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'Care more about being respected than being liked'
'Care more about being respected than being liked'
October 7, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

October 7, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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    16 comments
More: Indie, Design, Recruitment



In her Saturday presentation at IndieCade in L.A., Wizardry developer Brenda Romero encouraged game designers to worry less about maximizing efficiency and more about achieving greatness.

In a talk riffing off the popular documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Romero likened the high-end craftsmanship of Michelin-star restaurants with finely authored game experiences, in particular her own development of her board game, Train (pictured).

"I obsessed over every detail. Every decision mattered," said Romero. "I tried to make a game as good as my skills allowed... If I didn't know the answer [to a design problem], I waited until I did."

Train depicts the systematic removal of Holocaust victims to Auschwitz by the Nazi rail system, represented by a set of tracks and box cars players are asked to populate with small yellow figures. Romero spent a good deal of time prototyping the game, which debuted at the Games For Change conference in 2009.

"[Good game design] costs what it costs and it takes the time that it takes," Romero said emphatically. "It's not a coincidence that it's also the one game for which I'm most respected."

"Mediocre rarely rises"

While Romero acknowledged that being able to take the time and resources necessary to complete a personal project speaks to "a tremendous statement of privilege," she also suggested an uncompromising devotion to excellence was a reward in and of itself.

"Mediocre rarely rises," said Romero. "I don't know anyone who says 'I want to be an average piece of shit.'"

In continuing her restaurant analogy, Romero stressed the importance of building a strong, committed team, and in particular building up talent through systemized apprenticeships and mentorships.

"We don't have [game developers] say 'oh, I studied under so-and-so.' Why not? It is our responsibility to teach."

A large part of this, Romero said, was in understanding game development as a craft worth honing. Just as Michelin star chef Jiro Ono is depicted in the movie as having obsessed over the fine details of his profession to the point of elevating his food to an art form, Romero said games also lent a space for "the pure pleasure of crafting and delight in the details."

"Care more about being respected than liked," said Romero. "If you ship a bad game, no one is going to say 'Yeah, it had problems but she's such a nice person!'"


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Comments


Ty Underwood
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I'm going to use that quote. "Mediocre rarely rises. I don't know anyone who wants to be an average piece of shit". ~Brenda Romero.

Michael Joseph
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Jiro in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" took what some might view as an average job and decided he was going to strive to be the very best sushi chef he could be. This didn't manifest itself as him wanting to become a restaurant mogul owning a gazillion chain stores. He simply remained focused on perfecting his craft out of his small restaurant. He would later go on to instill those values in his sons and employees/apprentices.

So in this particular light, I think everyone DOES in fact know people who say they want to be average! In fact when you hold up your own work ethic or those of your friends and family, you can't help but feel those efforts pale compared to Jiro's. So, people may not express a desire for mediocrity aloud, but their actions do reveal that they have no desire for greatness. Actions speak louder than words right?

That apprenticeships or mentor-ships have fallen out of favor culture wide is an interesting phenomenon as well. Part of this is the young don't respect their elders and part of that is because elders have done little to earn that respect.

p.s.
If we really want to compare Jiro's philosophy of crafting sushi to game development, first of all you'd have to acknowledge that Jiro is an indie. He would never release a game before it was ready. But I can already hear the practical arguments for why mediocrity should prevail in some such cases.

Daniel Balmert
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Part of the issue is apprenticeships are becoming illegal.

You aren't allowed to NOT pay someone to learn your craft, so teaching is expensive. This is actually kind of bad. I understand the legal reasons for it, but it also has the ramifications of making it impossible to learn on the job - you must already be fully trained prior to entry because people can't afford to pay you to learn.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Oh, I don't know. I have six apprentices. The company pays them normal wages (enough to allow them to live on their own). They're all very productive, especially given their low experience levels, AND they keep learning new things. As a matter of principle, I assign a side project to each of them. One person has made enough progress that his side project is gradually turning into what may become his masterpiece (in a very traditional sense of the word, i.e. a showcase of one's abilities that proves one has become a full-fledged professional).

It took a bit of effort and a lot of forethought on my part, as well as a fair share of good will on part of the company, but it's working really, really well.

The catch is that I would get nowhere with this if they didn't like me. I'm fine with people not liking the results of my work, but I would consider it a personal disaster if I fell into conflict with my team.

Daniel Balmert
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That's awesome! What I meant was that the traditional definition of apprenticeships is going away. What you're doing is mentorship, which is super important for fostering the next wave of innovative young people.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Honestly, I can see no fundamental difference between what we're doing and what traditional apprenticeship was. We pay with money rather than food and lodging, and they can quit any time, but that's just how modern labour works, and I don't think it's an essential part of the definition.

We actually made an explicit assumption that we would be teaching them stuff when we hired them.

We have also hired two designers with significant prior experience. They handle their growth on their own, and I just give them occasional unsolicited advice. I would call that mentoring (or arrogance, depending on how you see it).

Michael Joseph
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"that's just how modern labour works"

A laborer is what you are when you work in a factory (software factory or otherwise). A laborer is what you are when your job is nothing more than a means to an end.

