Previously on “How Games Are Made”, I defined the role of a producer and offered some creative choices producers generally make in the course of the production phase of game development. However, sometimes a producer’s choices don’t go over well with the rest of the team. This often causes tension with everyone involved. In this article, I’ll argue that communication is key, even in game development. I’ll close with some general advice for cultivating virtuous communication.
First things first, human beings are capable of intelligent and creative interpersonal communication. Simply put, we can find ways to impart or share ideas with one another, directly and indirectly. Communication has its forms: written, oral, physical, and so on. As I write this article, I’m imparting ideas to you, reader, in the form of written words that you can process and reflect upon both now and after you finish the article. Human beings are distinct from other kinds of animals in this respect. Remarkable!
Furthermore, how we say something is just as important as what we say. This gets us into the difficult yet crucial territory of knowing our audience. Rhetoric is the art of using words well. As such, it plays a major part in communication. Without some training in rhetoric, our conversations would be careless, one-sided, and just bland.
If how we say something is just as important as what we say, then we should know to some degree what effect our words might have on someone else. Words carry baggage. When a word strikes someone a certain way, that’s called a word’s connotation. In our communication habits, we should mind the baggage our words carry. Why? Because what we say shouldn’t prevent others from understanding fully and clearly what we intend to say.
Therefore, some training in rhetoric, it seems, is necessary for some progress in communicating with one another. So far so good.
Well, what’s all this got to do with game development? Just about everything. Unless you’re making a game all by yourself (a possible and impressive feat), you’re working side by side with other people. What you say to your team matters. Also, how you speak to your team matters. If you’re the producer, you’re the leader of the project. Everyone else on the team reports to you for direction; and if they find your direction harsh, ungracious, and demeaning, then they will neither appreciate nor enjoy your direction. The product might do very well in the market, but the process was miserable. No one got along. So-and-So wasn’t listening to the QA team or something made it into the game that the producer wanted taken out but they misplaced the memo. In short, no one communicated well.
How To Talk To Each Other: Virtuous Communication
Given, then, that communication is key, how do we communicate well? To be sure, communication is an art. It’s something we practice, improve upon, sharpen. So, how do we sharpen our communication skills? I can think of a few ways.
First, identify certain virtues of communication. What do you think makes for a good communicator? Passion? Compassion? Honesty? Should communication be terse or wordy? What about listening? What tells you someone’s listening? Is it how they physically posture themselves in the conversation? Do they use verbal cues like “Yeah” or “Uh-uh”? Or do they just sit there with a glazed stare and no apparent response? Think on these things, reader, and ask yourself whether you want to embody these same virtues to your development team.
Second, find a teacher. In other words, study someone who embodies those virtues well. Watch how they interact with their team and do as they do. Open yourself up to critique from an expert. The first step to cultivating good communication habits is realizing you don’t have them yet. That might mean someone telling you you’re not a good listener.
Lastly, communicate. This sounds trite, but it’s true. As writers improve by writing, so communicators by communicating. Idealizing and studying good communication habits is necessary but insufficient for personally developing the habits. They don’t sink in. Because communication is an art, one must learn by doing. It’s not enough to think about communicating honestly; you gotta actually be honest.
In sum, be wise with words. Since intelligent and creative communication is unique to human beings, we can play with words. And since the words we say to each other matter, communication is key. No one is exempt from this conclusion. In light of this, I’ve suggested some ways in which developers might improve their communication habits. Examine yourself. See whether you possess these habits. Consider the quality of your person before the quality of your product.