We invite you to consider the question, “As a creative person, why do you do what you do?”
As you answer this, you’ll find yourself storytelling.
Let’s talk about telling the story of your studio.
A studio is a group of people who collaborate with each other and have a relationship with one another. Sometimes, people in a studio want to express themselves, tell stories, or create images that represent their identities. Some people want to create change for others who may not resemble them. This is called “solidarity consciousness.”1
The notion of solidarity consciousness is framed in terms of relationships – but the first relationship we have to take care of is with ourselves, and we can expand from there.
Through your storytelling about why you do what you do as a creative, you likely expressed some kind of value that you truly believe in that’s core to your sense of purpose and creativity. Our studio relationships are based on values, and we need to put our values into practice and then practice that over and over again.
We can approach telling our studio story as a practice of micro-storytelling. This is not something that most of us think about or deconstruct – even people who are used to telling stories all the time.
Journaling is a daily practice that allows for an iterative and daily approach to self-exploration, allowing us to explore ourselves in small doses.
By using our values as our touchstone, we can consistently prioritize building relationships with others. We interact with people on a daily basis, and even small interactions can contribute to the larger goal of creating a community. By engaging in iterative storytelling and practicing this skill, we accumulate experiences and ideas as we make our games. This development process can be enjoyable and rewarding!
We have become documentation-ready by practicing journaling. And by journaling, we don’t just mean personal journaling but also collaborative journaling for our studio. By keeping our journal entries in a digital space where they won’t be deleted or lost, like disappearing messages on our phones, we are documenting our progress as we go. This makes us prepared and ready for any future documentation needs.
Journaling allows us to:
- Practice an iterative, daily approach
- Make our values a touchstone
- Prioritize relationship building
- Turn relationship building into community building
- Become documentation ready, already
There are two parts to each aspect of storytelling: naming and engaging.
Naming who involves identifying the storytellers. In our studio, all members are storytellers, not just the marketing person. The goal is to share the stories of each person’s labour, engagement, interpretation of values, expression of values, and practice of values. The audience starts with us, the studio members and collaborators, and then ripples out to the community and players.
Engaging with the audience is about building relationships. Communication is key to building relationships. We’ve all experienced relationships that fell apart due to poor communication, miscommunication, or a lack of communication. On the flip side, we’ve also experienced beautiful relationships where communication was valued, prioritized, and practiced, even during difficult times. Engaging with the audience means practicing communication to build relationships.
This process obliges us to attribute the story to the teller. Collaborative journaling requires finding the source of the information and giving proper credit.
When it comes to communication, especially on social media, we need to be honest with ourselves that a lot of what we engage in today is not true two-way communication. Some of it is asynchronous, but a lot of it is just sending out messages without any real interaction.
Authentic communication and storytelling require a call and response. It’s not just about one person talking and others listening, but rather a back-and-forth exchange of ideas and thoughts.
We initiated this article with a question, and you responded. In a group setting, you can engage others about your thoughts and motivations. That’s the beauty of communication and storytelling – lots of listeners and lots of reflection back. By offering your thoughts and being present, you can show that you care and are engaged in the dialogue.
Writing is also an important part of communication. It’s not just about putting words on paper but instead writing with the intention of being heard and wanting someone to respond. Rewriting and recreating what we write helps us build the story of our studio. We can reflect on what we wrote on Monday, think about it on Tuesday, and then come back to it on Wednesday with new ideas or changes. This process helps us create a more cohesive and engaging story.
When can be challenging, as it may be something that few of you have considered before in the context of your studio - daily journaling. The word “journal” comes from “dyeu-,” which means “today” or “one day.” The important thing is to make it a daily habit.
Doing journaling in daily doses means that you can allow yourself to work in small chunks – it doesn’t have to become everything, it doesn’t have to become overwhelming. But it does have to be a discipline of daily practice.
Some recommendations say to start the day with journaling, which helps you to set the agenda for the day. At the end of the day, it offers you an opportunity to reflect back on the day.
It’s truly an amazing practice to be able to distill your thoughts and emotions. When you can do it in a collaborative and shared way, such as typing it out, speaking it into a voice note, or drawing it into a visualization, you not only learn about yourself but also about your fellow studio members.
Engaging daily means that you have time for incremental change. It’s just tiny doses, so you can iterate and tweak daily. This also gives you time to ask for help and receive it. If you wait and hold onto something, it can become a bigger issue than it really is. Then, it becomes difficult to ask for help and even more embarrassing to receive it. But if we work on it daily, it becomes a routine, and we have time to become clear about our messaging. As we go through it, we grow, shift and change. We realize that something that was a goal two months from now can be achieved sooner if we work on it daily.
This is very, very important: You want to begin your creative journey in safe, shared studio spaces that are visible only to your team and not accessible to the public. This is not a platform for public journaling but rather a low-stakes, internal space that is secure and private.
