An Analysis Of Development And Writing By @HTTPaladin
So as a game designer who makes games, a lot of interviews I’ve done have just been product placement or marketing for a thing I’m working on or planning to release soon. I’m pointing this out because a large part of the time, marketing is the thing that a project needs more of, but also because it left me with the realization that we quite often have no idea who the people are who make the games or books we enjoy in the TTRPG hobby ecosystem. Many people may prefer that, certainly, but it created this intense and isolating feeling. In 2020 I was very insecure about my newfound place in this industry, and I made a joke on twitter about making a book where I spoke to people about being in this industry.
Immediately I learned two things:
- Don’t make light jokes about making a product that people may be interested in. I’m about to release this thing and for the longest time the subheader was “A twitter joke that’s clearly gotten out of hand.”
- People are fascinating, and game designers moreso (at least to/for me).
In order to interview 30+ people, I went into it with this in mind: “I’ll make a set list of questions I’ll give everyone, and then I’ll research everyone beforehand and come up with unique questions about each of them. I’ll keep things vaguely PG-13. There are things I want to learn from each of these people, and dang nabbit, I will learn them.” This immediately went out the window during the first interview, as the topic of LARPs came up, and we talked about Baphomet, a LARP in Denmark, and how they had a really fun time LARPing out the ritual killing of someone. “To hell with my set interview questions idea,” I thought. “And I guess fuck my PG-13 rating.”
So immediately after that first interview, I realized I had to adjust. If I try to funnel these people into a routine Q&A, then how much of this interview is really about them? If I try to limit what we talk about, restrict what comes up, make us jump through the same hoops as everyone else, what is the purpose of trying to talk to different people across so many different walks of life in the TTRPG sphere? Part of what stirred me to make this book in the first place, what made me crack jokes on twitter all those years ago, was the fact that in a leadership role I had to deal with a situation that was so far out of what I could predict going awry, that I so wished I had some kinda resource to lean on in order to be better prepared for how intimate and harsh these problems and dilemmas would get.
So why’d I go into it with only me in mind? Why’d I think to make them talk about what I wanted to talk about? The whole point is that these people have different experiences that I could learn from. How can we talk about the things I don’t know about if I try and leash the conversation?
We couldn’t, so I had to adjust, after I had just begun.
So if I have to adjust, what do I do then? How do I approach these interviews in a way where I don’t limit the conversation by my own demands and desires? Sadly, the answer is to give more of myself to this project by a) giving up a notion of control, and b) letting myself be open as well.
I have a longstanding sentiment that in working on TTRPGs, much like art, the best things are made when you put yourself into it. That when you draw from your life and your experiences and your views, your dreams and your fears and your joys, you make something that is genuinely artistic. That there are things inside of people that cannot be expressed without the lens of art. For me, I express these things through TTRPGs. For this interview book of mine, I wanted my interviewees to be able to express things that normally aren’t spoken of. I didn’t shoot for the hottest gossip ala clickbait title fodder, and I didn’t shoot for the secrets of creators and their success. I wanted to be able to showcase them, as they are, in this snippet of their life.
Doing that required a lot more work than I ever expected, and I don’t have regrets over it.
Each interview was prefaced with connecting over email, sometimes for the first time. I spoke about the book as I understood it at the time, and said it’d be under two hours for an interview. We’d schedule a time, talk beforehand to get adjusted and comfortable talking, and start recording. For most of the interviews, I asked the question: “How did you get into TTRPGs?” I have all of these recordings, and they won’t ever be released to the public. We transcribed them via machine, via a transcriptionist, and via me before showing it to the interviewee, and after any revisions/clarifications, was proofread and sent to layout. Nothing went to the final product that wasn’t approved of.
Part of working with people in this industry is having to form trust to one another. While there are some people who are able to work for a big company, with regular pay and benefits, the overwhelming majority of us are contractors and freelancers. We may have a small community that supports us individually, but we don’t have corporate backing. For those of us who work full time, we constantly need work, and we need to be able to be present for any and all opportunities. And the only way to get these things is to be trusted. All communication begins and ends with the trust you establish and grow.
I wanted these people I spoke to to trust me, so I decided that I would trust them, implicitly. I never pried beyond what they gave, I never dug for “the truth”, and I never pressured them. And as they shared with me, I shared with them. When they trusted me with their own vulnerability, I trusted them with my own. Throughout the book the topics of family, futures, deaths, losses, friends, love, audiences, perceptions, parasocialism, marriage, failure, and success intermingled with things like taxes, businesses, new books, secret plans, anxieties, accomplishments, acting, past careers, side hustles, and on and on and on. I did what I set out, and more.
Regardless of who the person was, regardless of how much more money or fame or notoriety they have, I came to them as a fellow person in this industry, and spoke to them without fanfare. And as a result they spoke to me as such as well. Can I confirm this? No. I just trust that they did, and I can’t do any more than that, nor would I want to.
What’s The Point?
If I had to draw all this to a singular point, I’d say that success never happens as you imagine it. You may have a mental picture of it, you may achieve it, but its shape is never pre-defined. So many of the people that I spoke to who are wildly or happily successful never really expected their success to take the form that it did. The kickstarter campaign I ran for it never made as much money as my other books have, but I still think of it as my biggest success. Did I originally picture success in the view of money? Yes. Do I still sorta see it that way? Yes. But this book I’ve made with the help of 30+ people is the most human thing I think I may ever do, and I think then, it’s the most successful thing I’ll make for a long time.
I could talk at length about how, when you go to make a book that involves so many people, you need to be flexible and work with people and their timelines and lives, that you should try and accommodate and account for things to go horribly awry. Project management is its own skillset, and learning it is invaluable, sure. Yes. Absolutely. But that’s not really the (main) point to draw here.
The point is that I was new to this industry when I started working on the book. I had so few connections, I knew so few people, and I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. Despite all this, I still found joy, I found things normally inexpressible, and I found success. I am not a unique case in this.
It can happen for you too.
P.S. The Joke
At the time of writing this, the book is finishing up its final rounds of proofreading, and then it will be released. How’s that for a kicker?