Synergy: a life lesson from PS2

Synergy in teamwork

Synergy in teamwork

Often we are faced with a situation or problem which seems unmanageable, so big that to even start tackling it seems unrealistic as it is obviously unachievable. Initial attempts using the “obvious” solution may fail, because these try to deal with the issue in one fell swoop.

William (3 years, 10 months) and Shrek (PlayStation, adult ogre) helped me understand a great life lesson the other day. I want to share it with you here, and ask whether you’ve ever learned something in an unusual way.

Since last summer I have been dreaming of going to the VOICE2010 conference in LA this June. I’ve understood from the beginning that I would need to find additional funding to make it a possibility. I am certain that attending will teach me many things about voiceover and the business, develop my talent and the relationships I have begun to form online with other actors, and importantly boost my confidence. I have to go!

Excited! “Fired up”, some would say, I started to think of how one big sponsor would magic me to the conference. Months later I was still at square one. I’ve always believed that I would find a solution… it came to me last week, and you can read about it here.

This post is about the lesson I learned, though, rather than a sponsorship appeal!

Think about any big challenge you’ve faced, and how you finally achieved it. OK… now let’s talk about my lessons with William.

Shrek was the first PlayStation game which we started to play together without any help. I’m not a great video gamer, and frankly had no idea what to do, or what was going to unfold. Fortunately the game’s designers appear to have thought about this, and with just a couple of glitches (where help was needed, thank you Alper!) we’ve now completed the whole story.

Lesson One: Teamwork

Now, I have to admit that playing this with William has been quite enjoyable. We talk a lot about what is going on in the story; make decisions together; support and help each other to do various tasks. Each level of the game is played with four characters working together. One controlled by William, one by myself, and the others by PS2 in a complementary support. It is possible to change and swap these characters quickly, by the touch of a button, at any time, so in the space of a few minutes one could change roles several times.

Throughout the game the characters must move together, maybe wait (patiently!) for another to catch up. Often one character needs the help of another to do something. If one character becomes incapacitated then the onus is on the remaining three to continue – the game becomes harder. All members of the team are important.

Each character has to behave responsibly towards the others. If Lil Red hits a soldier, other soldiers will attack all the characters. If Shrek doesn’t jump on the rats they will attack his friends, and so on

Lesson Two: Special Skills or Talents

The teams of four change slightly from level to level, but the characters have complementary special skills. There’s no point in trying to get Donkey to jump on a box, he just can’t do it, however he’s an ace at kicking things down. Together they can get the job done, and done most effectively if the characters are chosen appropriate to the task.

This is a good point to link to voice over production: it’s team work and the use of appropriate skills. Neither William nor I have the voice for introducing the news (check out Peter O’Connell’s fauxditions, and the VoiceActing blog if you want to check) and at present it would be inappropriate to cast either of us for such a role. I have basic editing skills, but would chose an experienced engineer to polish a video with multitrack voice and music.

Here there are some possibilities. Voice actors can and should develop their skills… here regular training is important. Funding need not always be an issue here, and I would recommend accessing the team at and the podcasts and articles freely available there, as well as the free teleseminars from VoiceActing, and others. The tone of my voice will never be able to physically adapt to be the “voice of God”, but there are plenty of other things it can learn through acting. Not being locked inside a game gives me the opportunity to explore my potential. It’s exciting as I don’t really know what doors this will open in the future.

Lesson Three: Many small points make a huge score!

OK. This is behind what inspired my sponsorship appeal. Throughout the Shrek game there are points to be collected. Some are big (corporate sponsorship?), but most are only low value. Remarkably the current total in our game is over 50,000. Did we really play too much?

Surprisingly there are several other voice over connections here. The accomplishments of the HearTheBill project in which over a hundred voice artists read thousands of pages of legislation is one example. Another is the Haiti PSAs voiced by a collection of voice artists which I wrote about in my last blog “Talk about Haiti”. I’m pleased to have been involved in both of these projects. Many individuals working together to try to make a difference.

These three lessons together combine to create synergy. Wikipedia says, “it means that the effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the effects of the individual parts. Although the whole will be greater than each individual part, this is not the concept of synergy. If used in a business application it means that teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person was working toward the same goal individually.”

Individual talent, effectively used as part of a team, brings great results!

As I start to blog, I want to note that I am grateful to all those with whom I’ve already connected in the voice over world. My first years as a voice actor were as a foreigner without support… since about a year ago this has changed as I discovered the wonderful international community of voice actors. Thank you – we’re a great team!

William and Andy (a.k.a. Baba / Daddy)

William and Andy (a.k.a. Baba / Daddy)

Some questions for homework:

Have you ever learned something through an unexpected connection…?

How have you experienced “synergy” in connection to voice over?

What’s the best thing a small child has taught you?

4 thoughts on “Synergy: a life lesson from PS2

  • Herb Merriweather

    Hey Andy…
    What a wonderful new blog! Very bright and articulate…much like it’s author. Unexpected connections have been at the forefront of my VO career–my connections through social networking sites, through and through various auditions and work-related ventures–have all paid huge dividends financially and spiritually, with friends and coworkers coming from all over the globe…yourself included!

  • DB Cooper

    Remarkably the current total in our game is over 50,000. Did we really play too much?

    “Play too much”?
    Surely not.

    Here’s wishing you the best in your quest.

  • Caroline Corser

    What a wonderful, inspiring blog, Andy. I’m new at the voice-over business and at creating a blog. You have given me a good example of what one can do with a blog to inspire others. Thanks much, Caroline

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