Why should Sheri Graner Ray blog? Because we need female game design and production icons to inspire a new generation of women to get involved in our industry? Because there are too few women blogging about their experiences inside the development machine? Because she's intelligent, insightful and friendly? But none of these reasons are reasons why she might want to blog. For that, we have to look to what it means to blog.
I had the great pleasure at this year's GDC of having lunch with Sheri. We'd met last year, and had immediately connected in that strange and wonderful manner that sometimes just happens. For anyone who doesn't know, Sheri is a renowned industry veteran, the author of Gender Inclusive Game Design and a shining feminine jewel in the overwhelmingly masculine gravel pit of the game's industry. She was also one of the first people to leave Sony Online Entertainment in what will surely be known in future years as the "Great Exodus". (For reference, none of the people I used to know at SOE are still there...)
One of the things that came out of this meeting was that some people are leaning on Sheri to blog. This has left her slightly confused as to why. She took a look at Raph Koster's blog and elsewhere and it seemed that the main thing that blogs are used for is pontificating. I smiled and laughed, and noted that yes, I'm sure a fair amount of the content on my blog is idle posturing. But the value in blogs is perhaps less about the content than it is about the community.
Matt Mower of Curiouser and Curiouser! (a long time friend and colleague) had been leaning gently upon me for several years about blogging, but as someone who writes a full diary page every day (since 1984), I really didn't see the point. I think part of my problem was thinking of a blog as an online diary - which it can be. But it can also be much more.
Firstly, let's look at how one might get the most out of blogs:
- Read and Write: it seems to me that writing a blog is only part of the picture. You also need to have a cluster of blogs that you read, so that there is community of blogs that you are participating in.
- Read like a Newspaper: if you try and read everything in your blog cluster, you will melt. Blog posts are like newspaper articles - you don't read a newspaper from cover to cover, you flit from page to page and see what interests you. This is how I believe blogs work best - you look for what interests you and read just that.
- Communication from Pontification: it's okay to pontificate, but when one does so, the secret goal is to hear what other people think about your judgments. I don't believe a blog has a purpose if you aren't trying to communicate - which is the reason I am keen to mix in posts about religion and philosophy into my blog to scare off a larger crowd. I want a small enough community that I have the potential to reply to every comment, without replying to comments becoming my sole blogging activity.
Okay, all well and good. But why should someone blog. Well, we're all different, but I can share from my perspective the benefits I am gaining from blogging:
- Friendly Debate: the ancient Greek philosophers could gather around a fountain and discuss all manner of topics with like minded people, but where do we in the modern world have the same option? The trouble with online resources such as forums is that ownership is open, and so forums and mailing lists tend to devolve into territorial battles. Worse, since every response is seen by everyone, battles tend to become more and more intensified. It is as if someone filled a room with angry people and then locked the doors. This doesn't happen much on blogs. For a start, ownership of blogs is not disputed. Come to my blog, obey my rules (although the only rule I have is that my guests are not abusive, and not posting spam in my comments). The hostility amplification of a forum or mailing list does not happen in a blog, because not everyone returns to read the response to their comments - this cuts sustain by a vast degree, meaning that cordial relations are far more common. Only those who want to talk come back to engage in debate.
- The Network Effect: I am consistently amazed by this. I apologised to Nicole Lazzaro for consistently spelling her name wrong; within 24 hours she had dropped by to my blog and we had a pleasant chat about audience research. Blogs capitalise on the network effect of the internet in a fashion that sometimes beggers belief. I was able to build a level design team for Fireball in a matter of weeks by posting on my blog (and having my call echoed through my blog cluster). Whatever you need, you can get it faster by blog than by almost any other means.
- Am I crazy... I spend a worrying amount of time doubting my own sanity. Blogging has been tremendously stabilising for me, because not only do people behave in response to most of my posts in a manner that makes me feel lucid, but I also see other bloggers posting things which are equally or more crazy than my own thoughts! It reassures me that if my sanity is suspect, at least there are many other fun people on the same train to Bedlam as me, and we can have a party together.
- Emotional support: I know that as a businessman I'm not allowed to have fears, anxieties and weaknesses. But as a human being, as an artistic dabbler, as a spiritual person, and as person who has resisted the allegedly "easy" corporate life, I actually need some emotional support from time to time. The community of people who come to my blog reassure me that what I'm doing isn't a complete waste of time, that my work is worthwhile, and that I am contributing something valuable, although intangible, to the world. This means a lot to me.
- Trade Education for Refinement: the economy of ideas on a thriving intellectual blog is one whereby the writer educates some readers in areas they previously had little knowledge in return for help from the community at large in refining their ideas. This is a great deal for both sides! On my blog, I am not a teacher, nor a student, but some strange quantum fusion of the two!
I am perhaps overstepping my bounds when I comment that Sheri has wondered whether or not she should stay in the games industry. To this I say, if only she had a blog, she would not be in any doubt that we want her to stay, that we need women like her - who are both great leaders and great listeners - as advocates, as mentors and as figureheads, so that new generation of women (and men) coming into the industry can look to someone with intelligence, charm and grace for a sign that we are not merely an old boys club intent upon naught but violence and masculine wish fulfillment.
Why should Sheri Graner Ray blog? She should only do so if she wants reassurance that she is not alone, the capacity to share and refine her ideas in a wider forum, and to become part of one of the most amazing transformations in intellectualism in the history of the world thus far.
Come on in, Sheri, the water's warmer than it looks!
With grateful and respectful love to the blogging community that has so warmly welcomed me.