Once you have established a safe physical space, you can move on to creating safe online spaces that you own and control, such as a website or a newsletter. This ensures that your work is not misrepresented or taken out of context by others.
After you have refined your work and messaging, you can then take it to a public space, such as a pitch, press release, or social media platform. By following this process, you can ensure that you are fully prepared to share your work with the world in a way that is safe, effective, and true to your vision.
Always ensure that it is dialogical – in a conversation, there is a speaker and a listener who respond to each other. Start with low-stakes topics and gradually move towards high-stakes ones. This order is important but often overlooked. We need to rethink the way we use technology in our conversations.
Collaborative journaling is a great practice to improve your writing skills. It’s not about achieving perfection but rather striving for clarity. Writing is a process of rewriting, and it may seem painful at first, but it’s a low-stakes practice that can be improved through open collaboration, such as in Slack or Discord channels. This kind of practice builds mutual understanding and trust, which are essential in preventing conflicts, hurt, fear, and trauma.
To express yourself effectively, ask for feedback and try to understand how others perceive your message. If you’re not being understood, break down your message into simpler terms.
Building trust is everything in creating caring relationships, which make way for healing. This is especially important in the context of game development spaces, which can be toxic and traumatizing. It’s important to be kind to ourselves and each other and to practice mutual understanding and trust.
Our purpose in exploring why is to regenerate healthy environments and practices. These are the things that create clarity.
We’re not doing it as a one-time thing; we’re doing it on a daily basis. And that’s storytelling. Storytelling creates understandings that create healthy environments. And when we do it regularly, we regenerate that very healthy environment. It’s like feeding the soil. And it definitely feeds our spirits.
Documenting the journey to clarity leads to great stories. That means the daily practice gets documented; the journey to the same clarity, care, and understanding gets documented.
The “how” is always tricky because it can feel deeply personal. We all have our quirks. We all have our preferences; we all have ways that things work for us in certain ways. But we’re also all very creative people. And in games, most of us are good at troubleshooting.
Naming the “how” means trying to create a consensus on how all of the studio members are going to participate in this collaborative journaling practice. What kind of bite-size contribution can each member make? What kind of contribution would make them happy to make? What would bring joy? And how can we find a way to be dedicated to this? Once you know, share it with your team – it could be helpful!
These generate daily rituals that are centred around the studio’s values. We bring the values back in because they are the absolute touchstone of why you are collectively doing what you’re doing.
There are many tools available. If you’re a developer, you may have the ability to create your own tools. However, tools are only useful if they support relationships and growth. If tools replace relationships, they can stymie growth.
Planning your documentation in advance can help ensure that it serves as a valuable source of information and stories that contribute to a longer, more complete, and concise narrative. Those bits and bytes of information become available to you to analyze. There’s always an app for that part, right?
This narrative forms the building blocks for your pitch to funders, audiences, collaborators, and communities. It also informs reporting, such as an annual report, financial report to an investor, or to your future self. Think of it as reporting forward. If you are planning ahead, you are reporting to your successor.
Who do we want to support and promote while we progress? This way, as we build our cooperative environment and share our stories, we also understand that if one person falls ill, someone else knows all about their contributions and can fill in. Similarly, if someone needs a break or decides to pursue a different path, someone else knows what to do, how to do it, and why it is done. This way, if someone needs to be replaced or compensated, it’s clear who can take over.
- The medium is the message, the process is the product
- Creates space and time for alignment of understanding
- Produces micro-documentation as the building blocks for your stories
- Builds consensus, understanding, agreement and investment in studio values
- In-studio confidence is beautiful for your creativity, and it ripples out
The medium itself conveys a message. Journaling emphasizes that the process we engage in ultimately shapes our product. Rather than being driven solely by product outcomes, this approach encourages relationship-building, which becomes evident in the final product/game/community you are creating.
Collective journaling creates a space for micro storytelling in low-risk settings, allowing for gradual alignment and understanding. This method yields micro documentation, forming the foundation of our different storytelling directions. It not only creates a shared understanding and consensus but also deepens each member’s commitment to the studio, its relationships, and your collective values. The confidence gained within the studio improves creativity and makes a social impact on your community and beyond. This is just one approach to shaping your studio’s narrative.
Storytelling in game development goes far beyond the games we make. It’s about the shared experiences and values of our team, woven into our studio’s identity through daily practices like journaling and open communication. This approach isn’t just about documenting our journey; it’s about growing together and connecting with our audience in a meaningful way. By embracing this narrative, we’re not only crafting games but also forging genuine connections and making an impact that echoes beyond our studio walls.
- How do we pitch projects that are not made to create revenue?
- How do we ensure decolonial language engagement and relationships?
- How do we be authentic to ourselves, to each other, to our studio values and still communicate professionally to funders?
- How do we communicate our studio structure?
This content was developed by Gamma Space for a 2023 Baby Ghosts cohort presentation. We have summarized and adapted it here.
- a term coined by datejie cheko green ↩