Friday, May 25, 2012

The Game of Throes

Image: A pixelated version of Frank (the human) has bounced over a large equation, "undefined integral of cosine of two x, times e to the two x, of x", which is fading to be replaced by the text "Integration by parts, +25 points!" Stretching along the top of the screen, in contoured letters, is displayed "Semester: 3 of 8" and "Points: 576"

Throughout my years as a student, I likened college to an enormous game. In each level, you're introduced to a new game mechanic, which you then have to use to reach the next level. Any level may require you to use the mechanics from previous levels, each level is harder than the last, and no level is unpassable. But there's a reason games aren't considered real.

A game provides what is scientifically known as a "closed world"; that is, the outcome of the game cannot be affected by anything that isn't part of the game. This is what makes games fun: you know what you're up against and can time your actions and strategize. Sure, things can be "unlocked" as you advance, giving you the impression that you're adding things that weren't there before, but in reality, they were there from the moment you startrd playing; they were just a rule that didn't apply yet.

In the real world, everything is affected by everything. "We can't do the picnic today because it's raining." "You'll have to wait for power to be restored if you want that file." "I can't go visit you because a state of war has been declared in your country." Real life effectively makes it impossible to plan anything in a fail-proof way.

This is why we think of things as games: it's easier! Schools in general tell their students that if they get a good grade in each "level", they'll "win" a degree, and all they need to do to get a good grade study. Companies tell their employees that if they pass enough "levels" in the corporate ladder, they'll "win" a nice pension, and all they need to do is follow performance standards. If they told them that it depended on the weather, on public services, and on global politics, we'd all be insane from trying to keep up on all of these things. So a student plans his "strategy" solely according to his/her advancement in the academic game, and an employee plans his strategy solely according to his/her advancement in the corporate game. Everything that is not part of the game is ignored, and 90% of the time, this works.

It is in the other 10% that we crash into reality, die at deadlines, and have things generally go wrong. We usually call this "bad luck", but I beg to differ: it is simply something that is not part of the game, messing with your game, ruining your strategy.

Fortunately, the "game over" screen is really, really hard to get to.


  1. Heyyyyyyyyy man! It is Fish from long ago (years? months? ??????????). Just checking in!

    1. Hey. Going through some difficult times right now (hence why I haven't updated in so long) so don't worry about how long it's been: I've been a little slow too

    2. That's cool. It is good to see that you are still around and maintaining this blog at least. I have been meaning to pop in again for a while.

      Difficult times are tough!