Welcome Mikey Neumann to WWdN! He’s sharing this special guest post with us while Wil Wheaton is at sea. Check out more of Mikey’s work on his YouTube show, Movies with Mikey, his podcast with Wil Wheaton, TV Crimes, or just play any of the Borderlands games. He’s the genuine, shiningest best.
I like the word ‘hustle’ quite a lot. Even given the cheery, soft, non-committal nature of the consonants in the word, I like everything it represents about life. I have a lot of hustle. You may even remember me from an article I wrote on The Mary Sue not too long ago, in which I came out as an asexual, and how that pertains to the amount of work I generate. While I wouldn’t classify myself as aromantic (a word my spellcheck wants to change to aromatic,) so, regardless of my lingering musk, I pretty much stay out of the dating pool. Whether time or meeting the right person will change that remains to be seen. But for the current future, my relationships are to my friends and to my work, and all things being equal, oftentimes I create relationships that are one in the same. I create friendships that inevitably lead to working together down the line.
Or destroy said friendships. You know, it’s all a matter of perspective.
That sounds entirely too callous, but hopefully you understand my meaning. I love to entertain people. I’ve been doing it my entire life.
A lot of people ask me in their gentlest hypothetical-person-way, “Michael, how the hell do you find time to make so much stuff with a full-time job?” It’s really quite simple: you either make the time, or you don’t. I’m not attempting to nuzzle the very cockles of the frigid prison I call a heart, but I am illustrating my point as a means to say: you’re good the way you are and I’m good the way I am. I have no pets, no spouse, no children, and ostensibly, I come home every day to an empty house. I really don’t know anyone else that lives their life in such a way. I mean, most people in my position at least get a cat (the lowest maintenance of the pet world, though, certainly the dickishiest /dik-ish-ee-ust/ adj. 1. The categorically-highest level of being a dick one can achieve).
It also doesn’t hurt that I go to work every day to make videogames, many of which people run to as a means to escape when they come home from a job they find less fulfilling by a factor of ten or more. I make videogames. My heart is effulgent when I come home on most days. And yes, before you say it, I am the luckiest motherfucker this side of the [geographical landmark of your choosing that illustrates your point].
This is the turning into the longest not-humble brag of all time.
Let’s start over.
Hello, my name is Mikey. All I care about in the world is spreading joy and making your day better than it was before I came into it. It’s an imperfect, and oftentimes, lonely existence that is not unlike “chasing the dragon,” so to speak. I am in a constant state of finding the next high, making the next thing, and pushing myself to the next good enough piece of art, whether music, video, game, or written medium.
And that’s my secret.
Do not be perfect. Perfect will kill you.
One-hundred-percent of my success can be attributed to knowing when to say, “this is good enough,” and move on. Randy Pitchford, my boss, confidant, and friend, taught me about this thing called, “The Asymptote of ‘Good Enough’.” It imagines a graph where the x-axis is time spent and the y-axis is entertainment you can offer an audience (this isn’t exactly his words, I’m paraphrasing in my own.) In the beginning, the effort you put in has an almost sky-rocketing effect on the entertainment you can offer an audience, but as you begin to approach a rough level of polish, the amount an audience can pull from it begins to slow. You can apply this to anything. If I write a joke, there are a non-binary amount of laughs I can pull from a given audience, but there is also a point where I should probably just write more jokes. Do you want to see a standup comic tell The Greatest Joke Ever Told ™ or do you want to see ten-to-twenty really funny jokes? And with one very important twist, I think that’s the crux of everything I do. When writing these ten-to-twenty jokes, come at it from an angle no one will ever expect.
If you’re offering something fresh, you don’t have to be perfect.
I remember the first time I ever made a videogame trailer. It was for Borderlands 1. Now, bear in mind, I had never made a videogame trailer before and, all things being equal, I was incredibly naïve. But, at this time, Borderlands was the underdog. We were this plucky, weird little thing that no one was really talking about. Which was in my (and our) favor. In what I recall was four to five days, I had what you see here:
That is just one of the places that trailer exists, and it has a million views. Hell, I found a Youtube video that was just “borderlands trailer song no heaven” and it had 700,000 views. Looking back at that trailer, all I see is imperfection. That trailer is the asymptote of Hot. Garbage. But so many of the things in that trailer came to define the brand, however inadvertently. The splattered paint, the messaging joking along with an audience, dancing Claptrap, the “Bazillions of guns” thing—it’s sort of amazing how much of this has survived through time.
