Hello! This is Matt (Tellous) and Ruth (rcdegs) and we are going to be doing a weekly “mentor minute” reflection on what has worked for us around teaching in Horizon. Please join in with your own tips and tricks to offering world building knowledge in a palatable way for those who might have been the most harmed by majority power learning institutions! After many discussions on this topic, we decided to write down some of our observations on how successful mentorships have happened, especially with minority/marginalized people.
In Horizon, you will often find people willing to lend a hand in scripting and world-building. However, sometimes we notice that these collaborative sessions don’t always result in catalyzing creative inspiration or curious exploration for our new visitors. In some cases, the newbie will turn away from Horizon never seeming to use the app to its full potential. So what steps can we take to ensure we build a sense of belonging while collaborating with others? Looking at archetypes can help in finding some answers. An archetype in a group format is a set of behaviors or characteristics that serve a group need. The archetype of a teacher often models “the way it should be done.” For minorities especially the teaching archetype has often been a reenactment of a marginalizing and disempowering framework that re-marginalizes them from accessing the life and resources they need. Mentors instead practice a curious collaborative learning and hope that the mentee will show them new ways to do the thing they thought they knew how to do. We have compiled a list of what has worked and not worked for us in mentoring many of the talented and diverse creators who have remained and become contributors to this growing community.
Open the trust hotline
Gaining trust is important because people will be more willing to ask questions without worrying about if they are asking a “stupid question.” When someone is learning, don’t assume that what made sense to us, in whatever order we consumed it, will certainly work for another person. Listen for ways the person puts themselves down. Counter those statements with acknowledgement of their growth and courage to try anyways. Be a cheerleader and remind them that all their progress is important. Also, consider empathizing with their fear. Recall that you have felt similarly and survived it and share a story on this. Saying the words “I know this is frustrating” and even “I believe in you” can be very powerful. Model the reflection of both sides and the recognition that brilliance can and often does come through fear.
Permission to do it wrong
The number one thing most new creators fear is doing it wrong. Instead of telling them they can’t do it wrong, or minimizing their concern, try instead to give them permission to get it wrong, over and over. Celebrate doing it wrong, and create off of that something new and interesting. For example, if they might seem like they’d be overwhelmed to learn the snap function, try instead to teach them the silly play of using duplicate and array (and undo is a good one to teach before that also).
When having to decide between many mentees, dig in to the purpose they are wanting to serve. Do their proposed creations or contributions add more nutritious color to the community? If trained up, would this person be able to be an extension of the values you serve in creating healthy and diverse representation? They might not know their purpose, and they might be starting out with a vague and complex dream (e.g., I want to build a space station). Think about how your purpose and their purpose might overlap (e.g., you might like showing space worlds to people because you’re a Trekkie but don’t like to build these types of worlds). Consider if some people asking for your mentorship might match better with someone else. Try and make a warm-introduction if so and make sure they link up with the mentor you see them matching better with.
Decide on an end goal
Ask your mentee to decide on a clear end product. “How will we know we got there?” Be sure to agree on an acceptance criteria. When you have met this criteria, you can refill your own cup with down time so you have the energy to guide the next person or equally important -- work on your own worlds and dreams! Dreaming big is great, and ending your time together with a success point of learning one new skill or doing a brief one-world-hop to research further can help your mentee feel hope that they are on the right path.
Let them struggle
Fixing or showing how things are done too quickly removes the necessary angst that a mentee needs to grow their creative determination. Sometimes the best thing to do is parallel play nearby and let them find their way. Taking the focus off of showing them the “best way” to do things will allow them to explore ways you may have never thought of to accomplish the same goal (e.g., hand animating something versus scripting the animation).
When a new creator begins their collaboration session with you, they may begin to talk about all of the lovely details of the world. Use this moment to model what a creator should do when the creative juices start flowing. Add several text gizmos in the sky with the notes you hear or start putting down some color-coded cubes in a rough layout model of what you are hearing them describe. Chances are they will catch on to what you’re doing and say “Oh! I can do that!”
Connect to what excites
Listen closely to the idea this person has and think about your understanding of their theme. Perhaps you are aware of some pop culture references that relate to their idea. Maybe you have a deep understanding of the theme. Bring these up in a way that encourages the person to dance with the details of the theme in their creative flow.
Stay away from the word “Can’t”
Many experienced world-builders who are attempting to “help” have been observed knocking down newbee creators’ dreams (some who have never even been in build mode before) with all the things that are impossible about what they are hoping to build. We all have the instinct to constructively criticise and contain naive expectations. Beware of the power your words hold in a mentor position and how saying “you can’t” is like pouring a bucket of water on a just beginning fire. You might know how small the box of tools has felt to you, but being curious about the ways we CAN get close together will empower them to find ways to get as close as possible to making their dream world. Remember that tools and gizmos are changing all the time, so what is a barrier today, might be an update tomorrow!
Meet them where they are
The person will come with an understanding of systems in their life. This could range from being an actual game developer who just needs to tie in to the quirks of Horizon, to someone who has no prior experience with digital creative tools. In the latter, look for analogies that they have experienced. Even if you get the analogy wrong, let them help you build the analogy. This will give you a lot of information as to how they process the experiences around them.
Avoid information overload
If the person starts to slow down, they are likely trying to process what they’ve just learned. This is usually a great time to break or regroup another time. Too much information will not stick and may create so much overwhelm that the person may think that they simply aren’t capable of creating.
Share your experience
Usually, a creator would have to wait to play test with a group to get information about a visitors’ feelings. Feelings are a great piece of information for determining what direction a piece of the world should go. Share this information with the person and remember that not every part of a world needs to be pleasant.
There is no fee for adding more detail later or publishing a version 0.1 of your world. Encourage the person to share their world in beta mode. This will let them feel closer to the community since they can reach out to Plaza visitors and get more feedback.
Incomplete does not mean lazy
Something as simple as a cube in the air IS a creative effort. Validate what they have done, instead of where you hope they will get. Remember that everyone is coming to this with creative wounds where they were told to not color outside the lines. Pulling an object in the air from the menu is the ultimate coloring outside the lines and can often create a paralyzing terror and belief that they are fated to fail at this effort. We all know however that there is no “right” way to create. Let them fail forward and match their progress with your own curiosity and modeling of making meaning out of what has been tried (e.g., is the cube sitting flush with the grid is it tilted in the air more like a diamond? What color do they want to make it?)
These are reflections on VR community design experiments, collaborations, and my individual user experience. How do we connect through the virtual reality medium in a way that enhances our connection with self and our real life relationships?