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Every Game is an Interview

Gnomald Trump says "You're Fired"

I’ve been thinking about interviews a lot lately. First, because I’ve had this article on the back burner for months now without any inspiration to pick it up and dust it off. Second, because as of last week, I’ve been downsized.  It wasn’t just me mind you. They let almost our whole department go, and they’re outsourcing the work to another division. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. My boss was just following orders, the big bosses were just trying to keep us competitive in lean  times, and I’m pretty sure it’s not my fault, since I walked away with a glowing letter of recommendation. Still, no job. Ouch! At least it’s got me working on this article, so it’s not ALL bad.

O.K. Enough bellyaching.

We know it’s true. Every aspect of everything you do that’s seen by people will be judged as a reflection of you. We may not like it, and it may not be fair, but it’s true. As a GM, that means that every game session is a mini-interview, you selling your skills as a GM to your group of players.

Before we look at how to do well on these “interviews”, let’s look at why you want to do well on them. First and foremost, a good game helps keep you the GM. We’ve all met that guy everyone drops everything they’re doing to play with, and we’ve all met that guy who can never get a group together because everyone avoids his games like the plague. Most of us fall somewhere in between, but fail too many interviews, and soon you’re “that guy”. Further, being a good GM is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The worse you do, the less slack your players are going to cut you. The better you do, the more your players will ignore problems to get to “the good stuff” and the more they’ll assume that the bad parts are part of your plan.
We can keep going all day. The better your players think of you, the more likely they are to try new things you suggest, to try new systems, to experiment with new genres, or to test their comfort zone when you’re at the helm. When you’ve given your players a better impression of you, they’re more likely to ask you for GMing advice when they GM themselves or when they want to start GMing. They’re going to allow you more time as a player if you request it both because they know you’ll be able to GM again and because they want to see what you bring to the table as a player. Basically it’s all a matter of the same thing: trust in you and your abilities. Secure that trust, and your group will cooperate with you on almost everything.

So how do you establish that trust? That’s where the interview comparison comes in. Interviews are solely exercises in trust building. Does the company trust you’re the person they want to work with? Do they trust that your skills are what they need? Do they trust that you’re serious about them and that you’re not going to leave the first time a recruiter comes sniffing around? Do you trust them? Is this the kind of job, the kind of people, and the kind of environment you really want to work with?

Thus, a lot of tips and advice for how to interview well are similarly very good tips for how to run your game.  I’m going to outline five tips that apply to both your game and your interview here, then I want everyone to put your own tips in the comments.  After all, we need as many as we can both for our games and for those of us who have upcoming interviews, right?

Do your homework
Don’t go into either situation blind. Doing some basic homework and knowing in broad brushstrokes all the players at the table means that you care enough to spend time learning about them, and it helps to understand what they want and what to reasonably expect from them. Knowing something special about them can also allow you to ask the right questions or make the right statements so they realize you know why they’re special. If your information gathering resources aren’t as great as you’d like them to be, try asking friends or acquantences who are familiar with them for some tips. If you don’t know any, that may be a sign that your network is too small, but that’s an article for another day.

Dress for success
Gamers are notorious for screwing this one up. No? Gamer Funk anyone? This doesn’t mean a suit and tie for every interview or game. What it means is good hygiene and appropriate attire. That’s why “Do Your Homework” comes before “Dress For Success” on this list. It’s up to you to find out what’s appropriate in both situations. Some jobs you don’t want to interview for in suit and tie. Some jobs you must. Which is this? Rarely does a game require anything beyond casual dress, but consider business casual if you really want to say “I’m serious” and don’t hesitate to suit up when appropriate (ie: you’re running Shadowrun). And in all cases, remember soap is your friend. Your players would rather laugh at you answering the door with wet hair still buttoning your shirt, than put up with poor hygiene, and your prospective employers won’t remember anything other than the way you smell if it’s bad.

Be Likable
It’s a sad fact that most people would rather work with someone they like than someone competent, but it’s true. That’s not an excuse to be incompetent, but it is a reminder to be positive, upbeat, friendly, and to smile. If the impression you’ve left with your group is “Ugh! Can you imagine dealing with him every week?” and with your perspective employers is “That man will ruin the water cooler.” then you’ve already lost. Of course, exceptions abound. You’d be surprised what some people will put up with for those with fierce competence, but really is there any good reason to force them to choose when you could just keep a good attitude?

