Cole Gleason bio photo

Cole Gleason

Ph.D. student at the Human-Computer Interaction Institue at CMU. I work on accesibility technology for the blind.

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There’s nothing I hate more than a blank page. I get anxious starting a new paper or project, as the amount of work is infinite and the direction I should go in is ill-defined. When I am closer to finishing, the goals become clear (although boring): revise this section, reword this, research that.

Coding used to be the same way. I would have trouble starting the project, as I didn’t know which code to write first! The first thing you write in a paper or a coding project sets the tone for every thing else. Luckily, over 4 years in undergrad, I learned to stop worrying so much about the first bit of code I wrote. I found that if I just got something, anything, to work, it was simple to build and refactor from there. Coding from a blank project is no longer an issue for me.

The same thing hasn’t happened yet with writing. I can’t easily get into that state of flow, where constant iteration on past work is getting better and better. I don’t know what I am missing! Perhaps it just comes from practice, and perhaps I just haven’t learned the right scaffolding steps for writing.

Similarly, game design produces the same anxiety for me. Without adequate constraints, I’m a hot mess. And even with them, I don’t know where to start. Should I write some character backstory or come up with the core mechanic? Should I choose a theme first? Maybe I start with the players: who’s my audience? As an engineer, I find design trying to solve for too many variables simultaneously.

What’s the solution? Practice. In coding, I eventually learned how to quickly lay down psuedocode, stub out functions, and get a minimum working prototype. I’m not there yet with writing or game design. I hope that with continued effort, I can learn those skills. With knowledge of better prototyping and design practices, I can get into a state of flow and reduce my anxiety from a blank canvas.