Day: January 28, 2022


(Mostly Don’ts!)

For those of us who have been doing the game design thing for a long time (too long some might say) it is (to me at least) important to make efforts to bring on the next generation of game designers and encourage, support and mentor those who might want to learn from our experiences. This might be helping out with playtesting, running workshops for new designers or presenting at conferences, workshops etc. There are some things I’ve observed (and done myself) that are helpful, and perhaps less than helpful, when supporting the next generation of game designers.

I have come up with a number of insights from my experience that might help game design grognards [Definition : ‘grognard’ someone experienced enough to know better.] when they are working with, supporting or mentoring new designers. These are not rules as such, more like guidelines.

1. MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS HEARD.  If someone is quiet then encourage them to participate by asking their opinion.  BUT be careful of ‘searchlighting’ (i.e. putting them in an uncomfortable spotlight).

2. Don’t mention someone’s appearance.  Ever. Either referring to those present or as part of an anecdote (“I met this really good-looking man the other day”).

3. Don’t mention someone’s age.  Either directly or inferred.  Especially be VERY aware of your own assumptions about youth & gender and implied inexperience.  I.e. “Good idea young Jim-lad” is patronising at best.

4. Personal banter is risky.  You may know another member of the group really well, but continually referring to that closer relationship (especially with banter and ‘in jokes’) is potentially exclusionary for the other participants.

5. Keep your Flak guns silent.  Shooting down stupid ideas is not allowed.  Also do not shoot down dumb questions.  Dumb questions are better than dumb mistakes later. [Definition: ‘Flak’ is an anti-aircraft weapon, used for shooting down enemy aircraft].

6. Do not explain how you would do it better.  If you are the expert in the room it is a given that you know how to do it, you have nothing to prove.  Instead guide the participants towards their own solutions by skillfully using open questions.  Also your solutions or methods may not be the best (or only) approach – be open to learning yourself.

7. There are brain cells in the room.  The participants are intelligent and bring knowledge and experience.  It is better to assume they already know something before you explain it to them.  “Are you familiar with the events of the Munich Crisis?” gives them a chance to say “Yes it was the subject of my doctoral thesis” BEFORE you launch into a long (and no doubt fascinating) exposition.  In short, do not ‘mansplain’.

8. DO STOP TALKING.  No really, please stop. Mentoring is not a casual conversation.  Also when you do speak, keep it SHORT and RELEVANT.  This is a genuine challenge for the experienced and knowledgeable subject matter expert who is bursting with experiential anecdotes and wisdom.  Rigorously self-check with regard to relevance, and if in doubt save it for the book/blog/podcast.   “When I play wargames with the great Peter Perla” is not relevant in the mentoring context.  Reference other experts, naturally, but only to signpost their work.

9. Obscure references do not help development.  Especially with an audience new to the field.  However, respectfully check in with them.  For example – “Have you heard of a wargamer called Don Featherstone?”  <blank looks>  “Well, he was a famous wargame writer in the 1960s and 70s and he always advised….”  OR <nods of recognition>  “Don Featherstone always said…”.

10. ACRONYMS ARE EVIL.  Designed to provide a helpful shorthand, like technical jargon, acronyms often work as a tool for excluding the uninitiated – and can work brilliantly to alienate and exclude.  Avoid using them at all in sessions, or, if unavoidable ideally PAGBITS  (Provide a Glossary Before Introducing The Session) or explain them on first use.  

This might look like a ‘Top Ten’ but I’m sure there are a lot more than 10, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!