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The power of people who see the world in black and white

Some people are gifted with a perfect connection between their desires and their decision making. They know exactly what they like, and more importantly, what they don’t like. They are what I like to call a black and white person, there is no in between.

I’m constantly struggling internally, trying to figure out what I want. A wise person once told me, “Samuel, you think too much”. But how do you turn off your brain, how do you get in touch with what you really want? Everything has a positive and a negative side in my opinion and it’s hard to discard anything without considering it. My impression of most people is that they are also going through a similar battle, constantly trying to figure out what they want. However, over the years in the games industry I have had the “pleasure” to work with a couple of black and white persons. I put quotes around pleasure for a very specific reason.

Black and white (from here on referred to as BW) persons are awesome, they have a crisp vision and they are able to communicate it by clearly stating when they dislike something. They might not be able to articulate their vision as whole, but when they see something, they immediately will know if they like it or not. However, working closely with people with this trait can be extremely frustrating. If you don’t agree with them on a point, it’s a chore to convince them that the opposite view is the better way to go. They will consider every view that doesn’t match theirs as opposite. This leads to conflict and frustration, some people will have to leave the team because they just can’t work with “that guy”.

A BW makes for an excellent game director, they usually have a strong vision and make rapid decision that allows the team to move forward quickly. If you’re a producer and work alongside her, your life can be quite difficult. Especially if you’re doing contract work with a publisher. Quite often the publisher will see things differently and point that out, in the mind of the BW person they are just plain wrong. After a couple of loops of frustration and conflict between the publisher and the BW, the publisher will realize that they are not getting anywhere. Their only option is to go through you to put pressure on the BW. You are now in squeeze between the BW’s vision and the publisher desires to see something different.

In this position you should always side with the BW, no matter the cost. Because if you manage to force the BW to compromise on her vision, it’s likely she will lose her passion and the end result will suffer, the team will be leaderless and the project as a whole will suffer. It will almost always be better to end the project and find a better match, where the relationship isn’t as strained. Changing leadership in the project should not be considered either, as this would be like asking someone to adopt a grown-up. The vision is in the previous leader’s head, it cannot be transferred. The end result will suffer to such extent that it would have been better to start a new project anyway.

With all this in mind, you might think that it’s better to have project led by people that are more willing to compromise. And you are right, if you are willing to spend more money, time and effort. The journey might be a bit smoother but it will for sure be a longer one.

The benefit of having a strong BW leading a game project is that she can make decisions at a pace that a person looking for compromises can’t, there will be way fewer meetings where things need to be discussed. The game will not change in direction every day, the end goal will remain close to the same throughout the whole production. As long as the team can buy in to their vision whole-heartedly it is by far the better situation.

Over the years I’ve learned that even though your life is easier if you work with people that are more open minded, it’s more fun to work with people that are strongly black and white. As long as you can understand them and view the world in a similar way.

I envy black and white people and wish I had that strong connection to my inner desires. I wish I was better at making decisions that often went against what others thought. If I ever go back to making games I would not work with anyone that isn’t a strong black and white person.

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