HEAD GAMES: HOW 'THE BINDING OF ISAAC' CREATOR EDMUND MCMILLEN WORKS THROUGH THE BAD TO PRODUCE THE GOOD
In 2008, a then-28-year-old Edmund McMillen, was prepping for his high school reunion in his hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif. It didn’t matter that he didn’t seem “the type” to actually attend a 10-year high school reunion.
What did matter, though, was the enduring memory of a particular classmate who had told McMillen that he’d never amount to anything unless he “learned to be social.”
McMillen and his girlfriend showed up late to that night’s event. A copy of Nintendo Power magazine—the one with the write-up on the video game he was currently working on, Super Meat Boy—sat in his car.
McMillen never got his comeuppance. Not on that night, at least.
“A lot of people were really drunk already,” he describes now. “It became the opposite of anything I ever could have imagined. It was so depressing and everybody was so depressed.”
McMillen, now 35, brings his eyes to the ceiling.
“And being drunk did not help. Within an hour, there were people falling over tables and crying about lost loves and what they’ve done with their lives. And we were only, like, what, 28 at that point? Life is just starting, and they were acting like it was over.
“It was so weird to see these people who were essentially the same people the last time I saw them. And they felt so incredibly trapped—they just accepted their fate. They’d already given up. It really was something that stuck with me for a while, and … put me in a really weird mood for weeks.”
And just like he’d done since he was a child, McMillen turned to his art—or, more specifically, video game design—as an outlet.
He began work on a game that’d later be titled Time Fcuk, where the protagonist is forced into a box by a future version of himself.
McMillen at the time was in a self-described “shitty situation” with a business partner. He felt that the IP (intellectual property) they worked on together was his “only option as a future.”
“I knew I was in this dead-end situation where nothing was going to be progressing unless I did something about it. I could just sit here and die with this person or I could find the exit and get out of there,” he explains. “I had to close this door to say it isn’t working.”