Should Be Land

Have you guys ever noticed that game developers tend to live in this mythical land of ‘Should Be”? It’s quite a fascinating place, where things happen the way people think they should, rather than the way they actually do.

Lets face it, lots of developers live in a world where everything works the way they think they should – based on personal experience and ‘logic’ (which, strangely enough, tends to reflect their own personal belief set because everything they think is right, ergo it’s logical, can’t you see that?) and if it doesn’t, well, it should, and I’m going behave as though it does, to force everyone else into my way of thinking.

The problem with being smart is that the smarter you are, the easier it is to justify whatever quirk / approach / idea / belief-in-the-world-at-large you happen to have. “But of course people will by this! Who wouldn’t want a zombie unicorn simulator?”

The reality is, of course, that quite a lot of creative people would rather live in the world-as-they-think-it-should-be than in the real world because the real world adheres to rules that either don’t suit them or are weighted against them.

Now I don’t know about you but it seems to me that the people who have the most success in the world are those that really understand how it is, in all it’s screwed up beauty. The reality is that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The more you subscribe to the fact that “it shouldn’t matter”, well you are right but you are going to be right all by yourself in the corner over there getting more and more bitter about the way the world is and protesting to anyone that listens that “This is all bullshit and it shouldn’t be like that”.

If the world does operate according to “it’s who you know” (and I think we all have ample evidence that it does), then isn’t the smart move to get out there and meet people? Get out to GDC and hang out in the W bar and just talk to people. Stop complaining that it’s not the way it should be and get with the fact that reality is bogus and sometimes you have to do shit you’d rather not even though it’s bullshit.

If you have code that doesn’t work, but should, you don’t just proclaim “well, it should work” and push it out into the world (well, unless you are Microsoft, obviously:) ). No, you figure out what’s broken in your API’s and either fix it or figure out a way around what’s broken and generally work with what we have to get to where we need to go. But when it comes to speeding, well we all do 5 mph above the speed limit because “the limits are bullshit anyway, right?”.

There are many game designers who seem to operate in Should Be Land – who feel that people shouldn’t mind their convoluted UI, because “They need those options, right?”, or that this control mechanism “Totally works, and people will love it” while everyone else is just shaking their heads going “What is this guy smoking?”.

Should Be Land permeates quite a lot of things, and to be sure, while I am making light of it, in some circumstances it’s a good thing. You cannot change the world until you start treating the world the way you want it to be. Gay rights would not have come as far as they have without the gay community just deciding that the world should treat them a certain way and expecting that out of everyone.

The real problems come when your version of Should Be Land comes into conflict with reality because 99 times out of a 100, you’ll loose. Should Be Land regarding items that really don’t matter (the band Chicago is the BEST BAND IN THE WORLD!!!!!!!) generally paint you is a harmless eccentric, or charming even. At worst it brands you as slightly delusional but still, not something to worry to much about. But when it collides with either the law of the land or popular perception of the type that economically affects you, then it starts getting a little more serious.

Speeding limits Should Be 10 mph faster than they are, but living in that reality means speeding tickets, regardless of how bullshit that may be. People should have a sense of humor about that dirty joke, but some people do not, regardless of how much they should do and living in that reality just means that you’ll be having some uncomfortable meetings with HR. STL should be a good way to write C++ code, but the reality is that lots of people don’t really know how to use it and what’s going on behind the scenes, so most of the time it’ll screw you more than it will help. People Should know the implications of what they do before they do it, but most of the time they won’t, and you’ll be the one picking up the pieces. And believing that all your design is a gift from god and everyone is going to love it usually means relegation to the budget bin 2 weeks after launch.

Every Should Be Land assumption needs to be treated to a heavy dose of reality (And we ALL have our should be land issues – even if you don’t think you do – in fact particularly if you don’t think you do.) and we all need to start recognising when this is occurring.

Rule of thumb? If you say something and everyone disagrees, you probably want to re-evaluate. That can be really painful if it’s something you totally believe, but generally (and I say generally, there are times when you are right and no one else is) re-evaluation is required. Of course the more invested someone is in whatever belief it is, then the harder this is to even see, let alone do but regardless, if you don’t even try then it’s probably safe to say that problems are coming your way. And worse still, if you make a proclamation and no one challenges it or has anything to say about , even when you ask, then there’s definitely a problem but no one wants to talk to you about it because they are scared of the way you’ll react.

The ability to see the world as it actually is – which I think most people can do – and then deal with that reality – which I think quite a lot of people have issues with – is one that will only help. Being right is great, but often being right is not what’s required. Being effective is what’s required and the two are not equal.

Being right all by yourself in the corner sucks. It Shouldn’t Do – people should appreciate the being right all by itself – but it does, so get with the program and stop living in Should Be Land. Everyone else will thank you for it.