Johari’s window

Ok, apologies in advance to management experts, because I am about to abuse a well-loved management metaphor until it is hardly recognisable anymore.

Johari’s window is a neat metaphor for learning and feedback. Picture a window divided into four quadrants. The top-left quadrant is things that I know about me, that you also know – public knowledge about me. The bottom left is stuff  I know about myself that you don’t know – my secrets, things I could reveal to you in future. The top right quadrant covers information about me that you know but that I am unaware of – this is important for management theory because it’s the space in which feedback can happen. The bottom right isn’t seen as especially important for management theory and it isn’t important for this post either. It’s the domain of things about me that nobody knows. Maybe there some great insight that can be gleaned there, but if there is, I (rather appropriately) don’t know what it is.

Image by Brent O'Connor

Incidentally, I have no idea who Johari is either. Whatever. [Edit: Googling around, because I just *had* to know, I see it’s actually called “A Johari Window”, so probably Johari is some kind of acronym and not a person at all. I shall persist in imagining I never discovered this.]

So, what does all this have to do with gaming? The answer is that you can use it for character generation. When you create your character, draw a window and write stuff in each quandrant.

The  bottom-left and top-right corners are for unresolved questions about your character. Who was that masked man? Who killed your father? What is the meaning of your birthmark? Why can’t you remember anything from the night of the 21st, and what happened on that night? Are you going to save humanity, or destroy it? But which quadrant you put each question in tells you whether this is a Dark Secret type of question – one you’re handing to the GM to answer, which might have an answer that you don’t like (top right quadrant), or one you’re going to answer yourself, at a dramatically appropriate time (bottom left quadrant). I suggest that by using Johari’s window, we can signal to the GM what questions are for her to answer, and which questions we want to keep for ourselves. Maybe you could even put some questions in the bottom right – these would be open to anyone to try and answer.

The top-left corner of the window has a use, too. Put things in there that are known at the start of the game. (Known to you as players, that is – maybe not to your characters.) By putting stuff in there you’re saying to the GM “this stuff is off limits”. If I say that my character is the son of a noble jedi knight, and put that in the top left corner, then the GM should not reveal partway in that the knight in question is actually Darth Vader. That would have been a cool plotline, but by putting my heritage in the top left I’m telling the GM to stay away from it. Break the top-left window pane at your peril.

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

3 thoughts to “Johari’s window”

  1. Nice! Do you see the questions as the primary focus of play – i.e. a sort of investigation game, investigating one’s own history? Or would they just be detail to add to a different focus?

    Personally I might stick to the top two quadrants – I’m not sure asking questions for yourself to answer (the bottom left quadrant) would actually work that well. I think in practice the game material (often predominantly created by the GM) would probably influence your answers too strongly, OR any ideas you do have will have been considered for so long that they lose their impact. That said, if the game is throwing up lots of interesting but non-focussed fictional material then maybe some of it would inspire interesting answers to questions you’d left open. (Or even – bottom right – questions you didn’t know you had!)

  2. So, part of the purpose of the bottom left quadrant is to put questions out of the GM’s reach. I have a secret but I don’t want you to tell me what it is. But yeah – I confess this is entirely an idea I had one day rather than a tried and tested method. I would see it as a way of delineating the GM’s ability to tell you things about your character; but it could equally be a way of highlighting where you want the focus of play to be, even going so far as to produce a single group window with questions the group are interested in.

    I’m a believer that communication between players (including the GM) helps everyone to know what they find fun and where they’d like the game to go. That’s important, because a recurring theme in roleplaying games is someone
    (usually the GM) doing something which offends a player’s sense of fun, drama, setting integrity or whatever. Anything which helps everyone to avoid this is a Good Thing(TM).

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