17 November, 2012

Status among Game Designers

I've been considering status among the design community for a while...How certain game designers can pump out half finished crap and be praised for innovation, while others plug away at truly polished products only to be ignored. Matthijs Holter has set up a thread over on Story-Games to discuss status as it relates to designers within that community.
(I find it fascinating that this thread, of all threads, is bringing out so many observers and lurkers! Why is that?) 
Excellent question! While high-profile posters mostly stay away. 
Huh.  My first thought was that maybe it's a little embarrassing to acknowledge that you're one of the highest-status people. 
These are just my theories, and I'm deliberately avoiding the use of specific names of people or games... 
I think it's the whole notion of the privileged few versus the unprivileged masses. The few have power far beyond their numbers and either don't know how they got their power or don't want to reveal how it came their way (like most aspects of life). Whenever you get a high enough number of people gathered together, the human instincts of establishing a hierarchy start to develop. The hierarchy fluctuates, with valuable people ascending as their ideas come into vogue, and descending as new ideas are brought to the table. The problem lies in how these new ideas are brought to into the ecosystem. A person with high status will probably like the exposure they've received so far, and would often like more (or at least they'd like their status not to crumble)...they want to be known as the person who identified the "new hotness", or hope to identify concepts that might lead the flow of ideas back in their direction again some time in the near future.  
In this community, that often means the high status folks telling the community about their friends (who will in turn tell us about the high status folks, thus reinforcing the cycle)...at other times it means moderate and high status folks jumping on a bandwagon established by a particular high status person. In a lot of cases, these high status people dislike the ideas of nebulous theory, crying for real-life examples. It's hard to shoot down a nebulous theory, it's far easier to take shots at a specific example (either using it to reinforce your own status or using it to prevent someone you don't like from getting status). Since I haven't used the names of specific people or games in this post it will be easier for those with status to simply ignore this post. 
With this in mind, we get plenty of games decried as the "new hotness", because they were penned by someone with moderate to high status, with other folks of moderate to high status declaring them as masterpieces because they want to be hipsters who "saw it first". Once there is a groundswell behind such a game, the designer reinforces their status within the community, it's only months later when the hype dies down that the game actually gets assessed on it's merits.  
For every one of these games that is hyped due to the status of it's creator, there are at least another dozen games that are probably just as good (if not better)...yet these other games don't get the exposure and thus don't get the chance to be properly compared or recognised. Some of these unrecognised games show innovations in game design months before a "high profile designer revolutionises the gaming world" by presenting the same concepts, in many cases they will have drawn on the same wellspring of ideas gathered from the wider gaming community.   
Those who make claims that "there is no status in this community" are typically the ones who haven't seen the down side of possessing low status (If I was going to get political, I'd call them the "Mitt Romney"s of the game design world...but let's leave it at that for the moment).  
It's cliquey, like many aspects of society. To get high status in the game design field, you aren't born into it (we haven't really had enough generations for that), but you need to have your status bestowed by someone who is already a part of the elite...they need to like your game (often hoping that they can hack it to gain a bit more status of their own), or they need to like you as a person (often meeting you at one or more conventions).  
Getting high status is one part hard work (and making sure you've always got something out there for people to see), one part luck (and having the right people bestow a bit of their status on you) and one part toadying (just playing politics for the sake of status). Some rare people get ahead performing one of these three sides really well (designing awesome stuff, being really lucky, or being an A-grade arse-kisser), some get ahead by being moderately good at all three.  
Most people don't get ahead because the folks with high status love the exposure and status doesn't mean a thing if everyone has it in equal quantities. When someone tells you that they got to the top of the pile by all their hard work, they're either lying to you, or they've forgotten that lucky break (or politicking) when someone with high status deemed them worthy of joining the elite. 
That's enough of my rant for the moment. I expect most community members here to ignore it, so I'll repost it on my blog, and feed it across to some of the other game design social network groups where people might be willing to view it with more open eyes and hopefully generate some feedback and discussion.
More of the thread can be found here. 

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