Most games are not written by a lone ranger, sitting in his ivory tower, aloof from all others. Ideally, writers work together, and how they work together in games sometimes requires different methods and vocabulary. This week we’ll be exploring three such methods, including compromise and ownership. But first, if you’re not familiar with it already, consensus is a great way to work in a team.
Merriam-Webster calls consensus “general agreement: unanimity” as well as “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” However, consensus is more than just an end result; it’s a decision-making process. With a keen understanding of consensus, writers can improve not only the quality of their writing, but improve relationships with their teammates.
In practice, consensus allows each team member to contribute to and influence the process. For example, most brainstorming sessions are run by consensus. Team members can offer up ideas, which the group explores for as long as it’s fruitful. The goal is to settle upon an idea that excites every member of the team. Writers who have experienced successful sessions describe a lift in the entire room when they’ve hit on the right idea. The energy spikes and smiles appear, making it one of the most gratifying aspects of working collaboratively.
The goal of consensus is to reach this “lift,” so it’s important to move on quickly from ideas that just aren’t hitting. However, sometimes you will need to plough through an idea before discarding it, and disagreements will arise. Fortunately, consensus allows for coming to a solution that literally makes everyone happy.
1. Identify the issue at stake. No matter who disagrees with the direction the story is headed, make sure you understand what specifically is causing contention. “I don’t know, that sounds dumb” is not helpful. If another person has a negative reaction to your story idea, ask, “What about this bothers you?” You may have assumed it had to do with the character you have envisioned, but your teammate may actually just have an issue with a particular plot point.
2. Allow everyone to describe their best case scenario. In order to make everyone enjoy the solution, everyone has to share what they enjoy. In the above case, your best case scenario may involve a scene where your character has a change of heart, while your teammate’s ideal scene would involve the character following the most logical path.
3. Find a solution that works for everyone. At this point, brainstorm a solution that addresses everyone’s concerns. If problems still arise, begin with step one, or try developing a new idea in its entirety.
Now for an overly simplistic example. Joe and Sally are writers who must determine the color of a character’s dress. Joe wants the dress to be red, and Sally wants the dress to be black. Beginning with step one, Joe expresses he wants the dress to represent the character’s personality. Sally agrees. Moving on, Joe’s best case scenario involves the red dress representing the character’s seductive aspects. Sally prefers seeing the more mysterious aspects of her personality, so she chose black. Finally, they decide on a color that is both seductive and mysterious, and settle on a deep purple, or a subtle, dark red. Most importantly, they are both happy with the choice and happen to feel it is better than their original ideas.
Drawbacks: Consensus often works best with fewer people involved in the decision-making process. A true consensus system may not give the recognition some writers need to manage their ego.
Later this week we’ll explore compromise and ownership. Have you had any success with consensus?
Last week’s game dialog came from Zork, of course! More Guess that Game Dialog to come!