Cowboys, Robots, and Writing Consultants by Mike Freborg

Post date: Apr 23, 2018 5:03:05 PM

Season 2 of Westworld is rapidly approaching. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Westworld is a theme park where patrons get to role-play as characters in a virtual Wild West. The guests are free to roam the seemingly endless park and interact with artificially-intelligent robots called hosts. These hosts look and act like real human beings. They are programmed to act-out scripted storylines that are repeated in narrative loops, but they can also switch to “improvisation mode” depending on how the guests interact with them.

Our writing center is a lot like Westworld. And our consultants are like the hosts that inhabit that park. As consultants, we are trained to perform specific duties and to follow certain procedures throughout our workday. Like the artificial humans in the popular TV show, we each have our storylines and our scripted responses. Yet we are constantly switching to “improvisation mode” as we interact with others. Writing consultants have to adapt teaching techniques and communication styles to mesh with the widely diverse clients who come to the writing center (let’s call it Writing World!).

Consultations in Writing World can be unpredictable because of all the factors involved. The guests who visit our particular park are writers. These writers have unique personalities. They come from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. And they have different writing styles and ways of communicating. Their education levels and writing experience varies considerably. And everyone has different thought processes. These factors apply to us consultants (hosts) as well. Because what are we? We are writers.

Some of our clients are frequent visitors. They are like the Man in Black, a veteran patron who has interreacted with almost every host in Westworld. Many of our own hosts have built rapport with the regulars who come to our park, learning their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. We also get those who are coming to us for the first time. We welcome newcomers. All guests at Writing World receive the same friendliness and encouragement.

Still, there are other factors that influence consultations. Some of our guests are very passionate about learning to write better, while others may have heard about our free “fix-it” service and decide they want to give it a try. The type of text the writers bring to us is another component. The texts are usually essays of some sort, but they can be almost anything. One of my colleagues once told me that we all know a little bit about a lot of different things, but we are not experts on everything. That is certainly true with me. The best way to find an answer is to ask another consultant. Individually, we may know a fair amount. But collectively, we are a vast network of knowledge. Someone is bound to have the answer. And if they don’t, we have reference materials galore.

Hosts are fallible creatures, but we try our best. Our counterparts in Westworld usually go to Behavior and Diagnostics if they aren’t operating at optimum levels. The same goes for us. When I was first brought online at Writing World, my core programming needed some tinkering. Over the course of the semester, I made several trips to our own behavior lab (Gina’s office) for assessment and attribute modification. After careful analysis, the director boosted my perception by 20% and increased my assertiveness by 15% (although my charisma is still a bit glitchy). These minor tweaks have made me a more effective consultant. Increased perception has given me the ability to zoom out and focus on bigger issues in the text. I can also detect a wider range of errors and prioritize them according to importance. With my greater assertiveness, I am able to engage writers in deeper conversation, asking them questions to build rapport and stimulate their own thought processes.

Guests come to Westworld to find their true selves. In a way, the writers who come here are like the patrons on that TV show. Sometimes writers already have the answers they are searching for. They already know what they want to write. They just need a little guidance to bring those ideas to the surface. That’s where we come in. As hosts, we want to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible at our park.

So come to Writing World (commonly known as the UNLV Writing Center), a place where guests can discover the hidden writer that exists in all of us. You won’t regret it!