In the traditional (or at least romanticized) roles of master & apprentice, the work was an end unto itself. It was a merging of life philosophy and craft.
Masters and apprentices I don't think ever saw themselves as a laborers. They were artisans and craftsmen.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I believe that's what people call "Protestant work ethic" in my part of the world (and we're not Protestant).

I meant labour as in "labour code", i.e. employment.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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If we are talking about unpaid internships, there's a difference between a "true" apprenticeship and an unpaid "internship" where the intern is just an excuse to get someone to work for free (and the intern is unguided).

Kelly Kleider
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-- others have pointed out what I did below...reply before read..sry
This is not true. Medieval apprenticeships might have been unpaid (excepting room and board), but modern apprenticeships (as in learn a craft) are paid, just not paid the same as someone who knows what they are doing. Internships, however, are often unpaid and typically don't benefit the intern greatly. Don't take this as a pedantic correction, but an important distinction. The expense of an apprentice is the need for the toolset and workarea of the non-apprentice.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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About the actual quote... I feel it falls into the pandering, the obvious and the crowd pleasing, and very western view of reality. I mean, I somewhat agree, we should be focusing on doing better things not necessarily what an audience wants, or the numbers show, definitely... but about personal motivations and mediocrity, I find it a bit rash to judge.

Fact is .. although Disney (all the media, really) has made all of us feel like we are special, (and technically we are unavoidably unique). Mathematically speaking, most of us are average, obviously, and whether we want it or not only very few can really be above ahead of the curve. Statistically speaking... even when we think "outside the box" and "originally"we are doing so in very average ways.
Notably, the validation and appraisal of these ideas also seems to be heavily dependent on the media culture itself.
Sure, something totally mediocre is rarely bound to rise, but something -above average/better/different- may very well go unnoticed. Often, extremely interesting concepts are bound to an obscure niche category, and who knows how many fantastic gems are hidden in the less successful corners of the spectrum.

However there is a different balance with personal ambition and mediocrity, wanting to be and being are very different things, and without going too abstract, one doesn't exist without the observation of ones self. Similarly, my production is not me, it exists in the interaction with spectators, which I never can fully control. So a lot of people get to the point in which they realize the balance between their goals and the requirements to fulfill it, and accept that things are in fact out of their scope. Regardless of external appreciation. This is a very economical search for balance, and it is not mediocre, it is simply natural.

As a simple example, I'm a programmer, and while I have a good base of maths and geometry, I simply do not think that I want to be a low level physics programmer, and not because I'm not smart enough. I know that sometimes these skills would come in handy, and I have occasionally looked up tutorials, and modified code snippets I find, when I could possibly do it myself.
Some might say this is mediocre, but mediocrity is only relative to your personal goals. Did it help you complete your desired goal? if so, what's wrong with that? I may find it pedestrian, but that process might line up with goals I simply don't understand.

This is in line with the western post-post-modern individualistic view, but it contrasts with the eastern holistic "I am a part of the organism, and any part of the organism is important if the organism is to work". This other vision does bring other pressures, but it is also less judgmental about the value of someone's direction.

Michael Joseph
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@Bernardo Del Castillo:
You are wrong.

When we are talking about mediocrity in this context we are not talking about averages. We are talking about human potential. I'll rephrase: The Excellent, The Mediocre and The Ugly are measures of a man or woman against HIS OR HER OWN potential.

No human being can (nor should we allow to) hide from not having lived up to their own personal potential by pointing out all of the other fish who likewise failed to do so. And we're not even talking about accomplishments, we are talking about TRYING.

Forest Gump was a film that attempted to argue that even a limited human mind was full of awesome potential if it weren't burdened by vice.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I think this is an equally important quote:

"While Romero acknowledged that being able to take the time and resources necessary to complete a personal project speaks to "a tremendous statement of privilege," she also suggested an uncompromising devotion to excellence was a reward in and of itself."

Very few of us have the kind of bankroll to spend years working on a one-off game. Yes, it is a staggeringly brilliant game (I saw it at GDC last year and it still gives me chills), but having the ability to do that kind of work requires funds that I doubt very much I will EVER see.

Eventually, there are bills to pay, food to buy, and rent to pay. Sooner or later "need money to live" trumps "just a little bit better". Often it's not that someone is striving to be mediocre, it's that they are striving to pay the bills.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I did mention that as well.
I mentioned how both are connected...

From a personal side, sure, it is all I TRY to accomplish but in reality it's what I want to achieve vs. what I need to accomplish. My personal, ambition also responds to these established goals which can't really be measured or judged objectively.

Potential, particularly in human behavior is not easily measurable, and it only depends in external observation, hope, projection, planning and retrospective. its impossible to demonstrate what you "could achieve if..." even to yourself, and in fact the definition of that question is dependent in more than a conscious decision to not be mediocre.

@Kaitlyn Kaid gives a noticeable example of this as well.

So, @Michael Joseph, you probably didn't understand the connection I was making, but hey .. its easiest just to say that... "You are wrong."
so, Michael, You are wrong.

Kelly Kleider
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The post should have a better explanation of the Train game. I guess I live in/under my own technical rock because I have never heard of that game. From the perspective of zero knowledge about the game, the description is pretty f-ed up. The fact that no one was screaming about it led me to look it up.

Michael Joseph
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Good point. This should clear things up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-MSjiJOoi8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9Z-3mz3j6U


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