Ask the Right Questions
People like it when you ask questions that show you’re thinking seriously about them. Around the table, these can be questions like “What did everyone think of today’s session?” “Tell me more about your character’s motivations here.” or “What kind of play are you most familiar with?” With a job interview these questions are more likely to be something like “What makes people decide to join and stay with your company?”, “Tell me about the team I’d be working with if I came to work for you.” or “Can you describe a normal career path for this job?”.  Asking the right questions shows you’re interested and devoting serious thought to the matter at hand, and that’s a good reflection of you in any setting.

Relax Relax Relax
Relax. Yes, you want to succeed, and yes you’re being evaluated, but being calm cool and relaxed is important. First, relaxation shows you’re confident in your abilities, whereas being nervous implies a reason to be nervous. Second, being relaxed helps you react quickly and not get stymied by tough questions or problems. Further, a relaxed attitude is contagious, and later your group or prospective employer will remember how at ease you made them feel. Try to speak slowly, breath deeply, and sit with good posture (straight up, feet on the floor). Don’t twitch or clench your hands.  When problems arise (and they will) just take a breath, pause for a second to collect your thoughts, and then move forward.

At your next game session, or at your next interview, remember that you’re selling yourself to the people across the table and make sure you keep these tips in mind.  Every good presentation is one that makes you better at what you do in the eyes of others.


P.S. If you or anyone you know is looking for a Direct Mail programmer with 12 years of industry experience, drop an e-mail address in the comments and I’ll send you my resume.
P.P.S. And keep the interview tips coming.  I have a big one coming up soon!

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Every Game is an Interview"

#1 Comment By Randomeis On June 15, 2009 @ 10:19 am

I don’t know if we have something right now but you can send me your resume. [1]

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On June 15, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

We Gnomes already had this discussion when you told us about your unfortunate job loss, but I’ll second my “that sucks ass” and “I hope you find something soon” responses here.

As to the content of the article, those are some great tips for interviews and for running game. I remember being in a con game with a GM who just put everyone off because of lack of bathing. It was . . . special.

Asking the right questions is also a great tip. I mostly run a game for my group that relies of shared narrative, and asking the right questions is one of the biggest things that gets them into the theme of it. Asking “What do you do?” never garners as much response as asking “Your roll says you defeat the enemy, what does the final strike look like?”

#3 Comment By BryanB On June 15, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

Best of luck at finding a new job Matthew. Never fun.

I can see what your article’s points are, but if I thought about my games as being like a job interview, I would just place so much pressure on myself that my game would be miserable for myself and others. 😀

#4 Comment By DocRyder On June 15, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

[2] – Heh. I’ve been GM’ed by you Bryan, and you’re a pretty good GM. I think more the point is to simply put your best foot forward with every game, and be aware the effect you have on the game. Sadly, I’ve forgotten this a couple of times, and let personal issue between myself and one player turn ugly, to the point I’ve had other players never come back. That hasn’t been an issue for long time, so I’ expecting that the next game I run will go much smoother.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On June 15, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

As I said on GnomeNet (our super-secret back channel that absolutely nobody but us Gnomes knows about), losing a job sucks. Especially in this environment.

But this is a good article. GMing is one of those jobs that shows many aspects of a person, and it’s somewhat important to do well, especially if you want to keep your players.

That said, the first rule of almost anything is RELAX. You will do almost everything better when you’re relaxed than when you’re stressed.

#6 Comment By BryanB On June 16, 2009 @ 10:31 am

[3] – Ah, thanks DocRyder. I agree with you. You have to but your best foot forward with every game. Playtests are the toughest because we haven’t had the play experience to learn the quirks of a new ruleset yet.

Much like job interviews, the more that you experience games, the better that you will be at it. There is no substitute for the hard knocks of that experience. We always have room for improvement. I’ve been GMing for over twenty years and always benefit from additional experiences.

My games twenty years ago were not that good at all, when evaluated by my current standards. 😀

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On June 16, 2009 @ 10:48 am

It’s all good advice– though I don’t like to think of gaming as “homework”, your advice to concentrate on the players, not the plot for homework is very good– and so easy to overlook.

#8 Comment By Sewicked On June 18, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

It also helps to feel confident in your knowledge of the material. My first gm’ing experience, for my friends in high school, was pretty much a disaster.

Years later, my friends convinced me to run a new game; Shadowrun. All of us knew the material about the same and the experienced gm was on hand to help me (which I desperately needed at the time).

Even more years later, I learned another new game, Ironclaw. Knowing the game backward and forward, and loving it, made it easy to run the game for strangers. My goal, then & now: everyone have fun.

It was enough that someone passing by thought “they are laughing & having a lot of fun. When is that game being run again. I want to play.” That was 7 years ago and he still comes to all my con games.

OTOH, when I run D&D, I’m not nearly as good.