’ve come.