When listening to an interview with Obi Felton, who used to work at Google X, she described the moment when someone said to her: “You are just in the wrong job for you because there’s some people who are scuba divers, they love to go deep, and there’s some people who are snorkelers, who love to go across a whole bunch of things. And you’re a scuba diver in a snorkelling job.” 

Let me grab my snorkel 

This immediately resonated with me. Work-wise, I’m a snorkeller. I love having lots of projects on the go at the same time. In fact, I’ve been snorkelling through my work-life and free time my whole life. When I was a drama teacher, I enjoyed the fact that I had a variety of schemes of work running with different classes plus a myriad of cross-curricular activities. 

Obi Felton

Proof that I have scuba dived (sporadically)

When running our education company, I divided my time between supporting sales, marketing, accounts and long-term strategy. 

My hobbies include dancing, singing, acting, reading, tapestry and swimming. I don’t spend that much time on any one thing, but I get pleasure from the variety. I love learning little bits about lots of things.

I’m good at the general knowledge round on Mastermind, but the thought of prepping for a specialist subject leaves me cold.

A snorkelling designer

As a game designer too, my snorkelling is evident. I have lots of different games at various stages of design and development and that’s how I like it. Yesterday, for example, I worked on five different games during the day – referring back to the notes from recent playtests, changing prototypes, updating rules and tackling problems. After a couple of hours of working on one game, I’ve had enough and am ready for a change.

Of course, if my games were very complex it would be much harder to flit between them. But they are light: usually based around just one or two mechanics, aimed at families, easy to grasp. Ideal for snorkelling. 

The games I worked on yesterday

Some of Alan Wallat’s complex workings for his game Sirius Smugglers

Scuba diving designers

Designers of heavy games, on the other hand, are probably scuba divers. These are people who like to go deep, to get immersed in the intricacies of a particular problem and to understand the issues inside-out. 

Scuba divers can spend hours refining, balancing and experimenting with small changes. Scuba divers are more likely to keep detailed notes and enjoy diving into playtest statistics. These designers derive pleasure from going deep. 

Designing against type

Perhaps if you start lots of projects but never finish them, you are trying to scuba dive with snorkelling equipment. It’s no wonder you’ve run out of breath. Do you lose interest when designs get too problematic or require intense work? Do you wither inside when playtesting establishes that far more balancing is required? Are you distracted by new ideas when you really should be focussing on knotty existing ones? Maybe you are a snorkeller. That’s ok! Snorkelling is fun. Choose projects that are easier to complete and that don’t require so much work between tests. 

If you are often accused of adding unnecessary complexity into your designs, maybe you are trying to snorkel with scuba gear. Do you want to test every possible combination of cards in a party game? Is your intended audience a little bemused by the combination of mechanics in your game? Do you find yourself analysing other designer’s games in great detail to scratch an itch? Perhaps you are a scuba diver. That’s ok too! Scuba diving is also fun. Choose projects that will allow you to get really stuck into the complexity of a design. 

My whiteboard tracking the current statuses of all my projects. They move about between columns a lot!

So what about you? Are you a scuba diver or a snorkeller?