Negative Emotional Contexts
I’ve been using the phrase “negative emotional context” in other posts for a bit now. Today, I’ll dive in more, using my friend Josh Roby as an example. Yesterday, he tweeted that he’s sent the PDF for his recent Kickstarter-funded project, the Coronets but Never Crowns expansion for Houses of the Blooded. He followed up by saying the PDF won’t be released until the physical books are shipped and expected to hit doorsteps.
(Full disclosure: I privately discussed this with him prior to this blog post, and about why I don’t want to do this for any of the projects we’re doing together. He told me I should post about this.)
His rationale is experiencial. From his Kickstarter project update:
Upon tweeting this, I got a lot of responses asking if that meant the PDF would be sent out to backers. I’m shooting for getting the PDFs in your inbox at the same time your hardcopies get to your doorstep, so those folks who prefer a book in hand don’t have to read a PDF while they wait for their book. It’s an experience thing.
Here was my reaction to reading that. (Understand that I’m speaking from a mental place, so the “you” is responding to Josh internally.)
- I’m a better judge of how I like my experience than you are.
- I kinda wish I could un-kickstarter now, due to annoyance.
- I’ll think second about backing your future endeavors.
This is what I call a Negative Emotional Context. I’m now unhappy with this product. Prior to this, I was excited for the project. Seeing updates about Storn Cook’s art, for instance, increased my Positive Emotional Context.
Whatever your emotional context is, positive or negative, will color two important elements:
- Your initial experience with the book
- Your discussions about the book (online & in person)
Now when I get the book, that annoyance at Josh is going to color reading it. I’m going to be unconsciously more judgmental and unforgiving of issues. That’s why it’s an emotional context. We’re buyers. We buy games for subtle (and not so subtle) emotional reasons, lizard brain shit that colors how we see the text, the game, the experience.
The Negative Flip
It’s difficult to maintain a positive and negative emotional context simultaneously. Let’s attempt to make a visual diagram. The [P] indicates a “unit” of positive, and the [N] a “unit” of negative — this is about how passionate we are with this thing. We’ll see if this diagram flies.
- Josh is making a Houses expansion. That’s cool. I’ll buy in. [P]
- Ohh, that’s a neat reward. (I bought one that comes with the cards.) [P][P]
- That’s some kick-ass art he’s got from Storn! [P][P][P]
- The PDF won’t be sent until the books are. [N][N]
With each piece of news or neat discovery, my positive context increased. I found about about Josh’s project enough to want to buy in, so I went to the page. I saw the reward for the Peer Cards, and I love stuff like that, so my interest grew. Later, Josh sent an update with some of Storn’s art, and my interest grew further.
Then we get to this issue. When you hear about something that would change your context from positive to negative, there are one of two responses I see: disappointment (“meh”) and anger (“fuck you”). When you’re disappointed, your passion in a project decreases. It might also flop to negative, but it doesn’t always. When you’re angered, your passion in a project actually increases, but it definitely flops to negative. In an alternate universe, my #4 would have pushed me to [N][N][N][N][N].
The Positive Flop
This is a recoverable position, but you have to do something in order to cause the flop back. We see this all the time with good customer service. You’re angry about an issue, you write in, and…they’re polite and fix the problem. You were ready to unload, and instead you were listened to and your issue resolved.
For some people, that turns them from bitter folks into super fans. ([N][N] -> [P][P][P])
For others, it just makes them happy, usually in a defused rather than amped way. ([N][N] -> [P])
And for still others, they find reason to still complain and hate, though hopefully with less vitriol than before. ([N][N] -> [N])
You can’t please everyone, but your efforts still have an efffect. Good customer service — listening to people and responding — is emotional aikido.
Josh has done this buy releasing the first chapter to the backers. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes the context for people when they get the whole book.
Not Owning Your Message
This could have been different if I read Josh’s email to his backers before reading his short tweet about it. I don’t know in what way, but it’s possible, so that’s where I go back to how you don’t own your message — you don’t control the order in which people receive the things you say.
So when I talk about negative emotional context, this is what I’m talking about — things that cause people to engage your game (reading, playing, talking about) in a negative light, which will spread that negativity to others who have no context in the first place. If that’s something you’d like to mitigate, watch what you’re doing and how people respond.
 Which gets to a future post about what we’re actually paying for when we pony up for a book. It’s a lot more than you might think.
 And to some degree it isn’t. But that’s a messy topic.