Friday, January 5, 2018

The Passion Requirement

In this article, game designer Sande Chen weighs the pros and cons to hiring super-passionate game fans.

In a recent New York Times article about Nintendo, an interesting Shigeru Miyamoto hiring tidbit came to light.  He said, “I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they’re not just a gamer, but that they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.” The article states that many of the current staff hadn't been gamers when first hired.

Considering that as a designer, Shigeru Miyamoto is inspired by everyday life (Pikmin was inspired by his gardens), this statement from him is not altogether surprising, and many people would agree that aspiring game designers should have broad interests and seek a liberal education.  However, a lot of game job adverts do call for "passion" for games. It's almost like a requirement.

And what is passion? Is it just regular enthusiasm?  Is it code for "hardcore gamer" or perhaps "superfan," at least for the company's products?  A recent Verge article points out sometimes, "passion" can be PRSpeak for "rude, obnoxious, and toxic."  And with the recent World Health Organization draft on gaming disorder, is "passion" just a nice way of saying "mental health addiction"?

One advantage to having gaming fanatics as new employees is that they are already up to date with gaming culture.  They understand what gamers want and how gamers act.  They already know the history of gaming and what's the latest craze.  They may play the latest games and know all the latest game news.  Moreover, they may know your game inside and out.  They fit in.

This requirement, however, could exclude a lot of worthy candidates.  In the past, women hires didn't have that gaming acumen but had expertise from related fields like entertainment or the technology sector.  By not hiring diverse employees, companies may stagnate, appealing to the same limited market instead of broadening its appeal.  As I have mentioned before at conferences, there are case studies where diversity of employees have led to expanded markets and more profit.  A diverse pool brings new perspectives, opening the door to originality.  In an industry where copycat games can run rampant, it can pay off to be the first mover.

What do you think? Is passion a requirement for you?

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.


DD said...

Great take on this dynamic.

I've been designing & developing VR games for about a year and a half now, but I'm coming from ten years of college teaching and a career as a poet. I can't speak to what people look for when they're hiring (I'm only now applying for jobs after independently developing & this month shipping two titles for the Vive) but I am totally surprised by the homogeneity of much of the gamedev world. There's too many exceptions to count of course, but the solid majority of devs I've met are pretty narrowly focused, and share a lot of the same cultural touchstones. There's no way this isn't an hindrance to the evolution of the medium--how much further can sword-&-sorcery or spaceships-&-lazerguns or WWII-or-III tropes be refined? Not to say there isn't great content being made in those genres, but the narrow focus on those things certainly prevents a lot of, say, my poet and artist friends from developing an interest in the medium. And most defenses of the way things are now are pretty circular--"Well, grizzled muscle-y dudes wielding swords ships units" or "This is just what I find cool", ignoring the notion that a market might be grown, or that one's own taste can evolve through being challenged.

I think a large part of it is that masculinity is terrifying. Gaming is such a masculine culture, but it's a culture that is welcoming to males who don't subscribe to their father's vision of maleness. In this way, it's safe from the pressures to look a certain way, or be aggressive in a certain way, or to earn traditional markers of male success. But to protect that sense of safety a lot of gamers feel that they must not be challenged at all; that there is no need for personal or spiritual development. That gamer fashion is essentially the same as it was twenty years ago speaks a little to this, but that is only the most surface-level symptom of it. That so many gamers remain resolutely homophobic, or misogynistic, or unwilling to participate in cultural experiences outside of their narrowly defined safe space is much more troubling.

Maybe it's worthwhile delineating between "passion" as enthusiasm, curiosity, and drive, and "passion" as single-minded focus. People I've worked with who are passionate about learning, playing, and making have always been a delight. People I've worked with who only care about one thing, less so.

Anonymous said...

I see "passion" used in the same way I see "culture fit" used. Shorthand for "we want people who think like us, dress like us, look like us".

After an interview in which someone who would clearly produce good work for the company, but the incompetent interviewers feel uncomfortable with because they're not the same, they can say "well, the candidate has the technical skills and did great on the questions, but you know, I just don't think she has the... passion for the role." Nods all round, we're not idiots, we're making a smart choice here.

If you can't clearly define what you're looking for such that an outsider could judge whether a candidate has that quality or not, you're not fit to be interviewing. "Passion" and "culture fit" are warning signs; sometimes, the company is just copying words they see other people using and will actually turn out to be competent. Sometimes not.

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