Floating in the Bubble

As most of you are aware, comments were out for a while. They’re back now, thank goodness, but the absence got me to thinking about feedback and what it can mean—for a blogger, for a gamer, for much of anyone else.

I’ve always been rather attached to feedback in my various creation-related hobbies. Every game I run tends to end with “Questions? Comments? Death threats?”, a trait I picked up from one of my first serious GMs; I’ve often taken an absence of comments on the blog as a sign that maybe I’ve got the wrong topic and need to write about something else, particularly when the topic in question was rather experimental and I’d asked if people wanted to hear more; and, well, my favorite system incorporates feedback into its mechanics.

Being without changed things. There were a few particularly risky post ideas that I ended up deciding not to use, partly so I wouldn’t waste a perfectly good opportunity for discussion and partly because they were enough of a departure from my usual that I wanted to know if this was going to, well, have an impact. Is it a good idea? Bad idea? Safe? On the other hand, there were a few posts I might not have done if the comment feature had been enabled; the detail exercise was a particular “Okay, what kind of reaction would I get here?”.

They tell you not to measure quantities of comments as a sign of success—nor put much if any stock in them. Write for yourself, right? And yeah, the ego shouldn’t depend on the ability to get people to respond, particularly when you write in such a way that people aren’t sure what to say (and I’m told I do this pretty regularly). But for some of us, and I will cheerfully admit to being one of them, it’s not just about making art. It’s also about getting better. Writing, gaming (either side of the screen), blogging—it’s all about the self improvement. I don’t tend to trust my own judgment on that; either I overestimate the level of flaw in any of my given works, or I brush it off as negligible, and neither of them is particularly useful in the long run. Best to get opinions, from people who are at least my peers if not my betters, than to work in isolation.

And there are some times when another mind’s just useful. My games are known for being a bit complex, but the stuff I’m planning is going to make that look like a lazy kid’s stick drawing. Unfortunately, when you’ve got getting on for ten different agendas, all pursued by different and semi-distinct groups of people and interweaving, thinking like just one kind of person is only going to work so well. And again, there comes feedback; dangling the idea in front of someone else, looking for responses or suggestions or what-have-you. (There also comes people with other ideas; I miss the fun I used to have with the Ask GV side-feature. Are you really that hard up for things in your villainy that could do with a second opinion?)

I’ve found feedback is also good for promoting the willingness to work on something. Feedback, even negative feedback, is in itself a reward; it means that people are paying attention, and are invested enough to want to put their own effort in. So things that get feedback reliably, or ones that get feedback quickly, are likely to draw more effort than the ones with more long-term rewards. Faster gratification is more tempting.

So think about the role of feedback in what you do. If it’s about things you need to plan ahead, or things people won’t see for a while, consider getting someone to look at it in a more short-term manner, a collaborator of some sort. If it’s about making sure someone pays attention to those of their projects that concern you, it’s letting them know their effort is appreciated and giving them whatever combination of the good news and the bad news they seem to need.

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