The Limits of My Advice

People often seem to value my advice. From game design to life as a ttRPG freelancer to gmae buisness to destigmatizing mental health issues to being an ally, I am often asked to give my opion, offer context, brainstorm options and solutions. It seems weird to me, but people I trust tell me the advice is often useful, so I believe them. I am even so arrogant as to charge a (to my mind, extremely high) amount of money for a solid hour of professional advice.

But, there are significant limits to the value of my advice, and I would not want to present it in a way that suggests otherwise.

Firstly, all of my advice is born of my experiences, and as a hetero cis white man there are a lot of things I haven’t personally experienced. I do listen to people who are marginalized by the industry as much as I can, and tried to learn from what I see happen to them and what they tell me, but that’s still different than knowing from direct experience of what living through and dealing with those events are like. I have to guess how they may make people with different backgrounds and circumstances, and that’s always going to color how my advice applies to them.

I make an effort to be aware of this in various ways. First, there are numerous issues about which I know it’s more important for me to listen than to talk. Booting the voices of those directly affected is often appropriate in ways that given my own experience isn’t. And a big part of that is that I may not understand what the real issue is. If a woman is talking about having her name as author not be put on the front cover of a book, and I might feel it’s could be helpful to talk about times in which I fought to put my name on the front cover as author, and failed. But, due to context, there’s every chance it’s not the same. I’m on the front cover of tons of books, and there’s no systemic negative reaction to me being presented as a noteworthy game designer. I’ve seen co-workers, with the same job title I have, who don’t happen to be hetero cis white man, get announced as guests at game conventions only for multiple people to being casting aspersions that they’re only there as “woke virtue-signaling” or “diversity hires.”

That’s never happened to me. Not when i was first a guest at Gen Con, in 2000, with no solo book credits to my name. Not when I was a guest multiple times at SoonerCon, with nothing but magazine credits. Not when I was a guest at Comicpalooza in 2014 and being treated to the same level of green room care as James Marsters and Tricia Helfer. Anytime I am presented as an expert or noteworthy, people who have never heard of my before simply nod and accept it must be true. I have witnessed that absolutely not be the way people react when people of different backgrounds are presented as folks worth listening to and treating with respect.

Put another way, if I ask someone not to put something on the top shelf and they do, I can still reach it. If someone 5’2″ tall asks people not to put things on the top shelf and they do, they are NOT having the same experience I did.

Secondly (yeah, firstly was a long one), my advice tends to assume everyone you are dealing with is acting in good faith. Often when I talk about being kind, helping others, trying to build networks of allies, fans, and colleagues, someone will comment with a note “But also protect yourself!”

And they’re right.

I rarely have to protect myself from bad-faith actors trying to take advantage of me. It happens, but a lot of it is so obvious I easily sidestep it, and a lot of the ways it used to happen when I was less well-established just isn’t an issue anymore (due to changing technologies, changing industry norms, and so on). I’m more than 20 years into my career, and generally consider myself bulletproof in regards to reputation and recognition. That is NOT the case for everyone, and I’ve pretty well proven that if I am not explicitly discussing how to deal with bad actors, I’ll forget it can be critical context to add.

Thirdly… am more than 20 years into my careers. I am fairly well known in the small pool I wallow in. My advice may not be the best, most current look at how to get started, get better known, make contacts, build a following from the ground up, get paid more, and so on. I am often extended benefit-of-the-doubt, friends-and-family options, and professional courtesies other people aren’t. And I may not even know when that’s the case, causing my to blithely overlook how hard certain kinds of accommodations might be to get.

Fourthly, I tend to approach all industry-related questions from the point of view of a designer, developer, and publisher. I have much less experience as an artist, or editor, or sensitivity of cultural consultant. I also tend to focus on a specific kind of ttRPG game–much more d20 and Green Ronin’s AGE than Dread or Blades in the Dark, and even further from miniatures games, boardgames, cardgames, and even FURTHER from video games and novels. If you want to get the kind of work I do, I may have valuable suggestions and insights. If you want to become a big Hollywood movie script writer, I recommend finding more-closely-linked-in advisors. 🙂

Same thing applies to residence. My advise is U.S.A. focused.

There are, I am sure, other blind spots in my advice that I am, well, blind to. So, please, take anything I say with a grain of salt. Listen to people who come at these questions from different places in time and origin. Be aware that the game industry is a constantly-changing knot of interconnected companies, events, business needs, cultural trends, and changing best practices. I try hard to not be a dinosaur… but even if I know a giant comet is a risk, I’m often going to miss how non-dinosaur concerns could color the utility of my advice.

Patreon

Having taken ALL that space to warn you that I should never be more than one voice of many you listen to, I’m going to take the bold step of suggesting that if you DO want to keep hearing what i have to say, it may be worthwhile to drop $3/month into my Patreon, so I can afford to keep taking the time to say it.

About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on December 9, 2021, in Business of Games, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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