Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Art of Speaking

There is, I think, a lot to be said for being a good communicator. Alex St. John wrote an opinion piece for VentureBeat in which he says, basically, working on computer games is an art, not an assembly line and while the hours may be long, the work isn't strenuous. In response, Kotaku's Jason Schreier referred to the piece as "a hot new contender for worst article of the decade."

But I don't think that Mr. St. John said anything particularly out of the ordinary. He simply made the point that games are art, art takes time and commitment, modern-day information technology work isn't particularly hard in the overall scheme of things and if someone really hates doing the work, they have alternatives. Coming from some homeless veteran or displaced third-world refugee, one could see the exact same words being praised as speaking truth to privilege. Mr. St. John simply could have typed "First World Problems" and dropped the mic.

The difficulty that everyone has in attempting to imbue others with their own perspective on life is that people view their problems as actual problems, and a worldview that minimizes those experiences often strikes them as telling them they aren't important as people. When I look back on my first job in the video game industry, I was amazed at how much money people were paid to effectively "play" games all day. Coming from a background in social services, even a black-box tester's wages felt like real money. But it was far from the perfect job, and some people were really put out by the various impositions that it made on us. It was, however, effectively unskilled labor at more than double the rate one could have made working in fast-food, and it took about the same amount of training.

When I talk about that time, I have to remember not to come across as putting anyone down, and that's where I think that Mr. St. John made his mistake. Having concluded that what he was about to say would be offensive to many, he decided to embrace that, rather than re-think how he wanted to get his message across. Because, in the end, he was holding up the people who work in the video-game industry as smart, gifted people who would be an asset to any number of other employers. The heart of his admonition to avoid thinking of themselves as "wage-slaves" was to for them to remember that they had choices - slaves don't, and that is what makes them slaves.

Instead, he came across as calling them whiners and in so doing, alienated them.

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