Monday, March 16, 2015

Game developer: "I decided to prove her wrong"

In October of 2014, I wrote about an educational game called Kachina. It was still in development and being previewed at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). It, according to their website, is the oldest and largest conference of game developers. It has gone from "about 25 developers in the living room of a notable game designer 27 years ago, to a week-long conference for more than 23,000 industry insiders."

Earlier this month (March 2015), I read a fascinating article about that game developer and what he did in response to my review. The game was developed by Ben Esposito. At this year's conference, Esposito gave a presentation in the conference's "Failure Workshop." He noted that he'd read my post about his game and...
"I decided to prove her wrong. I would make the most authentic game. It would be heroic... I am quite embarrassed about this."
He goes on to tell about how--once he started doing research--he saw that he was wrong. Prior to that,
the depth of his research on the topic had been, well, liking the look of those [Kachina] dolls.
He told that story to a packed room. Early on, he stuck with the "Kachina" theme and
showed a series of screenshots showing some frankly awful ideas
and then started talking to professors of Indigenous cultures. Someone told him to talk to the Hopi tribe. So he did. And...
After talking to people of the tribe for a while, listening to them about their art and their stories, he had his apocalyptic moment. "They're people."
I realize that a lot of people will say "well, duh!" to that admission, but I appreciate his honesty and his sharing. He could have shelved the game and walked away to redesign a new game, but he made a different decision.

Ben Esposito 
shared what he learned 
with his colleagues. 
At a major conference. 
To a packed room. 
What he did is a model of 
what writers in children's and 
young adult literature can do. 

Here's the closing two paragraphs from the article, by John Walker. Walker's comments and response are also worth noting. Esposito and Walker's willingness to share their thinking is terrific:
I love Esposito’s story. I want to defend him, champion him for his good intentions, his benevolent desire to communicate something. And I struggle along to the same conclusions, that sometimes a story is not your story to tell. “If it’s really important to tell someone’s narrative,” he adds, “let them tell it.” If someone is not in a position to tell their story, maybe look at ways to help it get told. But don’t assume it’s yours to tell.
“When you get called out,” Esposito finished, “shut up and listen. Examine your position. Learn from them. Learn to shut up.”
I followed/follow the Gamer Gate conversations. This one is remarkably different. Read the comments to Walker's article. Reading and thinking about this inspired me to create a new label:

AICL Thanks You! 

AICL thanks Ben Esposito, John Walker, and organizers of the conference for creating the space for developers to share failures with each other. Failures provide learning opportunities. They can be embarrassing, too, as Esposito admitted, but don't we all have those moments? About something we're ignorant about? We've all been there. It is human. What we do once we know otherwise is key.

I wonder---might writer's conferences have a "Failure Workshop," too? Wouldn't that be cool?

Update, March 16, 3:42 PM

I received an email that suggested that my idea of a "Failure Workshop" suggests that all non-Native writers will fail in their attempts to create Native characters. I do not think that at all. It is definitely possible. Flynn did it in On the Move. Definitely, writers have erred in depictions of people who are 'other' to themselves. I suspect they talk about that with their closest friends, but I think so much could be gained by more public conversations, like those that happen at the gaming conference. People who sign up to present in the Failure Workshop are people, just like the people who write children's and young adult books. What is it about that conference--that space--that makes it possible for them to share as they do? Maybe someone in SCBWI could investigate and find a few well-established writers who would be willing to do this sort of thing.

Update, September 2, 2018

There's a video of the Failure Workshop. Take a look. It is riveting. I want every non-Native writer that is trying to write a Native character or theme to watch it.


crwillingmcmanis said...

Sounds like a great idea to teach a "failure" workshop. Some many are afraid of failure, so much so that they don't explore other paths.

Emily said...

Thank you for posting this video, Debbie! I have been wanting to watch it since you told me about it in our interview. It is really encouraging to see someone own his mistakes so proudly AND share them.

Re: "Failure Workshops" - in corporate America (at least at Hallmark) we do what's called "Failing Forward" with the idea (implied in the name) that you can never move forward or make progress in the right direction without looking at failures. The Failing Forward name and it's optimism have been well received in my workplace.