It turns out the board game I’ve been working on is very similar to a game that already exists, called Nemesis.
They aren’t identical, which is the great thing; I spent so much time over the last few years working on my game, Voidsong, that I’d be legitimately depressed if it was accidentally identical to another game that already existed.
But man, that did not stop me from getting hit hard by the FOBU (fear of being unoriginal) when I tried Nemesis with friends.
Me: “Oh. Oh, I pick . . . my win condition. Weird. That’s . . . totally something I have in my game. Whatever. Cool.”
*5 minutes later*
A Friend: “So then, yeah, play continues with each player taking a turn, but then, in the next round, you go first Louis, because–“
Me: “The first person in the turn order moves to the next person in the order every round to ensure the one player doesn’t maintain an unfair advantage and also I put that system in my game last year and WHAT IS HAPPENING!?”
Okay, I didn’t actually say it like that.
In the moment, I was actually like, “Hmm. Okay,” because understated horror is my signature move.
But I came away from that play session shaken regardless.
Not because I thought Nemesis and Voidsong were too similar; they’re tonally, visually, and emotionally very different, and I my game is much simpler, with major differences in gameplay where it counts.
But the FOBU from my high school days came back with such a goddamn fury.
The Olde Fear
Do you remember it? You, the writer reading this right now, do you remember being a kid and somehow being insanely derivative of, let’s say, Final Fantasy VII (just to use myself as an example)? And that fear being super paradoxical because, simultaneously, you were actually being 100% derivative of something else (Castlevania for me!)?
Man, those were the fucking days. When, like, these wasn’t a tonal through line to be seen for a thousand miles and no actual writing ever got done. Motherfuckers out here like, “I got this real dope story I’m working on. No, I can’t tell you anything about it.”
It was just so strange to be yanked back to that headspace again, for the first time in 20 years. To say, “Omfg, this game has an advancing turn order, just like I do in my game,” while also being aware, in the background, that I totally just adopted that advancing turn order from one of the many other board games that have it.
It took me a bit to get over it, which was strange too, but . . .
The Nostalgia of It Was Weirdly . . . Comforting?
Because there’s something just nice and liberating about realizing that you aren’t the writing genius that you think you are when you’re 15.
I remember just never talking to anyone about any of my writing projects because I was so sure they would steal all of my ideas . . . that I’d stolen from other places.
I talk a lot about what makes a writer good, and I don’t know if this is one of those things, but it definitely feels like it is.
Because . . . Well, quick story:
There was one time I was at a party and another writer talked to me about how they wanted to combine magic and technology in their WIP. I remember nodding, gesturing with my drink (the subtle half-cheers that translates in Partysign to “affirmative”). And, at the same time I was thinking, Should I talk about the Fantasy book I finished a few years ago that has technology in it just to make conversation?
Whether or not I inhaled to bring that up doesn’t matter, because the other writer kept talking about his idea, which is fine; I generally like to just listen when someone’s talking about their WIP because I know how rare it is to get that opportunity to idea-vent to another writer (someone you know actually cares instead of the usual person who asks about your story and then tunes out in 3 seconds).
Which, of course, made it so strange some time later, after I let that friend read my WIP, and one of his comments was a loosely veiled, “You did technology and magic, like my thing.”
Like, “Motherfucker, excuse me?”
I didn’t say that in the moment. I mean, in those moments, the best you can do is blink, say, “Uh huh,” and think, “I thought of combining technology and magic 15 years ago, when I played Final Fantasy III, in which technology and magic being forced together was important to the plot.” Or, “Did you really think you invented the idea of combining technology and magic?”
And, also, you think, “I’m so glad I’m past that phase.”
I’m so glad I made it past the point where I’m concerned with what my peers are writing. The point where I think so highly of myself and so little of them that I worry about them stealing my ideas.
I’m so glad that I acknowledge the enormous gap between inspiration and plagiarism, automatically course-correcting away from things that have been done and just focusing on the story I want to tell, trusting it’s going to be original because of that totally personal, uniquely bizarre spin I have to put on all of my works in progress (the same way every writer does).
I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you don’t experience that FOBU anymore, then, oh man, wasn’t it funny when you were young and it was always there?
And, just in case you are still concerned about it: a person totally wrote a fanfiction of Harry Potter, another person wrote a fanfiction for that fanfiction, they both changed names around, and they’re both rich now. Ambition to be original is great and it’s a cornerstone of making your work yours.
But, at the same time, if you’re concerned about it at all, then . . .
. . . real talk: you’re already fine.
I just had to take a week to reminisce. If you enjoyed this post and you’d like to be notified when I post again, or–and this is super important–if you didn’t know it was called FOBU until this post, well, you can follow me (via the buttons to the left of the screen on PC or in the menu on the upper right on mobile) for more mind-blowing infolike that in the future.
I have no idea what I’m going to talk about next week, but with any luck, it’ll be the side project I’ve been working on since forever (that keeps getting pushed back with new hurdles different sites are making me jump through).
Regardless though, until next time, take care and stay safe.