I was at GameCamp this weekend, learning more about how to design games.
I love the GameCamp community. More than anything, it’s inclusive: if you’re there, you must like games, and we like games too, so let’s talk about games!
So we talked about games. And something came up that I’ve never considered before.
Games, especially video games, provide the opportunity for something special: they allow the player to say and do things they’d never even consider in real life. This is often linked to the violence in many AAA titles, but there are way more interesting examples. In video games, you can talk about things you’ve never experienced, like coming out to your parents (that example was brought up in one discussion). You can do things you’ve never done, like throw yourself off a mountain while strapped to a snowboard, or dive through the window of a moving car. You can consider possibilities you never knew existed. We can do these things in games because they’re safe: if you don’t like the outcome, you can restart, rewind or reload.
Now, this only works in some games. After exploring the concept in a few different discussions, I started to realise that it’s because in most games, you’re playing a character. It’s because you’re role-playing that you can do the things you’d never do. But sometimes the lines are blurry, and you project more of yourself into the character, making the game much more immersive but stopping you from pushing the boundaries. I find myself doing this when I play RPGs: I never explore the hostile or aggressive side of conversation trees, because I worry about the consequences a little too much. In Dreamfall Chapters, I found it very difficult not to project my own moral compass into the characters, and the decisions I made were… predictable.
Sometimes it’s interesting to play as yourself, just with more armour and beefcake arms. But it’s usually way more fun to play as the character, and change the way your brain works just a little bit to allow that character into your brain, rather than taking over theirs'.
All this got me thinking about how we treat our colleagues. It’s pretty common, especially from employers, to seek out and recruit people who bring every part of themselves to the job. It’s a common (and somewhat valid) belief that people who bring their entire personality and life to the job will do better, because they’re not hiding anything, avoiding problems or edging around situations. If your whole self is doing the job, you’ll do it your way, and you do your way much, much better than you do someone else’s.
What if that’s not totally true?
I’m not very good at playing characters. Some of my friends are. They change completely from game to game as they allow the people on screen to get into their heads. They change the way they think to accommodate their new shape, size and brain. It’s why I can only play two or three characters in Street Fighter, but some people I know can flip to any single one and win.
I want to know if there are people out there who play a character at work, not to hide anything, but because it allows them to do better. Playing a character might let you throw off the shackles of “I don’t know how to do this” or “I wouldn’t do it this way” and let you be someone else who can.
I want to work with those people too. I bet they’re way better than me at pair programming.
And just so you know, I’m hiring.