And, though, it was not the next trailer I made, the Borderlands 2 “Doomsday” trailer was the natural evolution of all of this imperfection. Take everything I learned and crank it up to a bazillion (I see what I did there). The Doomsday trailer was a high watermark for my career as a filmmaker, and yeah, I mean that as it sounds. Part of what I was doing with the Borderlands marketing in my purview in charge of was pretty simple: make a piece of entertainment, don’t just sell the game. If you look out over the grand collection of Borderlands marketing on the internet, our goal was to entertain you, not market your face off. Some people are fans of Borderlands because all they’ve ever seen is the trailers and they got enough entertainment out of them to cosplay the characters, having never played the games. To some, this might somewhat ludicrous, but I think it’s a justification for how much leeway we had as a relatively small independent studio to be creative in how we approached communicating with the customer (thanks in large part to our publisher 2K Games being awesome and entirely too patient with me and how I work). This extended into the Claptrap webshow and various other things, and literally none of this would have been possible without the neck-breaking work from my cherished colleagues Richard Jessup, Brian Thomas, and Mark Petty.
And apologies if any of that felt like I was trying to market Borderlands to you. That was not my intent. I just thought that the trailer illustrated what I’m talking about.
Spread joy for no other reason than to spread it.
Leave the world a better place than the one you woke up into this morning.
You can see this in every aspect of my work, in every medium, in every step I take in my walk through life. Be joyous and bring joy to others because, I’m gonna be honest here, I too struggle with depression a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I think it’s pretty common among creatives and for me, making stuff really gets me out of that funk.
When I started the podcast with Wil (in between hyperventilating that this was a real thing,) it was a step in a different direction. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of the opposite of my movie show, because a) we are tearing things down and b) it’s so much less constructed than what I’m used to making. So I did the obvious thing: when editing it, I put the construction back into it, I put the me back into it, and the negativity in the show was at the expense of ourselves, not the shows. We’re actually big fans of (the majority) of the shows we’re talking about (the Family Ties episode was mostly just a discussion about how great the show is,) and if you can’t hear the sheer joy we have in talking and joking with other, you should pencil in an appointment with the ear doctor. Every little thing that didn’t quite sit comfortable with me, I found a way to turn into a strength for the podcast. There’s no secret that Wil Wheaton is a man who loves his swear words. Being totally honest, sometimes that felt like we were punching down a little bit, so I did what any logical human being would do: I bought the entire Hannah Barbara sound effects library and I started to bleep him with zonks, sproings, and bloops from Magilla Gorilla, Wacky Races, Sealab 2020, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, etc. Suddenly, everything was beautiful. Suddenly, every thing was stupid and hilarious. Suddenly, I started swearing like a sailor, because every time we did, it was an engorged disaster of aural pleasure.
After we did the last episode, something kind of clicked for me. Obviously, we’re both busy so it’s not as frequent as both of us would like, but I realized, we make the show when we need it. It’s a crutch I rely on in my life if I’m feeling a little down, or he’s feeling a little down. One of us will post on Basecamp, like, hey, it’s about time for another episode, isn’t it? Wil told me early on, “I don’t care if the only people listening to this show are you and me,” and I remember being like, “I hope that’s not the case.” I only just last month understood what that really meant. If there’s a weight on my shoulders that I just can’t shake, I tell you what, taking a big frosty dump on Baywatch Nights will clear that right up. I’m making this show to give joy to me. Now, obviously not everyone can take care of themselves mentally by making a podcast with Wil, but I think everyone has the capacity to love themselves by making something they care about and not giving a single iota of a shit if anyone else loves it too.
Isn’t that what, deep down, what we all want: the capacity to be self-reliant and poised stringently enough to afford ourselves the mental stability to carry on?
That’s why I hustle.
That’s why I am always moving forward, creating things just good enough to move on to the next thing and keep going; keep fighting, keep conquering the hills in the battles that plague us on a daily basis. You, person reading this right now, are mightier than you think. You, friend that I may not have met yet, are good enough.
Because who wants to be perfect?
I sure don’t.